Notice

Focalization | Occurs when speech plays with the focal point of its address. Focalization is a means of switching between interlocutors, of opening or limiting one’s target, of distributing one’s words among various recipients, or of speaking to multiple parties at once.

All speech is addressed to someone. It is hard to imagine speaking to no one at all: whether it be to oneself, to someone absent, to an abstraction, to an inanimate object or divinity, human speech only takes shape through the movement that leads it to another: it aims; it is a vector. The idea of focalization allows us to examine how a discourse’s aim can suddenly change, become more focused, or on the contrary more open, moving or distributing itself between various interlocutors.

In this excerpt of an Indochine concert, the singer speaks to his public using the pronoun tu [singular, familiar form of “you”], using a paradoxical form of address aimed both at the crowd and each of its members. Most of the time, however, focalization happens when one form of address shifts to another. There are five main categories of focalization.

Tightening

Often, a speaker addressing themselves to an entire gathering will suddenly focus on one of its members: here, Dominique de Villepin focuses his answer on François Hollande, or here Daniel Cohn-Bendit shouts at his counterpart Martin Schultz. In both cases, each speaker’s address asserts itself as it finds a focal point. Though more ordinary and thus more impassive in tone, the same tightening process can be heard in auctions, where auctioneers move from a form of open, inquiring address to one that is closed, focused on certain individuals, ratifying their offer when they bid.

In another context, Roland Barthes, beginning his lecture at the Collège de France, briefly focuses his discourse onto those of his auditors who are standing up, inviting them to come back another time. During a conference on Proust, François Bon illustrates his point by personally addressing one of his audience members. Likewise, in this excerpt of the film Entre les murs, the teacher first speaks to the entire class, then focuses his words on certain members, targeting his injunctions. A plowman does the same when giving instructions to each of his steers.

Distribution

The most systematic example of distributed address can be seen in this list of thanks taken from a Jane Birkin concert. Formal situations such as Jacques Chirac’s inaugural speech or this Jacques Vergès plea are also conducive to this kind of serial address, much like messages heard on television, spoken, however, in a much more relaxed way. In this excerpt of a Claudia Tagbo show, the comedian splits her public up by successively addressing herself to White, Arab, Black, and Asian women, and in this A Silver Mt. Zion concert, the singer speaks to his public by distributing its members into socio-professional categories.

Alternation

Perhaps the most spectacular instances of focalization are those where a speaker shifts their focus between two recipients with very different statuses: like when this man speaks in very contrasting terms to a journalist for France Culture and to his dog; or when this voice suddenly focuses on a plant; when this truck farmer moves from an aside back to the general public; when this singing coach moves between addressing her student and an imaginary public, or even in this famous excerpt of La Femme du boulanger, where the character played by Raimu transposes his speech full of reproaches to his wife into one aimed at the female cat that has just walked into the kitchen.

Sometimes a change in address happens more smoothly, as in this message from the ex-lead singer of Pantera about the death of guitarist Dimebag Darrel: we hear him go from “he” to “you,” transforming an apology to his family into a declaration of love. Many instances of alternating address can be found on radio and television, since speakers often pass from generic forms of address aimed at viewers or listeners to more concrete, focused forms of address, whether it be to a guest, as in this interview with Colette or Ségolène Royal, or to a co-host, as in this amateur radio show where we can hear two budding hosts prepare what they will be saying.

Multi-focalization

But focalization is even more remarkable when it happens with three, four, even five different forms of address. Spectacular examples of multi-focalization can often be seen on television, as in this Evelyne Thomas show (successive addresses to Thomas, to the viewers, to the show’s guests); this fit of uncontrollable laughter by host Laurie Cholewa (the public, her colleagues, the viewers); this regional counselor (the president, the viewers, the guest, the orchestra); this cooking show about an eel matelote with Maïté (the viewer, Micheline, the eel); this televised appearance by Michel Sardou (you all, you, you, the guy saying “ooh”) or this one by Francis Lalanne (the viewers, the cameraman, the pen-pushers); this episode of Intervilles (the viewers, contestant 1, contestant 2, the crowd, Guy Lux); but also this radio show disrupted by an animal rights activist (Alexis Grüss, the young lady, the security staff, the listeners, Joël).

