The Language of Dreams

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The Language of Dreams

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1belleyang
dec 12, 2006, 2:39am

I sometimes dream in Chinese and other time in English. I suspect when I spoke Japnese fluently as a child, I dreamt in Japanese. My question is, why do we dream in languages? If a person is born deaf-mute, does he/she dream in signs, gestures? Is there a good book that can answer my question?

2bookishbunny
dec 12, 2006, 9:42am

This is a little off topic (great for your first response, I know), but last night I fell asleep watching Les Diaboliques. I have a little French language down, but not enough to translate in my sleep, so I heard sentences out of English words that made no sense regarding the plot of the movie. I would hear a French word, and my brain picked out an English word that sounded similar and made a sentence. I realized this was happening when I was in that 'swimming' stage between sleep and wakefulness.

3steinbock
dec 12, 2006, 10:30pm

The "swimming" stage is a bad place to be after watching Les Diaboliques!

Dreams, I think, are a multisensory pseudo-experience, which is why we sometimes "experience" motion and sound, as well as vision. I would wager that we can dream in any language that we're capable of thinking in.

4bookishbunny
dec 13, 2006, 8:55am

That night (I just remembered this while watched the rest of Les Diabs last night), I had a nightmare that was something of a mix of Les Diaboliques, Requiem for a Dream, and Stratosphere Girl. I've really gotta lay off the indies for a while.

A little more on topic, I know that when I try to read in my dreams, I'm not very successful. I figure it's because the part of my brain that synthesizes written language isn't working as fast as the 'comprehension' parts. I'm not 'writing' as fast as I'm reading, which is pretty much the way it works in Wakey-Land, too.

5denseatoms Første besked:
dec 25, 2006, 1:05am

Two days into a visit to Montreal, I am dreaming in French.

6rebeccanyc
dec 26, 2006, 11:09am

I am studying Spanish by listening to tapes while I exercise. A few weeks ago, I had a dream in which I was speaking in Spanish, but it was clear in the dream that I was struggling to make myself understood to some Spanish-speaking people. Needless to say, they didn't speak back to me in Spanish.

7denseatoms
dec 30, 2006, 9:18am

Rebeccanyc's dream reflects the "Phrase Book Dilemma" -- tourists can learn to ask directions to the post office, museum, etc. but can they cope with the instructions in a language with which they are not yet familiar? The same goes for dreams, it would seem. The dialogues come with interaction in the waking world.

8Jargoneer
dec 30, 2006, 9:32am

I remember a radio interview with an anthropologist talking about the dreams of an Amazonian tribe he was studying. Unlike Western people they would dream of a colour, or a smell, and then started explaining that we now dream in narrative, however fractured, due to the impact of literature and especially film.

9rebeccanyc
Redigeret: dec 30, 2006, 11:09am

denseatoms #7, the tapes I'm using include sections where I have to listen to conversations in Spanish (without subsequent translations), so my problems in my dream actually reflect my lack of progress in my studies, not a problem with the method.

The real problem with the method is that you are supposed to pick up grammar intuitively, the way children do, but I like to study it more formally. So I am supplementing the tapes with a grammar book; however, it is so convenient to work on the tapes while I exercise (the other people in the gym probably think I'm talking to myself!) and so difficult to find time to work on grammar (after all, I could be reading a book!).

10vpfluke
Redigeret: maj 25, 2007, 11:25am

Some people believe that puns in dreams are important, and that when you write a dream down you should write what you heard, and don't correct it. Also mispellings of words may point you somewhere if the dream is difficult to figure out.

Of course, all this is the substance of James Joyce's Finnegans Wake.

11gautherbelle
maj 25, 2007, 12:20pm

This is probably off topic but it happens to me. Whenever I dream of my brother, something (good or bad) is happening in his life. This doesn't happen with my other siblings or any other person in my life, just my brother.

12prosfilaes
maj 30, 2007, 7:44am

Mario Pei had an interesting section in one of his books about which languages he dreamed in. A psychologist told him that the fact he dreamed of making a speech in Russian indicated that he could probably do it in real life, but he didn't trust his Russian that much.

13fannyprice
maj 30, 2007, 10:21am

I once had a dream in fluent French. This is strange on two levels - first, I do not speak a word of French and only studied it once in high school. Second, I had this dream while I was studying intensive Russian in an immersive environment - one wonders why I didn't dream in that language instead!

