Michel Chion is a composer, filmmaker, teacher, researcher, and the author of several books, including
James A. Steintrager is Professor of English, Comparative Literature, and European Languages and Studies at the University of California, Irvine; he is the author, most recently, of
A Divided World
This chapters begins with an analysis of how Saussure’s linguistic discovery that the basic elements of spoken language are not sounds per se but rather phonemes: abstract, differential units within a structure. Moving from this fundamental tenet of structural linguistics, it shows how language, on the one hand, makes us insensitive to certain sonic differences and variables by imposing selective hearing and focusing our attention on the message rather than the material of language. Yet, at the same time, language leaves a sonic remainder: the voice. The chapter then goes on to consider how we project language onto the sounds of nature and how certain musicians, philosophers, and poets have either indulged in or resisted sonic anthropomorphism. It concludes with analyses of onomatopoeia (imitative language) and Cratylism (the notion that words, vowels, and consonants are inherently related to meaning) in favor of the largely conventional relationships between language, sound, and sense.