Sarcasm

Other interesting cases of focalization are those where a speaker addresses several categories of interlocutors all at once: in this Fernand Raynaud recording, the comedian’s instructions and corrections, aimed at his guest, are precisely what change the focal point of his address (as in Ashanti, incidentally). In Fernand Raynaud’s cruel utterances, we can hear how he is speaking both to Jacky Bernard and to a future listener (the recording was published as a single that Raynaud gave his friends): its aim is double.
Likewise, in this excerpt of L’Ecole des fans, Jacques Martin technically only addresses the audience (first level of discourse), but his speech contains a hidden address to Jean-Sébastien (second level), even though the host’s sarcasm will always be intended for the audience (third level).
Finally, in this recording of a man speaking to no one in particular on the subway, we can hear different forms of address, whether abstract or concrete, present or absent, which follow and melt into one another to such a point that it becomes unclear, in the end, who exactly is being spoken to.

Index
  • A song like that

    Nina Simone, excerpt of a concert at the Montreux Jazz Festival, 1976.

  • Ah ils sont là !

    Voicemail message, 2017.

  • Allez on démarre

    Laurie Cholewa, excerpt of the TNT Show, Direct 8, 2008.

  • And we will defeat you

    Excerpt of a jihadist speech posted online, 2014.

  • Ashanti

    Jimmy and Imrul, excerpt of the Radio Ld'A project by Lincoln Tobier, Laboratoires d'Aubervilliers, 2002.

  • Attention d'vant là-bas les gars

    Poitou farmer’s call, excerpt of the recording Voix du Monde : une anthologie des expressions orales, 1986.

  • Au moment de commencer

    Roland Barthes, excerpt of the lecture Comment vivre ensemble, Collège de France, 1976-1977.

  • C'est ça la réalité

    Emmanuel Macron, présentation du "Plan Banlieues" à l’Élysée, 2018

  • C'est du racimse

    Jamel Debbouze, Omar Sy, Fred Testo, excerpt of the show Le Cinéma de Jamel, Canal +, 1998.

  • Ça m'arrive à moi

    Michel Sardou, excerpt of the show T'empêche tout le monde de dormir, M6, 2007.

  • Forty three with Amy now

    Auction at Christie's, excerpt of a YouTube video, 2008.

  • Gagner la scène

    Jacques Martin, excerpt of the show L'École des fans, France 2, 1990s.

  • Hands up

    Efrim Menuck, excerpt of A Silver Mt. Zion concert in Finland, 2008.

  • I'm so sorry

    Philip Anselmo, excerpt of a message posted on YouTube, 2007.

  • Is David Bowie here ?

    Nina Simone, excerpt of a concert at the Montreux Jazz Festival, 1974.

  • J’t’écoute frérot

    Extrait de l'émission Le Morning, Radio Générations, 2019

  • La Pomponnette

    Raimu, excerpt of the film La Femme du boulanger by Marcel Pagnol, 1938.

  • La R de Raquel

    Excerpt of the television gameshow La ruleta de la suerte, Spanish television, 2010.

  • Lafaard

    Altercation in a family shelter, Holland, 2012

  • Le bras trop long

    Léon Zitrone, excerpt from the show Intervilles, ORTF, 1962.

  • Le grand joueur du monde

    Sankara de Kunta, interview de Zinedine Zidane, extrait de l'émission Scud de Werra, République démocratique du Congo, 2009.

  • Le pied sur la ficelle

    Excerpt of a street show, personal recording, 2015.

  • Le rossignol d'Aznavour

    Jacky Bernard and Fernand Raynaud, excerpt of the recording Les secrets du music-hall dévoilés par Jacky Bernard published by Fernand Raynaud, 1965.

