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> Apparently, "supposed" gets sorted as...
сообщение 3.12.2006, 22:16
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I must take issue with the classification of "supposed" as an adjective, particularly sense 3. I do not see "supposed" as an adjective, but instead as a verb tense. I will argue my point (on the internet, haha).

When we look at language, two common uses of it pop up in the context of general semantics: descriptive use and prescriptive use.

We describe when we are trying to represent the reality we have experienced. We piece out the judgments we have have had about the reality we experience and use language to report, and denote those judgments as such. E.g., instead of saying "That horrible driver cut me off," we say "That driver drove in front of me rather abruptly, and his action really upset me."

We prescribe when we are trying to represent the reality we want to experience. Prescribing is notably different from describing, as with describing you deal with the reality you've been presented, but with prescribing you tend to ignore the reality that has unfolded and revert to expectations you have for it. When that driver drives in front of you rather abruptly, you shout from behind the wheel, "He shouldn't do that!" and continue to get mad about his contradicting an expectation you have for people that may not be one he lives by. We then turn around and "teach" other people about reality by reiterating those shoulds, so we say to our child as she learns to drive that "people shouldn't cut other people off," rather than saying "sometimes people will cut you off in traffic." Which statement prepares your child better for what she'll encounter on the roads?

Prescriptive language is populated with many different "should" statements. These are statements like "Democracy should prevail in all nations," "You shouldn't get bad grades in school," "You should get married and have kids," etc. It came to my attention in taking a German class in high school that the modal "soll," which translates in English to "should," in one German textbook was also translated to "is supposed to."

I found this very interesting. I hadn't thought of "should" that way. When I later went to college and became a practitioner of E-Prime (something I don't do some much these days, admittedly), the "hidden 'is'" inside a should statement (is supposed to) deserved consideration. At the time, I never questioned that this manifestation of "is" was an "is" by passive construction, rather than an "is of predication" which the dictionary entry above would have suggested. The truer nature of the should statement was amazingly revealed to me. A should was a secret passive construction, and by its passive construction, a "supposer" was oftentimes left out of the statement.

For instance, take the statement "Democracy should prevail in all nations." If we reworded that statement as my German textbook might recommend, it would read "Democracy is supposed to prevail in all nations." At this point, the authors of the above dictionary would stop and say that "supposed" is an adjective. But I took it as a verb form, making for a passive sentence construction, and per Bourland's advice I wanted to rid of the "is" and make a more active statement. So "Democracy is supposed to prevail in all nations" became "(Someone) supposes democracy to prevail in all nations."

This treatment becomes really interesting now. Who is it who is doing the supposing?? In this example, I fill in the blank by saying "someone." If we actually have an answer, say the President, then the statement becomes "The President supposes democracy to prevail in all nations." And then we can decide for ourselves whether we agree with the President. Without the supposer, we are often tricked into blind following. We hear a should statement as if it's been determined by some amazingly important, intelligent person worthy of the highest respect, when it just might be your friend who is trying to manipulate you into doing something he doesn't understand ("You shouldn't be an actor!!").

Prescriptive language is obviously prevalent in religion, and I'm sure that in many of the Western religions this "mysterious someone" would be deemed "God"--it is "God" who is doing the supposing. But such suggests that "God" was able to directly communicate his expectations of people. More notably, though, it seems that pretty much anyone can configure a should statement and make it seem as if a "God" is doing the prescribing. "You should get married." "Says who?" "Well, um ... says God, I guess." "No, actually, I think your parents just expected that of you, you complied, and now you're trying to expect that of me. I don't agree at all with that perspective."

It seems to me that recognizing a should as a secret passive statement that masks a supposer (or "prescriber" or "actor") would be very helpful for critical thinking. When someone shoulds you, you can respond with "Says who??" and now know why given the retooling of the statement I provided. And if you're a sufferer of "shoulditis," a particularly pernicious way of living that can provoke a lot of anxiety, a term I believe Dr. Albert Ellis coined, this analysis might be helpful in breaking the cycles of shoulding yourself by getting you to analyze a) who is actually supposing you (your parents? God? does God even exist?), and cool.gif whether you agree with the supposer's perspective if one does lurk.

