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Thursday, 16 June 2016 11:01

Meaning without saying

It is possible to say things without actually saying them. On such occasions, messages are only suggested, conveyed — or, implicated instead of being directly expressed. 

Our Linguistic Self-Defence Guide Against Antisemitism teaches people how to spot and resist manipulation when they come across antisemitic speech. We use real-life examples, detected by Get the Trolls Out monitors, and reveal the subtle rhetorical tricks that are typically employed to brainwash the public into hating and discriminating Jewish people.

meaning without saying large

By Anna Szilagyi

It is possible to say things without actually saying them. On such occasions, messages are only suggested, conveyed — or, as British scholar Paul Grice called this form of communication —, implicated instead of being directly expressed. 

A large part of our everyday communication consists of implications. Most of the time, we easily code and decode implications. If I say to my mother that “I’m thirsty”, she will understand that I would like to have a glass of water. If we organise a party and I tell my friends that “Jane talks too much”, they will know that I do not want to invite Jane to the party. 

Politicians and the media use implications too. A newspaper headline which informs you that the American president will skip a visit to a country, may implicate that the relationship of the US and that particular country has declined in recent times.  

Importantly, implications can be misused both in private and public speech. Through implications, speakers may — intentionally or unintentionally — voice unpleasant, controversial, derogatory, and abusive messages with impunity. The mechanism is simple: as it is very difficult to hold someone responsible for unsaid words, implications allow speakers to transmit messages that they would not or would only reluctantly say explicitly.

This is the main reason why implications are frequent in antisemitic speech too. If anti-Jewish hatred is spread through implications instead of explicit statements, speakers can evade responsibility.  

On a recent BBC Radio London programme, for example, a phone-in caller said: “80% of corporate America, of the media, is owned by Jews”. It is not so much the literal but rather the implicated meaning of the statement what matters in this case. By claiming that Jewish people are predominant among media entrepreneurs in the US, the caller evoked an antisemitic cliché, namely that Jews control and censor information and manipulate the public this way. In this case the implication may seem obvious, nevertheless, since the cliché was implicated and not directly expressed, it could be difficult to call the speaker to account for his words.

In antisemitic speech, implications are also widely used to spread anti-Jewish conspiracy theories. In these instances, the decoding of the implication is typically supported by such questions: “don’t you find it strange/isn’t it surprising that…?”. A number of incidents detected by monitors of Get the Trolls Out exemplify this form of manipulation.  

In France, following the terror attacks in Paris on 13 November 2015, an article was published by a non-mainstream local website, a self-proclaimed provider of “alternative” information. Evoking anti-Jewish conspiracy theories, the piece, which attracted more than 4000 views, accused Israel and Zionism of manipulating French politics. The author concluded the article by asking: “How come Jews were informed on the morning of 13 November about the imminent attacks?” This ending can be easily mistaken for a question. However, it is important to notice that instead of asking something, the author of the piece actually makes an arbitrary, false claim: “Jews were informed on the morning of the 13 November about the imminent attacks”

Presenting an allegation in the form of a question, the author creates the false impression that his or her arbitrary, false claim is true. Additionally, this claim is an implication which evokes antisemitic clichés. The implicated message is that Jews are “evil”, “cynical”, “world-conspirators”. Though the claim conveys these stereotypes in itself, the question format also urges the readers to decode the implicated message.

Another similar example comes from Greece. Panos Leliatsos, former member of the Independent Greeks party, posted the following message on Facebook after the Paris terror attacks: “Three months ago, the leading Rabbi of Jerusalem was calling French Jews to leave the country. 9000 Jews left [France] to go to Israel. Is this telling you something?” In this case, a question follows an allegation. The question is used to reinforce the decoding of the antisemitic clichés evoked by the claim. The implication is that Jews engage in secret, harmful, conspiratorial activities and do not care about the life of non-Jews.  

Oftentimes, it is not the literal but the implicated meaning of a statement that contains the “real” message. While it is relatively easy to decode implications, it is difficult to detect them as, they are, by definition, invisible. This makes implications powerful vehicles in antisemitic and other manipulative discourses.

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