Notice

Overemphasis | Occurs when speech puts itself on display, exposes or listens to itself, puts on a show. Overemphasis, which can be restrained or theatrical, is produced by making use of a certain number of speech parameters including intonation, articulation, accentuation, rhythm, vocabulary, and spacing.

The French word emphase does not have the same connotations as the English word emphasis. As can be seen on a synthesizer, emphasis is an operation that acts upon amplitude and frequency to modify an audio signal. When discussing breadth, however, emphase,or overemphasis, is the process by which words amplify certain of their characteristics. We can find examples of overemphasis using various sonic (volume, timbre, pitch, length) and linguistic (vocabulary, prosody) parameters.

Accentuation

Overemphasis by accentuation can be found in this statement by actor Laurent Terzieff or in this plea by Jacques Vergès, whose stress on certain syllables, or now and then on certain phonemes, accentuates a tone that places importance on the enunciative situation and intends to match its solemnity. In this televised appearance by Marine Le Pen, overemphasis is used like a highlighter to heavily stress the words “crazy” and “sharia.” In the same way, Fabrice Luchini shows us how accentuation can make a word overemphatic (by insisting on the “gr” of grelot [bell]), while others, like breaks in volume, changes in output or even drops in levels of consideration, can produce overemphasis. Overemphasis by accentuation is typically found in advertising utterances or movie trailers, which draw their power of conviction from it. Similarly, it can be seen functioning as an almost pedagogical tool in this nature documentary voiceover or with this host reminding viewers of a TV game show’s rules.

Carried away

When baroque director Eugene Green recites an excerpt of Bérénice, his speech is carried by a certain momentum, one that seems to underscore the importance of speaking beyond what is being uttered. In a sense, this momentum is what leads to the hyper-pronunciation and overexposure which characterize his accent (as can be heard with this grandfather telling a story, this little girl using the rhetorical codes of fairytales, or with this André Malraux speech, whose tone calls for such loftiness that certain sentences or the simple mention of a bathroom end up sounding more or less insane).

We can see this same gap between content and tonal momentum in a statement by Léon Blum. This gap is required in theatrical speech even when not used for dramatic effect, as can notably be heard here with Sarah Bernhardt. One could imagine that this recording, which dates from 1912, gives us a glimpse of the diction typical of the time. However, this kind of overemphasis in theatrical speech can still be heard today, as this excerpt of a play directed by Marc François, where overemphasis seems to be measured according to the dramatic effect desired, shows us.

Moreover, this process is a formal characteristic shared by theater and political speech (a claim we can verify by listening to this statement by Dominique de Villepin or, more openly, this activist speaking for the Modem party, or even the announcement of Kim-Jong Il’s death, which has everything of a staging about it).

Food mills

This way of projecting one’s speech into space so as to surpass the limits of one’s audience is frequently associated with prosodic momentum, to a kind of rhythmic carrying away, as can be heard in this presentation of a television show by Frédéric Mitterrand, in a long reply by Gérard Depardieu, or in the slam poetry of Julien Delmaire, whose tone changes as he begins his performance. In this last example, we can hear the specific moment when everyday speech shifts into poetic verse. Although there is no particularly notable change in accentuation or vocal volume in this Maria Casarès recital, her diction does become more concentrated, more stripped back, such that the care put into her pronunciation and the stereotypical intonation she takes on are tasked with giving power and singularity to her words. This way of drawing attention to what she is saying gives an emphatic push to speech that is little more than a whisper and almost completely lacking breadth (see also Je suis venu te dire que je m’en vais and Ecoute mon grand).

Loss of control

Loss of control happens when a speaker takes the plunge and lets their words overtake the spectacular intentions that may have led to their outburst in the first place. Such is the case when the Dictator dramatizes his anger to the point of temporarily losing his voice, the performative aspect of the outburst presenting his actions as outstanding and attempting to give them an extraordinary quality. On this level, when overemphasis by increase in vocal volume is pushed to such an extent that it tests the speaker’s voice, loss of timbre becomes a visceral process (see Monsieur Hollande and I found nirvana). Everything is increased, as if the speaker did not have enough vocal cords to speak with and was forced to gather organic resources more deeply within themselves (like this conductor whose instructions are louder than the orchestra). Overemphasis can also take place in one’s words rather than voice, but still stands within this same paradoxical desire to be freed from any kind of self-control. It can be a sign of defiance or serve to underscore one’s frankness, or it can aim to give value to untimely bravery.

These kinds of games can have an evolving nature. If overemphasis takes root over time, loss of control becomes an unstable process. Klaus Kinski’s outburst, for example, can mark his anger, or perhaps his desire to find it. This process can of course imply other emotions, like enthusiasm (Ça vous prend au ventre and Now My body is in tumulto) or hyper-fervor. And when a speaker loses their self-control, it is common to hear overemphasis lead to emptiness. One’s argumentative power thus becomes much less certain, allowing one to more or less willingly nuance what they are saying by adding distress to indignation (I’m not happy with you and Vous, ronds de cuir). Loss of control can happen when reaching a climax, giving the outburst a parodic quality.

Index

Et je baisse la voix pour le dire

Robert Badinter, address to the National Assembly, 1981.

Cette goutte de sueur qui perle

Interview with storyteller Gabriel Kinsa, excerpt from documentary La voix en quelques éclats, Pierre Boulay and Claire Parnet, 2013.

Porté aux nues par la superstar

Nikos Aliagas, excerpt from The Voice season 6, 2017.

Faites du bruit

Richard Darbois, jingle for DJ, video posted on Youtube, 2000s.

Groen-boek en daarna Wit-boek

Michel Daerden, speech at the Senate, Brussels, 2010

Zelim si

Teaser for a personal development seminar, YouTube, 2016

X’emozzjoni

Joseph Muscat, excerpt from a campaign speech, Malta, 2017.

Jesteś mężem stanu

Reciting of a poem by a child at official inauguration, Poland, 2011

Então fuja meu amor, beijinhos

Dialogue between of a reality tv star and a beggar, Porto, 2013.