Affinity | Occurs when one form of speech contaminates another. Affinity refers to ways of speaking, intonation, accents, or turns of phrase that are transmitted and propagated from one speaker to another.

The singularity of a person’s way of speaking is not only determined by the physical particularities of their voice. In terms as diverse as intonation, accentuation, rhythm, or even timbre, it is also modeled by the words of others, through which a person learns how to speak or modify their own speech.

Affinity can be witnessed when the words of speaker A borrow characteristics from the speech of speaker B, whether said speaker is present or not. This last parameter (presence/absence) will allow us to distinguish between two categories of affinity: affinity in absentia and affinity in praesentia.

Affinity in absentia

Affinity in absentia takes place when speaker B is absent but still identifiable. Family influence or reinforced proximity are its most paradigmatic examples. Jean Sarkozy and Marine Le Pen speak with the utmost fluency and in flagrant affinity with their respective fathers. Cases where affinity is the object of a game or a more or less conscious modification are very different, however: take actor Éric Ruf’s theatre performance reinterpreting a Michel Foucault interview, or an autistic person’s soliloquy whose gibberish is inspired by the Général De Gaulle’s particular phrasing, for example. In other cases, affinity can be used as a cut or fold for giving life to an absent person’s words within a given discourse: such is the case with these imitations of Antonin Artaud and Winston Churchill.

These cases imply that speaker B’s way of speaking is known beforehand by as many people as possible—in other words that B belongs to the category of “famous speakers.” But B can also be a fictional character, like the wolf and horn in the fable of The Brave Little Goat of Monsieur Seguin read by Fernandel. In other cases, B could be a type or universal abstraction. The “guy who speaks like this” in a Dieudonné skit can be compared to a young conservative politician parodying an opponent, or to the contrast between distinguished and common language in a cinematographic plea.

Affinity in praesentia

Affinity in praesentia takes place when A and B are taking part in the same speech act—in which case contamination can be seen in action.

Particularly visible examples of this process can be found in situations where simultaneous translation is taking place: as in this English-language sermon by David Ogan, followed by its German translation by an interpreter, made with very similar forms of intonation. When Robert Wilson and Christopher Knowles perform sound poetry, they jointly build tonal, rhythmic, and syntactic continuity into one flow. A very similar example can be found in the tonal curves of farmers’ speech, shown in the film Biquefarre by Georges Rouquier: here, we see how a community’s closeness can reach all the way into its manner of speaking.

This form of affinity is very common in learning situations, whether it be the rehearsal of a Stravinsky lied or a class at the Star Academy, where a trainee singer modulates part of a Stevie Wonder song based on his teacher’s more confident performance of the piece (see also Fortissimo). To get her daughter to recite the alphabet, this mother uses a question and answer game where each player challenges the other to continue speaking at their rate (see also Si! No!). In this special case, a dog is taught by his owner to say “I love you” or “Eric Clapton”: affinity becomes a form of projection by B on A (B’s desire spoken by A). In this comical scene from the film The Pink Panther, however, affinity takes shape in negative terms, through the repeated failure of the learning process.

Though less obvious at first glance, affinity can also happen during a conversation, almost inadvertently, giving us a good example of how porous certain ways of speaking can be. In its most minimal manifestation, affinity can even take the form of supporting someone: a continuous bass of saying “yes,” “hmm,” through which speaker B encourages speaker A to keep producing their discourse.

Here, two speakers take up the same high-pitched intonation; here, a lexical proposition is immediately recycled by an interlocutor (see Chick, chick or Étrange étrange étrange). Here as well, speakers occasionally talking simultaneously validate their words through repetition or shared laughter. In this meeting of Alain Finkielkraut and Fabrice Lucchini, the pair’s intellectual understanding reaches such a point that the latter’s famous exuberance visibly rubs off onto the former’s words. When asking Tom Waits about the guidelines he gives his band during rehearsals, television host Jimmy Fallon shows affinity for both his guest’s answer, accentuating certain words in a similar manner, and for forms heard earlier and identified for the audience as being typical of the singer’s manner of speaking (the timbre of his voice, the incongruous nature of his statements).

Contamination can become playful through mimics or momentum, as in this video game, in this scene from the subway, or in this excerpt from the film Je sais rien mais je dirai tout.

In the case of a large group, the use of marks of affinity can lead to the construction of a complex form of polyphony (see Chauffe-eau or Le soufflé). In the entrance to an auditorium, individuals are both united by a shared activity—waiting for the beginning of the show—and separate. Conversations are centered around their own topics of discussion (commenting on a friend, talking about previous shows, etc.) all while adjusting themselves, particularly through volume, to the hubbub taking shape around them.

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  • C'est une bonne occasion

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  • Chauffe-eau

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  • Chick, chick

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  • Coquelicot

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  • Diffuseur métallique

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  • Donnez-moi un Y

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  • Elle pensa au loup

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  • Étrange, étrange, étrange

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  • Eu tava comendo ela

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  • Éveeuu

    Elissa Knight, Ben Burtt, excerpt from the film WALL-E by Andrew Stanton, 2008.

  • Fortissimo

    Igor Stravinsky, excerpt of a rehearsal of Vorona.

  • Good boy !

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  • I live for this

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  • Le côté tragique de La Fontaine

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  • Le soufflé

    Conversation with friends, excerpt of a personal recording by Esther Salmona, 2009.

  • Les carottes sont cuites

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  • Loupiote

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  • Mais vous parlez

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  • Me ! me ! me ! me ! me !

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  • Mh hm

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  • Si! No!

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  • That's right

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  • The wrong place for you

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Mh hm

Marie Lechner, Frédéric Kerk, excerpt from an interview on radio informal, 2020.


Elissa Knight, Ben Burtt, excerpt from the film WALL-E by Andrew Stanton, 2008.


Geoffrey Carey, Frédéric Danos, excerpt of the recording of predictions, 2019.

Bra Vera

Conversation between a woman and her dog, personal recording, 2017