  • Les joies du direct

    Evelyne Thomas, excerpt of the show Y'a une solution à tout, Direct8, 2009.

  • Libérez les animaux

    Stéphane Bern, Alexis Grüss, an activist, excerpt of the show Le Fou du roi, France Inter, 2008.

  • Little Ivy

    Molly Roth, excerpt of the record Plant Talk, 1976.

  • Mais dites-moi, c'est vigousse

    Maïté and Micheline, excerpt of the show La Cuisine des mousquetaires, FR3, 1992.

  • Martin Schultz

    Daniel Cohn-Bendit, excerpt of an appearance at the European Parliament, 2010.

  • Merci

    Jane Birkin, excerpt of the live album Arabesques, 2002.

  • Mes bananes

    Scene from a market, excerpt of a recording by Manuel Coursin, 2007.

  • Mesdames et messieurs

    Jacques Chirac, excerpt of the presidential inauguration speech, 1995.

  • Mon Maître, mon Roi !

    Scene from the metro, personal recording by Nicolas Rollet, 2010.

  • Monsieur Hollande

    Dominique de Villepin, excerpt of a speech at the French National Assembly, 2006.

  • Muscle ton jeu, Robert

    Aimé Jacquet, excerpt of the film Les yeux dans les bleus, 1998.

  • Napit!

    Woman appealing to fellow passengers in the metro, Praha, 2013

  • Oh Bruno!

    Liliane Boury, excerpt of a plenary session of the Rhône-Alpes regional council, Lyon, January 31, 2013.

  • Pour que Spider y passe

    Child playing, recording of Camille Gaudou, 2016.

  • Premier baiser

    An account, excerpt of the show Les Pieds sur terre, France Culture, 2008.

  • Quelle année as-tu lu Proust?

    François Bon, excerpt of the conference Ecrivains en bord de mer, 2013.

  • Qui a fait ça ?

    Réprimandes, vidéo postée sur YouTube, 2016

  • Show me what you got

    Afida Turner, excerpt of the show Carré VIIIP, TF1, 2011.

  • Si demain

    Indochine, excerpt of a concert at the Zénith in Paris, 1986.

  • Tapiner dans le 9.2

    Morsay Truand 2 la Galère, vidéo postée sur YouTube, 2008.

  • Turn off the lights!

    Donald Trump, excerpt from a campaign rally, Atlanta, 2016. 

  • Typiquement Poulbot

    Claude François and Daniel Guichard, excerpt of Numéro 1 spécial Claude François, TF1, 1975.

  • Un petit message

    Scene from a club, excerpt from the show Boîte de N'huit, Direct8, 2010.

  • Una voz muy colocada

    Alejandro Jodorowsky, excerpt of a demonstration, YouTube, 2012.

  • Votre parti, madame

    François-Henri de Virieu, excerpt of the show L'Heure de vérité, France 2, 1994.

  • Votre vrai fantasme

    Claudia Tagbo, excerpt of the comedy sketch “La Faim,” Jamel Comedy Club, 2000s.

  • Vous, ronds de cuir

    Francis Lalanne, excerpt of the show Avis de recherche, TF1, 1990.

Pour que Spider y passe

Child playing, recording of Camille Gaudou, 2016.

Ah ils sont là !

Voicemail message, 2017.

Turn off the lights!

Donald Trump, excerpt from a campaign rally, Atlanta, 2016. 

Napit!

Woman appealing to fellow passengers in the metro, Praha, 2013

Lafaard

Altercation in a family shelter, Holland, 2012

Premier baiser

An account, excerpt of the show Les Pieds sur terre, France Culture, 2008.

Attention d'vant là-bas les gars

Poitou farmer’s call, excerpt of the recording Voix du Monde : une anthologie des expressions orales, 1986.

Si demain

Indochine, excerpt of a concert at the Zénith in Paris, 1986.

Quelle année as-tu lu Proust?

François Bon, excerpt of the conference Ecrivains en bord de mer, 2013.