Saturday, April 12, 2014

Is this a relevance implicature?

Fox's Eric Bolling said,"Of all the jobs President Obama claims to have created since he started, only 38.5 percent are women," Bolling said. "So 61.5 percent have gone to men."

Politifact checked it, and the numbers are correct, but they rated it "Half True" instead of "True". Why? Because "as a criticism of Obama, it rings hollow". The statement implies through that Obama did something wrong; in particular, that Obama is guilty of sexist hiring practices. He is not, according to Politifact, because the recession was a "man-cession"; 74 percent of the jobs lost during the recession were held by men.

Is this an implicature? I'm not entirely sure. It is certainly cancelable:

"Of the jobs that have been created since Obama took office, 61.5 percent have gone to men, but this is not Obama's fault."

is certainly not a contradiction. So the implication that Obama is guilty of sexist hiring processes is certainly not part of the ordinary semantic content of the sentence (so it's not an entailment) and I would certainly consider the sentence true, rather than meaningless (so it's not a presupposition).

But I'm not sure that the implication crucially depends on the assumption that the speaker is adhering to the norms/maxims of conversation, so I'm not sure whether it's really an implicature. It would have to be a relevance implicature if anything. The question under discussion would be something like "Is Obama a bad president?" and the implied answer would of course be yes as it always is on Fox.

But the implication seems to rely on the content of the statement itself, rather than the fact that the speaker made the statement. Anyone who learned that 61.5 percent of the added jobs have gone to men might suspect sexist hiring, regardless of the question under discussion.

What kind of implication is this, if not an implicature? It does seem to be an inference that relies on a hidden assumption (as topos, as Ellen Breitholtz would describe it), so it might be considered enthymematic in some sense, even though there is no rhetorical argument being made in this case. Would one call it a "contextual entailment", with the topos as part of the context?

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