Repetition | Emphasized reiteration of a word, phrase, or even syllable. Repetition involves a slowing down, a stopping, or a stand-still of speech, but it also arouses the listener’s interest and produces numerous poetic and rhetorical effects.

There are different ways of using repetition as a tool in speech, depending on which utterances are available to a speaker in a given situation and the ways they can find to vary them. There are two main forms of repetition: suspension, which takes place when an element temporarily loops itself within a larger utterance, and refrains, where the utterance’s entire structure is looped.

Let us begin with an announcement made on Radio London during World War II. Here, the message is reduced to a repeated phrase: it is precisely the act of repeating the utterance (stressed by “twice we say”) that lets us know it is a coded message.


On a radio show, one can hear researcher Bruno Karsenti’s diction stumble on certain utterances, producing the stuttering repetition of a residual “uh.” This bouncing around creates light pauses in the flow of his speech. Another temporality takes shape, changing the listener’s focus.

Indeed, the repetition of a word, syllable, or phrase can lead to a different form of understanding that becomes increasingly complex over the course of each repetition: thus, as Charles Bukowski repeats the utterance “green trees,” it progressively loses its color: “OK, what you gonna do with it?”

Whether used as a poetic device or an insistent example, repetition also functions as an argument for maintaining a speaker’s authority in a given situation. This can be heard in a repetition made by Igor Stravinsky, or in this interview that feels something like an interrogation.

Contrary to the special case of the Radio London announcement cited above, a repetition’s existence is often linked to the variations a speaker imprints upon it. Whether with Senator Robert Byrd condemning dog fighting or filmmaker Jean-Marie Straub in discussion after a projection, emotion—real or faked—is concentrated into a limited group of words that speakers give resonance to by varying tone, intensity, and address. Spacing and overemphasis are combined when Nicolaz Ceauşescu’s speech, interrupted by a surging crowd, is reduced to an “Alo!” (“Calm down!”), first repeated as an order then as a plea to his angry people. In a hypnosis recording for insomniacs, the repetition of an utterance also implies the repetition of a form of silence with various characteristics.

Speech is often suspended because it is indexed to an external activity. But although repetition gives this auction its momentum back, suspension is more often a means of continuing or accentuating the course of things, as it does in this birth or in this majorette training session, or as shown by this pornographic actress. Repetition varies according to the demands of the activity it is indexed to.


This part of the collection contains cases that lie somewhere between suspension and refrains: through lexical exhaustion, repetition no longer functions as a temporary pause in the flux of speech, but makes up the very structure of its discourse. It is no longer a deviation but a situation builder within a given discourse’s routine.

Learning situations function this way by repeating an utterance’s successive elements, as with the teacher himself in this dictation, or the teacher and student in this method for learning Russian. In these speech situations, vocabulary is limited to a finite whole. It can take the form of information directed at users; it can be the name of the protagonists in a love story; or it can be instructions given during gym class, where utterances are combined randomly, just like the calls of this Turkish grinder.


In this example, the repetition of single utterances is combined with a number of variations and modifications, as in this excerpt from the film The Pink Panther.

Whether in this recording of tongue twisters or this score by Georges Aperghis, the pattern that emerges from repetition highlights the formal properties of speech. An ordinary poetic gesture can lead to exhausting a phrase and its meaning, as in this Joseph Beuys performance, to accepting one’s sexual orientation, as in this scene from André Téchiné’s Wild Reeds, to accompanying a parturient woman’s work, or even to underscoring a political message, as in this speech by an activist during a radio show about the Gruss circus.

Repetition is also a particularly effective tool for group-building: the repetition of a slogan allows a choir of prisoners to take shape in this scene from Jim Jarmusch’s Down by Law. Other types of chorality built through repetition can be heard in this praise to Allah, or in this protest-like artistic performance.

As we saw in Nicolaz Ceauşescu’s address and in the Pink Panther excerpt, repeating an utterance allows one to clarify, or even modify, its meaning over the course of its repetition. Thus, in this clip from The Wire and in this recording of a woman speaking to a donkey, only the words “fuck” and “sta” stand for the description of a murder and the driving of an animal, respectively.

This collection also provides several excerpts of repetitions that modify or corrupt the repeated utterance that structures them. In this excerpt of an improvised Joaõ Fiadeiro performance, the initial utterance is augmented by temporary additions, though this augmentation can also take place through accumulation, as it does in this Christophe Fiat reading, or add itself to a series, as it does with this man reading a newspaper’s obituary notices. In this example, the poet Jaap Blonk repeats an utterance, increasingly compressing it until it is crushed into a succession of purely percussive consonants.


A terra está contaminada

Pastor preaching in the street, São Paulo, 2012.

De tous ces immondices

Bailiff's report, from the show Les pieds sur terre, France Culture, 2015.

Je t’aime plus que mon coeur

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

Faut toucher Mogded

Excerpt from a boxing training for children, YouTube, 2013.

Attention à la mousse !

Arrival of a skating race at the Strasbourg Europe Races, YouTube video, 2008.

4 balles 10 francs 10 ans

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

T’as beau leur montrer par A + B

Account recorded by the photographer Antoine Bruy, 2016. 

Sehr geehrte

Steffen Königer, speech to the German parliament, 2016.