"To be a Ranger is to sense the sacred trust of upholding all that such a name means in this shrine of football. They must be true in their conception of what the Ibrox tradition seeks from them. No true Ranger has ever failed in the tradition set him." - William Struth  

Conversational Implicature & A Not-So-Hidden Agenda

Written by: NathanRobert86
Friday, 4th of July 2014

Oxford philosopher Paul Grice wrote at length about the way sentences in context can be used to communicate meanings which go beyond the strict meanings of the words deployed. That is, the information conveyed in a complex sentence is not simply a function of the words which make it up, but is heavily influenced by the background context of the utterance, and the way it is "framed" by the author. Put succinctly, we often use language to convey a meaning which goes beyond the words used, and must be inferred.

Grice called this phenomenon "conversational implicature", and I think an understanding of the concept can go a long way to exposing the pernicious agenda of the mainstream Scottish media regarding Rangers.

To begin, let me give you one of Grice's famous examples in order to illustrate the phenomenon in a more concrete manner. Imagine you are a Philosophy professor, and want to know whether a colleague's student is suitable for use as a teaching assistant. You ask the colleague, and they send you the following note in return:

"Mr. X's command of English is excellent and his attendance at tutorials has been regular. Yours, etc."

When contextualised as a note about a philosophy student, it is clear that what your colleague means to convey here is that the student isn't a particularly good philosopher – the traits highlighted in the note are not particularly relevant to being a good philosophy student – so the natural inference taken from the utterance is that the student is lacking in philosophical acumen, without the words actually saying as much.

Now I shall move into territory relevant to Rangers. I argue that journalists are deliberately using conversational implicature to smear the club, while avoiding the controversy of a direct assault. To highlight this, I will look at Keith Jackson's June 10th Daily Record article entitled "Rangers directors hold showdown talks in London as they try to stave off more financial chaos at Ibrox".

As I suspect most of you will be aware of, Mr. Jackson's use of emotionally charged language is not a mere coincidence. Understanding Grice's theory lets us understand why that is – Jackson is smearing Rangers by contextual implication. For example, take a look at the following passage:

"RANGERS directors were locked in showdown talks in London yesterday as they attempt to stave off more financial chaos.

Record Sport can reveal brothers Sandy and James Easdale travelled to meet with representatives of shareholders groups Blue Pitch Holdings and Margarita Holdings before staging further discussions with the rest of the Ibrox regime yesterday afternoon."

Two phrases here are especially important because they are what I call "loaded" i.e. they are designed to evoke a particular connotation via use of emotional/politically controversial language:

  1. Stave off more financial chaos
  2. The Ibrox regime

Jackson uses phrase 1 to imply that the club is in a catastrophic financial position, and that the relevant talks are merely a stop-gap measure designed to simply defer an inevitable financial collapse. Of special note here is the use of the word 'chaos', which catastrophises the situation without evidence. In phrase 2, the loaded word 'regime' is used to paint the directors and shareholders of the club as dictatorial and untrustworthy by its common usage as a descriptor of oppressive political institutions.

Here is another important passage from the same article:

"Meanwhile, generous fan George Letham, who stumped up £1m in emergency cash to keep the club out of trouble in February, has still not had his loan repaid."

Here there are three loaded phrases which are designed to have a clear implication with regards to Rangers Football Club:

  1. Generous fan
  2. Emergency cash to keep the club out of trouble
  3. Still not had his loan repaid

In the context of the article, phrase 1 carries the implication that the Rangers board is taking advantage of the good nature of its innocent fans (i.e. He describes a 'generous' fan in the context of an institution he paints as financially devious). Phrase 2, and in particular the term 'emergency' is used by Jackson to reinforce the notion that Rangers are in a catastrophic financial position by means of its emotive force; despite the fact that no one outside of the board is privy to the reason the loan was actually secured. Phrase 3 follows on from 2, and implies, through use of the term 'still', that the club is untrustworthy and simply taking advantage of Mr. Letham for its own gain.

The article in question, and the passages I attempted to break down are just a small sailing of what is a common theme in Scottish sports journalism with regards to Rangers Football club. That theme is the use of loaded phrases to paint Rangers in a decidedly negative light via Gricean implicature. That is, while writers like Jackson don't baldly state that the Rangers board are untrustworthy and taking advantage of the club's fans, they certainly imply it by deliberate use of words which carry a strong negative connotation. Put simply, the insertion of words loaded with a negative connotation within the context of Rangers Football club conveys an association of the former with the latter without having to directly state it.

As such, the lesson I hope we can take from Grice – that phrases carry information beyond the mere meanings of the terms involved, provided by context and connotation – can and should be applied to our repertoire of tools used to critique the media. While the usual suspects may attempt to avoid critique by stating that they did not "say" that Rangers are [bankrupt, bigoted, untrustworthy etc...] they may very well be implicating the club in the manner described by Grice. And understanding one's enemy is the first step to defeating him.

Be vigilant, and challenge what is suggested by miscreant journalists. Where there is a will there is a way.


by Admin
by John McCrae


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