“Speaking Shadows”: A History of the Voice in the Transition from Silent to Sound Film in the United States


Department of Anthropology
University of Toronto
19 Russell St.
Toronto, Ontario, M5S 2S2, Canada


In this paper I examine the media discourse surrounding the voice in the silent to sound film transition in American cinema. When the technologies of synchronized sound became widespread in the late 1920s the question of how this new technology would be incorporated into the well-established film culture was of great interest, revealing some of the underlying ideologies of language at the time. These discussions worked to stabilize the new sound cinema around an ideology of the voice, closely tied to an ideology of American society, which became less audible as it became more certain, leaving behind its now naturalized structures of voiced race, class, gender and ethnicity. [voice, technology, cinema, race, gender]