Pacing | Occurs when speech distributes its tonic accents into regular patterns. Pacing is a rhythmic process that supports a speaker and allows them to clarify what they are saying, to speak longer or more quickly, or to rally another’s backing or enthusiasm.

All speech is structured rhythmically. The most everyday forms of speech are marked by more or less regular accents and syllable onsets. This “more or less” provides us with a starting point in approaching the question of pacing: In which situations does speech pace itself? How does pacing support its speaker? How do we use pacing?

Keeping time

This excerpt of a campaign speech in which Barack Obama shouts out his famous motto “Yes we can” shows us how discourse takes shape by strengthening tonic accents into a regular pattern. It paces itself. This instance of pacing is then taken on by the crowd in its own way: “We want change.”

Indeed, pacing is not an inflexible phenomenon of speech: it fluctuates—and can often be seen as a process. We hear discourse being paced, or trending toward a certain pace, as in this excerpt where an English miner on strike calls for solidarity and justice, this Patti Smith performance, or this message by an unusual American politician (see also We are now the generation of the heart of the fight back).

Conversational pacing

Sometimes pacing happens within the context of interlocution, in the game of alternation that constitutes speaking in turn. In such cases, speakers pace themselves together, as in this pseudo-advertisement by the Fabulous Trobadors, or this excerpt of a Monty Python sketch (see also Les prières dans les langues).

Hammered pacing

Some forms of speech are remarkable for the extreme nature of their pacing, for the extent to which they do not operate by the regular alternation of stressed and unstressed beats, but by accentuating every syllable. This reading by Charles Pennequin offers an example. The paradox of this hammered form of pacing can be stated as follows: although spoken at the most regular possible tempo, it is perhaps the least rhythmic form of speech imaginable.


As we saw with Obama, one of the most obvious effects of pacing is momentum. One can deliberately aim to sweep others away with them, as in this excerpt of Fabrice Luchini reciting a text by La Fontaine (see also Colette Magny in “La Bataille”). Pacing can also sometimes lead to a trance-like effect on the speaker and those around them (see also: Fabienne Tabard, Dedication to the Tackling of the Beast and the Dragon, Santa Cruz).


Pacing most often functions as a way of structuring speech, which it cuts into distinct meaningful units: we can hear this process at work in Dominique de Villepin’s statement just outside of the Clearstream trial. Even more paradigmatic is this excerpt of a documentary extolling the virtues of a method designed to stop stuttering, where the disability is overcome by cutting up an utterance and hammering it into separate syllables.


Pacing can be used to differentiate a message, as in this radio show jingle, or this excerpt of a love message left on someone’s voicemail, where the caller attempts a particularly rhythmic form of pacing (based on the lyrics to a Black Flag song). It can be a big help in reading a long question with limited time during a game, or it can function as a dramatic tool, as in this excerpt from a Fassbinder film.

The aesthetics of pacing

Pacing is ideal for aestheticizing speech, whether in classical recitals, like this one by Maria Casarès, in contemporary poetry readings (see “Ne surtout pas s’endormir”, “We Bomb”), in slam poetry or rap songs (see Double time, I’m that nigger, and Hebs), or in d/node/9401.

Saturation and convincing

Pacing used as a means of saturation is best heard in tightly woven speech that progresses without spacing. This kind of tense rhythm makes interruption and interlocution equally difficult. This statement by lawyer Philippe Bilger gives us a very clear example of the process. It is a strategy used for convincing others. It is therefore not surprising to hear strong forms of pacing in political speech. Chaplin’s satire gives us a striking example of this.


Some forms of speech are paced by an external activity they are indexed to: this is the case with horse racing commentary, auctions, or even when accompanying someone giving birth. In other situations, an invitation to learn something, to strap on a seatbelt, or to practice one’s pronunciation will pace a speaker’s discourse.

Lastly, pacing can function as a way of doing something together, like reciting a poem or being with others for the duration of a protest or religious ritual (see the entry on Chorality).

  • (Mh mh mh) yeh yeh eh

    Selknam Shaman, Argentina, excerpt of Les voix du monde : une anthologie des expressions vocales, 1966

  • 4 balles 10 francs 10 ans

    Scène from the funfair 'Foire du Trône', recording by Daniel Deshays, date unknown.

  • 52 seconds

    Neil Patrick Harris, excerpt of the show How I met your mother, 2012.

  • À feu et à sang

    Phone conversation between a manager and an employee, excerpt from the TV show, Cash Investigation, France Télévisions, 2017.

  • A pleasant evening

    Announcement in a TGV train car, 2011.

  • Ai-le-ron

    Scene from a rehabilitation process, YouTube video, 2008.

  • Au centre à l'arrière

    Security instructions before takeoff, recording by Nicolas Rollet, 2012.

  • Au salon de l'agriculture

    Claire Chazal, excerpt of the TF1 news hour, 2013.

