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.

  • 3949

    Telephone server for Pôle Emploi, 2010.

  • A Gesù Cristo direttamente

    Stefano Siviero, excerpt from a video posted on YouTube, 2014.

  • A global citizen of the world

    Commercial for investment opportunities in cyprus real estate development, 2016

  • A pleasant evening

    Announcement in a TGV train car, 2011.

  • Abandonnez-vous à la détente

    Excerpt of the hypnosis recording Méta-relaxation : créativité face aux problèmes, 1990s.

  • Allô

    Simone Signoret, excerpt of the play La Voix humaine by Jean Cocteau, 1964.

  • Alors

    Ramon Pipin, excerpt from a jazz tutorial, video posted on Facebook, 2020.

  • Alors écoute euh…

    Delphine Seyrig, excerpt from an audio letter to her son, 1974.

  • Alors tout de bon

    WhatsApp vocal message, 2020.

  • 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.

  • Bloquez-moi ce port

    Message posted on Youtube, 2019.

  • C, E and G

    Excerpt of a piano tutorial for learning the song “Imagine,” YouTube video, 2008.

  • Ce que nous défendons

    Interruption of the 8 o’clock news hour by the Group of Occasional and Precarious Workers, France 2, 2003.

  • Chacun son cul

    Scene from the subway, recording by Thibault Capéran, 2012.

  • Couvre-toi bien

    Voicemail message, 2013.

  • Daniel, j’t'explique

    What’s App message, personal recording, 2018

  • De tout mon amour

    Excerpt of a video blog, YouTube, 2007.

  • De toute urgence

    Message left on a voicemail by a banker, 2007.

  • Dedicated to Molly

    Personal message, excerpt of the art project One Free Minute, Montréal, 2009.

  • Enfin quand même

    Voicemail message, 2015.

  • Entre ici, Jean Moulin

    André Malraux, excerpt of a speech made to mark the transfer of Jean Moulin’s ashes to the Panthéon, 1964.

  • F.O.U.T.R.E.

    Message left on Martin Juvanon de Vachat's voicemail, 2017.

  • Fils de pisse

    Voicemail message, 2019

  • Force à eux

    Extract from a report presented by children, Jemidor TV, 2021.

  • Hallo Heribert

    Message posted on YouTube, 2013.

  • Hey you, don't watch that

    Madness, excerpt of the recording One Step Beyond, 1979.

  • Hold & Release

    Pierre Raymonde, excerpt of Erotic Aerobics by Pierre Raymonde and Bugs Bower, 1982.

  • I was a typical Canadian

    Excerpt of a jihadist speech posted online, 2014.

  • I'm so sorry

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

  • Il s'appelle Gipsy

    Excerpt of a demonstration of how to play an instrument, 1970s.

  • Il va y avoir un grand silence

    Message sent to a Whatsapp group during the strike against pension reform, 2020.

  • It's your mother

    Voicemail message, 2008.

  • J'invite

    Charles de Gaulle, excerpt of the radio appeal of June 22, 1940.

  • J'me sens de plus en plus seule

    Alexandra Viau, excerpt of Alexandra, une lettre d'amour audio by Alexandra Viau and Cédric Chabuel, Arte Radio, 2003.

  • Je vais le rappeler

    Voicemail message, 2011. 

  • Je vous gratte le cul

    Brigitte Fontaine, excerpt of the show Des Croissants dans l'acide, Ouï FM, 2010.

  • J’ai très envie de me résoudre

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

  • L'epoxy 100% solide

    Frédéric Bourdon, excerpt from a promotional video, YouTube, 2013.

  • Le zouk gingembre

    Excerpt of a dance class, video posted on YouTube, 1990s.

  • Lera

    Video about creating a declaration of love, YouTube, 2013.

  • Les oreilles apparentes

    Photomaton's instructions, personal recording, 2017.

