The concept of “voice” has long been highly ambiguous, with the physiological-phonetic process of sound production entangled in a far more extensive cultural and metaphysical imaginary of voice. Neither purely sound nor purely signification, voice can name either a sonorous excess over signification or the point at which sounds start to signify. Neither purely of the body nor ever extricated from its body, it can figure multiple kinds of meaningful embodiment, the breakdown of meaning in brute materiality, or even a strangely disembodied emanation. Voice can be both intentional and involuntary, both singular and plural, both presence and absence, both the possession of a subject and something that possesses subjects or is uncontainable by the subject. Voices may signify immediacy and be experienced as immediate, and yet they are continually mediated—by text, by technology, by art. In literature, the status of voice is particularly fraught. Not only do literary works deploy this imaginary of voice, but voice is crucial to literature’s medium. If this is most evident in the case of works composed or transmitted orally, it also holds for written works that, while destined for silent reading, nevertheless construct a virtual soundworld destined for its reader’s inner ear, to be subvocalized rather than read aloud. Literary works have been crucial in the development and deployment of the cultural-metaphysical imaginary of voice, precisely because “voice” poses such a diverse set of questions and problems for literature. These problems change focus and force with the development of technologies of inscription and prosthesis, from printing to sound recording to automated speech.
David Nowell Smith
Daniel P. Gunn
In free indirect discourse (FID), the narrative discourse of a text incorporates the language and subjectivity of a character, including emotional coloring, deictics, judgments, and style, without an introductory attributing frame like “she thought that” and without shifts in the pronouns or the tense sequence to accord with the character’s perspective. By combining the immediacy of direct quotation and the flexibility of indirect discourse, FID allows for the seamless integration of a character’s thought or speech, with all of its distinctive markers, into the narratorial discourse. Because FID occurs in the context of narratorial discourse and allows for a fluid movement back and forth between narratorial and figural subjectivities, it characteristically entails a mixture or interplay of two voices—the narrator’s and the character’s—in the same utterance, as in parody or mimicry. The evocation of a character’s thought or speech through FID and its relation to narratorial commentary and report can be subtle and nuanced, and identifying and making sense of FID sentences requires significant interpretive activity on the part of the reader. FID has been a crucially important technique for the representation of consciousness in the English novel, particularly in the tradition which runs from Jane Austen through George Eliot to Henry James, Virginia Woolf, and James Joyce, which concerns itself increasingly with the imagined thought-lives of characters. Depending on the context, FID passages can be presented sympathetically, inviting the reader to immerse herself or himself unreservedly in the character’s thought or speech, or ironically, with the language of the character creating a dissonant effect against the background of the narrator’s discourse and the novel’s design. FID is also sometimes referred to as style indirect libre, free indirect style, represented speech and thought, or narrated monologue.
The study of accent is related to word and language pronunciation that can be linked to a social class, a nationality, a part of the world, or a historic time period. Accent can be characterized as an “identifier” based on sound and sound production rather than visual cues. Accent is thus linked to fields such as linguistics and pronunciation, language education, drama, literature and performance, sound studies, disability studies (communication disorders to hearing to speech), as well as to sociology and global studies (how do people speak and understand each other in different parts of the world and across geographical borders), to nationalism (how does language bring communities and societies together), and to media (how is communication presented and how is language received). Phonetic literacy (as studied by socio-linguists) involves subcategories such as speech and accent (from access to learning English by non-native speakers to the ability to speak English), dialect (variations of English based on geography), and slang. A cultural and interdisciplinary study of accents allow for inquiries about national community that move beyond legal and geographical forms of community and identity. Looking at accents emphasize the linguistic and sonic components of American global cultural values that are present in media representation, performance, and the politics of social relations. In particular, the study of Asian American accents in popular culture lies at the intersection of interpretations of text and sound where standard American English (the language taught in American schools) is positioned as the normative mode of communication and the criterion that non-native speakers are often judged upon in American culture. An accent is both a phonetic and visual means of interpreting the assimilation of immigrants in general, and Asians, more specifically, in relation to themes of American citizenship. Focusing on accent allows for a linguistic and narrative composition of how racial difference goes beyond a visual physical difference and is embedded in the systemic nature of how race and privilege operate in culture. Asian American and South Asian American vocal accents and other kinds of cultural “accents” offer an alternative approach to discuss American racial and ethnic performances because the notion of an accent is also inherently comparative. Accents appear only in comparison to what is considered normal or accepted universal speech, such as Standard American English. An accent can mark or distinguish someone or something in relation to something else or a prevailing norm. An accent can create contrast by its very difference. For Asian Americans, identifying how speech and communication is represented and produced in media and culture is a primary means of characterizing what is not only considered different but also what is seen to be foreign or outside definitions of American national identity. The media representations of Asian Americans exaggerate physical differences from a white American mainstream identity and dwell on alternative cultural values and behaviors that include accent and language.
Deixis (adjectival form deictic) is the semiotic term for particularized space and time in embodied existence. This ever-present deictic field is both ordinary and unexplainable: how is it that this space and this body exist in this moment? The elemental semiotic function of calling attention to particulars from the perspectival orientation of a bodily self in time and space foregrounds such ineluctable properties as presence, immediacy, and the vulnerability of being, and is a central topic for philosophers, linguists, anthropologists, cognitive scientists, and literary theorists. Deixis is emerging as critical to foundational theory of the humanities and cognitive science, and the deictic imaginary is of particular significance to theories of literature and art.
Stephanie Burt and Jenn Lewin
Ideas about song, and actual songs, inform literary works in ways that go back to classical and to biblical antiquity. Set apart from non-musical language, song can indicate proximity to the divine, intense emotion, or distance from the everyday. At least from the early modern period, actual songs compete with idealized songs in a body of lyric poetry where song is sometimes scheme and sometimes trope. Songs and singers in novels can do the work of plot and of character, sometimes isolating songwriter or singer, and sometimes linking them to a milieu beyond what readers are shown. Accounts of song as poetry’s inferior, as its other, or as its unreachable ideal—while historically prominent—do not consider the variety of literary uses in English that songs—historically attested and fictional; popular, vernacular, and “classical”— continue to find.