Projection | Occurs when speech is addressed to an absent interlocutor. Lacking any response, the speaker builds their speech around a projected image of the recipient in more or less intimate, generic, real, or stereotyped ways.

Projection is relatively recent in the history of human speech. Before the invention of recording, situations where one spoke to an absent interlocutor were rather rare: prayer or invocation, theater or poetry, madness. Today, forms of speech containing projection are very present in our lives, whether in television, radio, recorded announcements, vocal servers, voicemail messages, or online videos. In face to face situations, speech constantly adjusts and coordinates itself to another person’s words. Without an interlocutor, however, a speaker relies on their own idea of who they are speaking to, giving their speech the particular character of a voice spoken in emptiness.

Standardized address

Speech that is generically addressed, paced by default to suit everyone, all types of interlocutor, can be heard every day. This is speech whose neutrality has been carefully thought out. It is the speech of vocal servers, recorded announcements in the subway, airport announcements, or rituals like auctions, for example. It is also the speech of television newsreaders, which must be able to be received by every category of viewer.

In the same way, voicemail greetings are an occasion for constructing speech that is welcoming to all, whether it be one’s girlfriend, parents, employer, or tax inspector. These greetings are standardized according to how the speaker designs their panel of listeners, and how they choose to create a more or less distant relationship with them.

This reading of a Serge Gainsbourg song shows another way of searching for a certain form of address to all.

In the following excerpt, taken from an amateur radio station’s “making of” segment, we can hear this very process of constructing a standardized form of address in action. More specifically, we can hear speakers constantly move from a present-concrete form of address to a projected-abstract form of address.

This last case, excerpted from a hypnosis recording, is interesting in that the desire to create speech that works for any listener does not imply the elaboration of a neutral form as it does in previous examples but, on the contrary, a stylized form so strange that it corresponds to no predefined relationship (and can thus be suited to anybody).

Fantasized interlocutors

The process of projection is particularly interesting when the speaker addresses a given category of people: by imagining idealized members of these categories, the speaker reveals which preconceived ideas they may have about them. This can apply to the idea of a child, a potential buyer of an exceptional instrument, a fan, a possible adversary, a john, a viewer or even a solitary radio listener. This is also the case with manuals or tutorials: the speaker addresses themselves to a panel of home gymnastics or zouk enthusiasts of varying sizes; to listeners wanting to learn a John Lennon song or how to speak English with a Russian accent. One even speaks in a very similar manner to the owner of a plant, or to the plant itself.

Artist Amy Walker's collection of “yeses” each puts a particular relationship with the recipient into play. In the same way, this excerpt from a Sylvie Joly sketch imagines a scene with an annoying interlocutor. The following two excerpts show two very different ways of addressing the category of “the people”: an excerpt from General De Gaulle’s radio appeal of June 22, 1940 and an excerpt from an appearance by the Group of Occasional and Precarious Workers on France 2’s news hour.

We can also hear the very particular way in which this Art Brut artist’s recorded message addresses the “girls and women of the entire world.” With less crooning, one can sometimes hear individuals in the street or in the subway speaking to no one and everyone all at once, to the public in the subway train, to the bastards, to the manipulators that we suspect are among us (see also Mais oui t’as raison. Lastly, prayer is a perfect example of projected speech and, moreover, develops a relationship that is completely fantasized for some but very intimate and real for others.

Intimate relationships

When projection takes shape around an absent interlocutor that we know well, what is used in the resulting discourse is the memory of the relationship we have, or dream of having, with said person: projection then shows us the essence of this relationship, at least according to how the speaker projects it. Such is the case in this tape from a woman to her mother (see also Tu es mon autre). In a child’s calls to his absent mother, we can hear the residual intimacy of a mother-son relationship.

One advantage of projection’s inherent distance is that it always functions as a vessel for saying things we would not say to a person’s face (see Te mettre à genoux and Dedicated to Molly, or even for nearly confessing our love to someone. In this famous speech marking the transfer of Jean Moulin’s ashes to the Pantheon, André Malraux’s overemphatic solemnity is certainly made possible by projection (it is hard to imagine this type of speech addressed to someone alive and present), though it is likely amplified by the speaker’s responsibility, speaking in his country’s name and thus giving his words a remarkable form of overemphasis (see the entry on Overemphasis).

Performing identities

Film and theater are paradigms for situations in which the absence of a real interlocutor allows a speaker to play a role, as with a young Isabelle Adjani in her first audition, Simone Signoret in The Human Voice, or even Redjep Mitrovitsa performing an excerpt from the Nijinsky Diary (see alsoYou’re talking to me?).

But this process can also be found in non-artistic situations: projection is what allows a speaker to take on an identity that suits them without the risk of being put in their place. Whether it be a crew from the suburbs of Paris speaking to an aspiring rapper, a bank employee leaving a message on a client’s voicemail, a teenager speaking to the viewers of her blog, or an individual castigating the “murder of Palestinians,” each of these examples shows speakers freely imagining and performing their role within a given enunciative situation.


Porra, me da um odio, cara !

Excerpt of a video posted on Instagram, 2017.

Tous les sons

Excerpt from a children's hypnosis video, YouTube, 2010.

Je t’aime plus que mon coeur

Excerpt of a record Calibre Auto Recording, 60's.

Je parle sur le disque

Excerpt of a record Calibre Auto Recording, 60's.

T’es qu’une merde

Five messages left on the answering machine of Nicolas Rollet, 2008.


Voicemail message from Martin Juvanon de Vachat, 2017.

J’ai très envie de me résoudre

André Manoukian, excerpt from the radio show Les routes de la musique, France Inter, 2016.

Rire c'est bon pour la santé

Johann Schneider Ammann, President of the Helvetic Confederation, excerpt from a video address on the occasion of the Day of the Sick, 2016. 

Je vais le rappeler

Voicemail message, 2011.