  • Little Ivy

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

  • Maman

    Scene from a waiting room, personal recording by Olivier Normand, 2010.

  • Me fui tranquila

    Doctora Bertha Elena Muñoz Mier, post-mortem message, 2013.

  • Notre Père

    Prayer spoken by a child, excerpt of a recording posted on YouTube, 2008.

  • Nqol lél3alm

    Abdel Basset-al-Sarout, excerpt of the documentary Return to homs by Talal Derki, 2013.

  • Nyu-ryokou ga kakounin

    Voice server of the company Yamato, Japan, 2014.

  • Oggi stiam in diretta

    Excerpt of a psychic TV show, Telergione Toscana, 2014

  • On a fait une belle run

    Excerpt from a stream of Dead Cells par At0miumVOD, vidéo Youtube, 2018.

  • On va faire le tô

    Excerpt from a cooking recipe, video posted on Youtube, 2019. 

  • Oui, ben une seconde !

    Sylvie Joly, excerpt of the comedy sketch “SOS Amitié,” 1977.

  • Partagez un max

    Street scene, extract from a livestream on Periscope, 2018.


  • Plus vite que la musique

    Mohamed, excerpt of the show Gym Direct, D8 TV, 2014.

  • 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. 

  • Robinson et Crusoé

    Isabelle Adjani, excerpt of auditions for the film Le Sauveur by Michel Mardore, 1970.

  • Sa spugnetta

    Make-up tutorial, YouTube, 2019

  • Sanmalu

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

  • Sauf le vendredi

    Gennevilliers Town Hall voice server, 2019.

  • Siete cinco cinco

    Excerpt of The Legendary Tape Recordings Vol.2 by Walter Gavitt Ferguson, year unknown. 

  • Siplaît monsieur

    Litany of a beggar, personal recording, 2019.

  • Te mettre à genoux

    Excerpt of the show C'est mon choix, FR3, 1990s.

  • Terminus

    Announcement in the Paris metro, line 14, 2010.

  • This is the fifth house

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

  • Tiens bon ma puce

    Message posted on YouTube, 2014.

  • Tout va lui échapper

    Catherine Lemorton during a debate in French Parliament about the second Hadopi Law, 2009.

  • Tu es à moi et je suis à toi

    Redjep Mitrovitsa, excerpt of the performance Le Journal de Nijinski recorded for France Culture, 1996.

  • Tu es mon autre

    Excerpt of a YouTube video, year unknown.

  • Tu viens chéri(e)

    Bernard Heidsieck, excerpt of the sound poem “Tu viens chéri(e),” 1975.

  • T’es qu’une merde

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

  • Una especie de tinta negra

    Excerpt of a ASMR meditation sound session, YouTube, 2014.

  • Une petite anecdote

    Excerpt from an audio correspondence, 1993

  • Voici San Ku Kaï

    Newsreader, excerpt of the TV listings for Antenne 2, 1980s.

  • Vos chemins de traverse

    Macha Béranger, excerpt of the opening credits to Allô Macha, France Inter, 1977-2006.

  • Vos Vuitton, vos Rollex

    Scene from the Parisian metro, personal recording by Joëlle Gayot, 2013.

  • Vous les jeunes

    Message from Queen Mathilde, extract from a video posted on YouTube, 2018

  • We will meet again

    Queen Elizabeth II, excerpt from an allocuation, 2020.

  • Yes

    Amy Walker, YouTube video, 2008.

  • You are special

    Excerpt of the show Sesame Street, season 43, episode 12, 2012.

  • You're talking to me ?

    Robert De Niro, excerpt of the film Taxi Driver by Martin Scorsese, 1976.

  • Your expectant penis

    Excerpt of the compilation Flexi-Sex, Trunk Records, 1970s.

Force à eux

Extract from a report presented by children, Jemidor TV, 2021.


Ramon Pipin, excerpt from a jazz tutorial, video posted on Facebook, 2020.