Spacing | Occurs when speech gives way to silence or absence. Spacing can refer to the gaps formed by accidental interruptions, by the indexation of speech to an external event, or to rhetorical strategies used to cut up, establish, and strengthen one’s discourse.

We are having a conversation: I let you speak; you let me answer. This is the clearest example of spacing created by the alternation of speakers exchanging words, as in this telephone conversation. But spacing is above all a process, and often a resource, that takes place within the flux of speech: we search for words, we recall ideas, we punctuate sentences, we draw blanks. To solely associate spacing to the negative ideas of “silence” or, worse, “emptiness,” would be to underestimate its richness and creativity: often, spacing is also what is being said.


Spacing is a resource that helps structure magisterial speech. Anne Fagot-Largeault’s pauses in a class at the Collège de France punctuate and highlight certain utterances, in much the same way as those of Jacques Vergès do in his plea at Klaus Barbie’s trial. The poet Henri Chopin cuts his words into very short segments, and in this Catholic sermon, it is the regularity of spacing which paces the priest’s speech and underscores his desire for clarity (see also Tu es mon autre). This formal cutting-up of speech can also be seen in the reading of a statement between two rounds of the French presidential election, or in this poem by Claude Royet-Journoud read by the author, in which spacing corresponds to the blank space left on the page being read from.

As noted by this journalist, pauses can be tools for dramatization in the media, like Dominique de Villepin’s emphatic cuts outside of the Clearstream trial. In the same way, one can enjoy the silences that say much about about Jacques Lacan at the Free University of Louvain in 1972, or American senator Robert Byrd’s pauses during a speech against the training of combat dogs in 2007.

Increasingly large spacing gives a hypnotist’s speech all the seductive breadth it needs: in a very similar way, it emphasizes the impression of trust and intimacy sought by Laurie Anderson in this excerpt of her record Big Science.


One can choose to idealize constancy of flow in speech. But if spacing is often interesting, it is because of its capacity for creating distance from a norm. Spacing becomes time for reflection when Jean-Pierre Léaud’s question is a little harsh, when Raphaël Enthoven’s is “so good,” when the journalist questioning Michel Foucault tries to unsettle him, or when Juliette Binoche plays with the limits of mutism to challenge the norms of an interview (see also Ah, un paysan! and C’est quelqu’un qui euhm). It becomes a form of stretching, marking the process of recollection, in this excerpt from a hypnosis session, or when actor Grégoire Monsaingeon describes his allotment of actions in a play. Such recollections can bring about strong emotions which demand a certain amount of stretching, like when Mike Tyson speaks about his mentor Cus d’Amato.

Spacing can also be heard when speech depends upon an external event. For the poet Klaus Groh, counting falling drops, for Georges Perec, simply describing what is taking place in the street, for this radio reporter during the invasion of Bagdad in 2003. For these shepherds, the length of an echo determines the frequency of calls made from one valley to another; in this example, it is the time consonants and vowels take to be turned around, or here a way of regulating an announcement aimed at the stream of travelers in a train station.

An event can lead to speech being spaced out, as experienced by Roland Barthes in this excerpt from a class at the Collège de France. It can also be heard in this face-off with the angry people of Bucharest on December 21, 1989. Sometimes the event in question is pathological and makes silence the very substance of a dialogue between a daughter and her mother, diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. On the other hand, spacing can be a means of reestablishing speech, as in this statement recorded by an aphasic speaker. It can even be a resource in the process of learning how to read.

These two notions of pause and stretching are not, of course, mutually exclusive. One can establish a certain aesthetic framework for enunciation while being clearly constrained from the outside, as heard in the excerpt of Roland Barthes at the Collège de France, or with this witness to the accident at the Fukushima nuclear power plant, who comments on the seriousness of the event during a press review.

Far from being a simple normed mark limited to regulating the flow of speech, spacing is thus involved in speech as an action, whether to reap the benefits of this regulation, or for purposes that are less psychological and more social or dramatic.


Chicken or beef

Mic soundcheck before a Five Finger Death Punch Concert, Casper, WY, 2012.

La balle ou la tasse

Dialogue between a neuro-psychologist and her patient, excerpt from the documentary Journey to the center of the brain, France Culture, 2018.

C’est de l’Éluard

Jean-Marie Royer and Georges Pompidou, excerpt from a press conference, ORTF, 1969.

Porté aux nues par la superstar

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

Soyons ensemble les derniers

Hubert Wulfranc, reaction to the terrorist attack in the church of Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray, 2016. 

Que lo siento mucho

Interview with a repentant ETA terrorist, 2015. 

Et il y en a partout

Excerpt from the TV program Faites entrer l’accusé, 2008


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