  • Avec une brutalité énorme

    Speech of a union leader after an action at the Ministry of Labor, 2019.

  • Awesome 84

    The Electrified Mojo, radio show jingle on WJMB, Detroit, 1984.

  • Beaucoup plus tchic que ça

    Natalia Makarovas, ballet rehearsal for the Paris Opera, excerpt of the documentary film Ballerina, BBC, 1982.

  • Bezerk

    Voicemail message quoting lyrics from “Nervous Breakdown” by Black Flag, unknown source.

  • Blaze the light of ten thousands suns

    Ceremony by the Church Universal and Triumphant, excerpt of The Sounds of American Doomsday Cults, 1984.

  • Bona nit

    Joan Porras, message of support for political prisoners, 2018.

  • Cachou Lajaunie

    Fabulous Trobadors, excerpt of the recording Era pas de faire, 1992.

  • Cartoon de Grain

    Excerpt of commentary on a trifecta bet, 2007.

  • Célèbre avenue

    Excerpt of the show Questions pour un champion, 2000s.

  • 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.

  • Continuar na merda

    Message posted on YouTube, 2014.

  • Continuez toujours

    Pierre Velay, excerpt of the recording Accouchement sans douleur, 1960s.

  • Cos I don't write shit

    Lil Wayne, excerpt of the album Tha Carter III, 2008.

  • Cuarenta y cinco

    Excerpt of the show El Precio Justo, TVE, 2000.

  • De abdoer twist

    Excerpt of the show Tommy Teleshopping, Dutch television, 2013.

  • Deinococcus radiodurans

    Adrienne Kish, excerpt of the show La Méthode scientifique, France Culture, 2019.

  • Didgeridoo

    Australian aboriginal chant, excerpt of Les Voix du monde : une anthologie des expressions vocales, 1963.

  • Die greulichen Katzen

    Klaus Kinski, excerpt of Friedrich Schiller’s poem “Der Handschuh,” Deutsche Grammophon, 1959.

  • Discours de Hynkel

    Charlie Chaplin, excerpt of the film The Dictator, 1940.

  • Double time

    Subzero, excerpt of a recording session posted on YouTube, 2008.

  • Écoutez attentivement

    Excerpt of a recording for learning German, unknown source.

  • Eh bien, non !

    Julien Blaine, recitation of the poem I am a poet, 2000's.

  • Ephésiel 6.18

    Pastor Olivier Derain, excerpt of the recording La prière et le parler en langue, 2005.

  • Et comment ils sont cons

    Jean-Marc Lebihan, excerpt of a performance at the Aurillac Festival, 2013.

  • Eu estou ficando louco

    Quarantine message posted on Whatsapp, 2020.

  • Fabienne Tabard

    Jean-Pierre Léaud, excerpt of the film Baisers volés by François Truffaut, 1968.

  • Franchissez la porte d'entrée

    Eric Maillet, excerpt of the sound art piece Attente du standard, Villa Arson, 1995.

  • Franz Biberkopf

    Günter Lamprecht, excerpt of the series Berlin Alexanderplatz by R. W. Fassbinder, 1979-1980.

  • H24 sur l'terrain

    Freestyle, video posted on YouTube, 2009

  • Hebs

    Rim-K, excerpt of the a capella version of “Banlieue” by Booba, 2005.

  • I hear a sound of victory

    Paula White, excerpt from a preaching in support of the recount during the U.S. presidential election, 2020. 

  • I murdered a rock

    Muhammad Ali, excerpt of a press conference, Kinshasa, 1974.

  • I shot Reagan

    Olivier Quintyn, excerpt of the bonus CD accompanying the journal Nioques 1.9/2.0, 2003.

  • I'm not a robot

    Excerpt of a dialogue between chatbots, Cornell’s Creative Machines Lab, 2011.

  • I'm that nigger

    Saul Williams, excerpt of the film Slam by Marc Levin, 1998.

  • If only this one is ours

    Danez Smith, public reading of his poem Dear White America, 2014.

  • Ik vind het niet leuk

    Extract from a language course, YouTube, 2010

  • Il va mourir

    Rachid Abou Houdeyfa, excerpt of Au cœur d'une tombe video posted on YouTube, 2012.

  • Je bavarde toujours

    M. Liochon, excerpt of an interview, Le petit rapporteur, TF1, 1975.

  • Je dis bien d’danser

    Jean Perrigault, excerpt from a radio interview, 1949.

  • Je suis le train

    Sylvie Noachovitch, excerpt of a YouTube video, 2007.

  • Justice for the miners

    Speech by a protesting miner, excerpt of the recording Shoulder to Shoulder, 1985.

  • J’t’écoute frérot

    Extract from Le Morning, Radio Générations, 2019.

  • Kot resilta ankèt la?

    Jean-Claude Bajeux, speech at Yves Volel's funeral, 1987.

  • L'après-midi ça s'envole

    Natalie Sbaï, Radio Télévision Suisse weather report, 2020.

