Re: [xmca] nice, short article illustrating prolepsis

From: steve thorne (
Date: Tue Apr 18 2006 - 21:21:46 PDT

Hi all: I am perhaps narrow in my understanding of prolepsis, but I
do not see any connection between this concept and forms of
determinism. But perhaps this is because I was introduced to the term
through Ragnar Rommetveit's work which problematizes conventional
linguistic definitions of ellipsis.

Particularly in his earlier work (1974), Rommetveit discusses social
and pragmatic uses of ellipsis, other than those of economy or the
reduction of redundancy, through the notion of prolepsis. Prolepsis
involves ellipsis and/or under-elaboration, but is different for the
subtle establishment of social inclusion it brings with it.

In his 1974 book _On Message Structure_, Rommetveit describes
prolepsis via the disclosure of a personal letter he received from
his friend Willem Hofstee (who originally proposed the term and
notion prolepsis). I'll provide the whole quotation here (in
Rommetveit 1974: 87-88).: "... Today I walked with one of the
psychologists here past the Mayflower cinema in Eugene, where
Bergman's latest film movie is being shown. He asked me whether I had
seen it. I said no, and asked if he had. He said yes, he had. I asked
him how he liked it, and he said 'I liked it very much, but Mary Ann
did not'; without ever explicitly having 'made known' to me that he
is married and that his wife's name is Mary Ann, that they went to
see the film together, and a lot of other things-and (if I am
correct) without assuming that I knew all this. His utterance was
proleptic in that it triggered a search on my part for a shared
social reality which in turn would provide a basis for understanding
the sentence. Incidentally, it would have been barbaric and pedantic
to say, 'Oh, Mary Ann is your wife'. To be precise, prolepsis here
served to establish a relationship between his wife and me as persons
who should at some time get together. My comment would have been a
crude rejection of that implication."

The idea is that certain propositions, such as mentioning an unknown
name or event or place to an interlocutor, may in fact make this
person an insider "precisely because that expanded social reality is
taken for granted rather than explicitly spelled out. ... What is
said serves on such occasions to induce presuppositions and trigger
anticipatory comprehension, and what is made known will necessarily
transcend what is said" (Rommetveit 1974: 88).

Do some of you understand prolepsis differently?


>I guess I was more focused on the idea of constraints than determinations,
>Don. You can guide
>a horse to water, but..........
>And in general, the idea that constraints are both enabling and restricting
>makes a lot of sense to me,
>despite the seduction of relapsing into determinism.
>It seems to me that the main thrust of the idea of prolepsis is to
>introduced the idea that the (imagined, pro-jected)
>future can influence the present. It speaks to the linkage between cultural
>mediational theories of development and
>the idea of NON LINEAR dynamic systems. As I understand it (inadequately, I
>am certain), cultural contributions to
>human nature and action are non-linear, creating uncertainty and the
>possibility of agency all the time, even if our
>common sense tells us it aint so.
>Why else would anyone try to speak truth to power?
>In the recent Middleton and Brown book there is a great discussion of
>Bergson's ideas. he is much maligned, by, among
>others, Russian cultura-historical psychologists. And of course, he can be
>interpreted in ways that make his ideas laughable....
>(he is not alone in this respect!). But Middleton and Brown have some nice
>material on the way that Bergson pointed to the
>ways in which the built environment (like kids' rooms) influences their
>mental life. In a recent article by cultural psychologists
>Kitayama and ?? they discover that some of the differences between west and
>east that they assume come from the differently
>built environments without realizing that Rheingold and Bergson were there
>before them.
>No need for police but the discussion sure is worthwhile, for me at least.
>PS. I will cc Barbara Rogoff on this exchange. I wonder if she interprets
>the idea of "guided participation" to imply that the
>guidance determines the response.
>On 4/18/06, Cunningham, Donald James <> wrote:
>> I did, actually. I was struck by the phrase (on page 462) that the
>> parents were "guided by some more compelling set of principles".
>> What would the OED make of that?
>> Don Cunningham
>> Indiana University
>> -----Original Message-----
>> From: []
>> On Behalf Of Mike Cole
>> Sent: Tuesday, April 18, 2006 10:19 PM
>> To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
>> Subject: Re: [xmca] nice, short article illustrating prolepsis
>> Don-- Did you read the article?
>> Anyway, who needs word police when we have the oed:
>> Determinism: 1)The philosophical doctrine that human action is not free
>> but
>> necessarily determined by motives, which are regarded as external forces
>> acting upon the will.2) The doctrine that everything that happens is
>> determined by a necessary chain of causation.
>> Prolepsis: 1) The representation or taking of something future as
>> already
>> done or existing; anticipation; also, the assignment of an event, a
>> name,
>> etc. to a too early date; an anachronism, prochronism. 2) A figure in
>> which
>> objections or arguments are anticipated in order to preclude their use,
>> answer them in advance, or prepare for them an unfavourable reception;3)
>> The
>> anticipatory use of an attribute.
>> What do the police think of this? Do we need to call in Ragnar
>> Rommetveit to
>> adjudicate?
>> mike
>> On 4/18/06, Cunningham, Donald James <> wrote:
>> >
>> > Hello Peter. The word police here. What is the difference between
>> > prolepsis and determinism?
>> >
>> > Don Cunningham
> > > Indiana University
> > >

Steven L. Thorne
Assistant Professor of Applied Linguistics
Linguistics and Applied Language Studies
Associate Director, Center for Language Acquisition
Associate Director, Center for Advanced Language Proficiency 
Education and Research
The Pennsylvania State University
Interact > 814.863.7036 | | | IM: avkrook
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