If we treat "supposed" as an adjective, I don't believe we can arrive at these discoveries as clearly.

Ben Hauck


If you look at the history of the different ways that people have used "supposed" in English, it becomes evident that the current adjectival use

("is supposed"
as a much longer way of saying and writing

came about rather gradually because of people misinterpreting "supposed" when they heard other people using it primarily as a passive form and often in sentences with omitted subjects.

For instance, if you look at 19th-century guidebooks for young people learning how to teach school (a VERY popular genre, at the time that "is supposed" became synonymous with "ought",

some of them have direct statements like "We write this book to instruct ... We suppose the students to be seated" -

many others have passive-voice forms like "This book is written by the authors to instruct ... / The students are supposed by the authors to be seated" (the nineteenth century LOVED passive voice!) -

and many, many others try to make such sentences less cumbersome by deleting the passive subject entirely:
"This book is written [by the authors] to instruct / The students are supposed [by the authors] to be seated."
It looks very much as if young people, starting to read much formal written English and seeing a new or seldom-heard word ("supposed") in such a sentence as "The students are supposed to be seated," inferred from context what "is supposed" probably referred to ('The student is ... [what on Earth does that word 'supposed' mean?] ... to be seated' - Ah! 'Supposed' must mean 'ought'!").
In the process, like many a person before and since who made the "obvious" guess about what some word or phrase referred to, they got it a little wrong ... and so, by now, it really *has* come to refer to that (in much the same way that a word people used for "stupid" 600 years ago has by now, through gradual changes and misunderstandings, actually come to mean "nice." If a serf in Chaucer's day called his brother serf a "nice fellow," the first serf would probably have quickly found himself in the middle of either /a/ a fistfight or /b/ the village pigsty.)

Kate Gladstone


On the other hand, the use of "supposed" in the sentence "Michael Jackson, the supposed child molestor, has been found not guilty" also harkens back to the earlier use of the term (and indeed, the 1st definition at the link you gave us). You could substitute "assumed". In Kate's examples, the authors were stating their assumption, or starting condition, that the children would be in their seats for this portion of their instruction.

The meaning has indeed changed over time to "ought", just as Kate described, but we really have both the old and the new meaning operating side-by-side in many cases. "I am supposed to be a good person" can imply a "should" or hint at an implicit assumption, either or both. Indeed, that's one of the underlying issues for Albert Ellis--the "should" is not just prescriptive, but also implicitly descriptive. You not only think you OUGHT to be a good person, but you reveal one or more assumptions at the same time--that you ARE NOT a good person, that being a good person IS essential or important, that your definition of "good" is understood and universal, etc etc.

There is also an odd contradiction in the connotation of "supposed" for me. In the sentence "I'm supposed to be a good person", I hear a qualititative difference from, say, "I should be a good person" or "I want to be a good person." To me, "supposed to be" implies a "should" that isn't quite working. I think maybe I interpret it as "other people think I should be" which means quite a different thing that "I think I should be".

Imagine someone saying "I supposed to be doing my homework right now." One can almost guarantee from this wording that homework is NOT being done. No "should" here--only a presumption.

Of course this is all complicated by the historical meaning of "should", which at one point a bit earlier than the era of Kate's teaching manual, meant "would" or "will" and had very little prescriptive connotation. "I should say so" for example, does not mean I feel any more compulsion to say so, only that I can agree with a statement I have just heard. Or consider "I should very much like to see you tomorrow" which simple means "I would...".

So the German translation of "soll" as both "should" and "is supposed to" might in fact have sprung from an era when BOTH of those terms had different meanings that they do today.

Nora Miller

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