  • La bataille

    Colette Magny, excerpt of the recording Transit, 1975.

  • Laisse mon mari tranquille

    Extract from an episode of a Nollywood series, 2019. 

  • Le lac

    Maria Casarès, excerpt of Les 25 plus beaux poèmes de la langue française, 1960s.

  • Le mot grelot me rend fou

    Alain Finkielkraut and Fabrice Luchini, excerpt of the show Répliques, France Culture, 2011.

  • Les jours s'en vont, je demeure

    Guillaume Apollinaire, recitation of Le pont Mirabeau, Les Archives de la parole, 1913.

  • Malou Bomboka M Midi

    Advertisement for the opening of a restaurant, video posted on YouTube, 2017

  • Medal wa mieta

    Excerpt of the 800-meter freestyle swimming final at the Athens Olympics, NHK, 2004.

  • Mon père

    Charles Pennequin, excerpt of a reading at the Centre Pompidou, 2000.

  • Moses supposes

    Excerpt from the film Singin’ in the Rain by Stanley Donen & Gene Kelly, 1952. 

  • Myō hō ren ge kyō

    Excerpt from a learning video of "gongyo" by Soka Gakkai International, 2013.

  • Nabil al-Arabi

    Excerpt of the BBC news hour in Arabic, 2012.

  • Naga Pedale

    Cumbia Siglo XX, excerpt of the compilation Palenque Palenque : Champeta criolla & Afro Roots in Columbia, 1970s.

  • Ne surtout pas s'endormir

    Olivier Cadiot, excerpt of a reading of Retour définitif et durable de l'être aimé, Théâtre national de la Colline, 2002.

  • Ni putes ni soumises

    Protest, personal recording, 2003.

  • Niemand meer ?

    Excerpt of a bull auction, 2011.

  • Nine seventy-five

    John Korrey, excerpt of an auction, excerpt from the DVD Chant of a Champion, 2007.

  • No, you didn't

    The Monty Python, excerpt of The Monty Python's Flying Circus, 1972.

  • N’tan siga manè guèrre

    Message from a singer, video posted on YouTube, 2019. 

  • O, let them be left

    Recital of a G. M. Hopkins poem by schoolchildren, recording by Jay Salter, 1998.

  • On joue tous les ballons

    A rugby coach showing support before a game, 2008.

  • On vit de trucs et de trocs

    Samir Hadj-Doudou, excerpt from the program Le Téléphone sonne, France Inter, 2020.

  • Par madame Sarah Bernhardt

    Sarah Bernhardt reading a monologue from Jean Racine’s Phèdre, 1902.

  • Petit pot de beurre

    French pronunciation exercises, recording by Joris Lacoste, 2013.

  • Piss Factory

    Patti Smith, excerpt of a reading at the Centre Pompidou, Paris, 2000.

  • Red, blue and white, all right!

    Cheerleading competition (TC Wiliams High School), excerpt of a YouTube video, 2010.

  • Sanmalu

    Scene from an auction at the Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo, YouTube video, 2007.

  • Santa Cruz

    Excerpt of a Portuguese ritual exorcism, recording by Tiago Pereira, 2010.

  • Shukraan li'iihtmamikum

    Announcement by an Air Morocco stewardess, personal recording, 2010.

  • Si! No!

    Dialogue between a father and son, video posted on YouTube, 2011.

  • Six six six sick

    CB radio exchanges between American truck drivers, 2009.

  • Tahzzabt

    Coran reading by a Berber choir from the High Atlas mountains, excerpt of Les Voix du monde : anthologie des expressions orales, 1977.

  • The axe came down

    Recounting of a man filmed by The Daily Mail, England, 2014.

  • The rent is too damn high

    Jimmy McMillan, excerpt of a debate to become governor of New York, 2010.

  • This is the fifth house

    Tom Lescher aka Kaypacha, excerpt from a video on the YouTube channel « New Paradigm Astrology », 2019.

  • Too many names

    Audrey Hepburn, excerpt of a speech made after receiving the Cecil B. DeMille Award, 1990.

  • Trava-lingua

    Portuguese pronunciation exercises, personal recording by Tiago Pereira, 2000s.

  • Un croc de boucher

    Dominique de Villepin, excerpt of a statement to press just outside of the Clearstream trial, 2009.

  • We bomb

    Allen Ginsberg, excerpt of a reading of the poem “Hum Bom!”, 1994.

  • We want change

    Barack Obama, excerpt of a speech in New Hampshire, 2008.

  • Why can't a woman be like a man

    Rex Harrison, Wilfrid Hyde-White, from George Cukor's My Fair Lady, 1964. 

I hear a sound of victory

Paula White, excerpt from a preaching in support of the recount during the U.S. presidential election, 2020. 

Eh bien, non !

Julien Blaine, recitation of the poem I am a poet, 2000's.

Bona nit

Joan Porras, message of support for political prisoners, 2018.