14LolaWalser
maj 30, 2007, 11:18am

How would you know it's fluent French if you don't speak a word of it?

I think it's more likely that you were utterly convinced that it was French--in your dream.

We often invent words in dreams which we feel are perfectly valid components of one or the other language, or believe things we know aren't true (if we can even imagine them) when awake. The reality of dreams feels no less real than the real thing.

15vpfluke
maj 30, 2007, 4:08pm

We'll never know if one spoke fluent French in a dream. But there is a knowingness in ones dreams that does not relate to logic or outside reality. But, if you felt the French flowed out of you, then you are respecting the root meaning of fluent (related to the word fluid).

Bob Campbell

16fannyprice
maj 30, 2007, 4:43pm

Perhaps I should rephrase - I just mean to say that within the reality of the dream, as I experienced it, everyone, including me, spoke effortlessly in a language that the me within the context of the dream perceived to be French.

#14 LolaWalser - I do not mean to imply that I actually had a dream in French without knowing any French. I apologize for being unclear.

17vpfluke
maj 30, 2007, 5:55pm

I remember dreaming maybe twice when I was in high school in French, at the time I was taking French.

Several weeks ago, I had a dream in which I was going to prepare an oration in Latin, and I didn't feel phased by that within the dream. I did take 4 years of written Latin in H.S., but I have never actaully spoken it.

18LolaWalser
maj 31, 2007, 12:08pm

No need to apologise. I was just curious.

19MyopicBookworm
Redigeret: jun 6, 2007, 9:42am

>8 Jargoneer: I can remember as a child dreaming textures and sensations.

20Tim_Watkinson
jun 6, 2007, 1:09pm

i invent words while awake, i have to say, i don't really remember words in my dreams. virtually all of my dreams are movement or observation, or sensations (site, hearing, taste, scent, what's the other one again?) but yeah, people don't talk to me in dreams. now and then some gal might call me baby, but i think that's more hope than an actual dream sequence.

21waterlily
jun 13, 2007, 8:42pm

When I was studying shorthand I found myself thinking in the shorthand symbols instead of the Roman characters that we are used to using. However, I don't remember if I ever dreamed in shorthand.

22drcosmos Første besked:
jun 15, 2007, 12:41am

I have dreamt frequently in German, which I speak, and in Russian, which I don't.

23Lodhi
Redigeret: jun 20, 2007, 4:05pm

Our dreaming self is our secret self, and, in some ways our suppressed or repressed self of our waking life.

I once dreamt a dream that seemed to alternate between an overwhelming floating sequence of numbers and notations followed by myself talking in one language I didn't recognise and then some science related things in German with unheard of compound words.

In my waking life, I don't pretend to speak fluent German. It was naturally impossible to retrieve what I dreamt.

If language means the spoken word, we don't necessarily dream in languages. If we stop dreaming in a certain language (Japanese), it doesn't mean it's no longer there. It's dormant, waiting to be activated again.

Languages and gestures are learned processes but it's possible that a deaf-mute person in a culture where a deaf-mute person isn't taught signs might still dream up such things (the dreaming self is a physically liberated self).

24vpfluke
Redigeret: jun 20, 2007, 9:34pm

Montague Ullman believes that there can be an ESP element in our dreams. So, perhaps we can pull in unknown stuff from outside ourselves. He does have a book called Dream telepathy, which I haven't read. Ullman is a recognized leader in how to design good dream groups.

25MyopicBookworm
jun 23, 2007, 3:02pm

If you seem to be fluent in an unknown language while dreaming, it seems less likely that you have picked it up by ESP, and more likely that you are only dreaming that you can understand it. If you dream that you are speaking words that you think are (a) foreign and (b) comprehensible, you might actually be speaking gibberish, which you suppose (in your dream) to be a particular language, and since you know what you are saying, the impression you get is that you are speaking the language fluently. Since you are dreaming, the people you are talking to will be under the same illusion!

26vpfluke
jun 23, 2007, 10:47pm

If you are dreaming fluently in an unknown foreign language, you need evidence to convince other people. Either you need to speak the language to someone who knows it, repeating what you heard in the dream; or you ought to write it down. I wonder if anyone has done any research on this.

27scottja
jun 26, 2007, 2:04pm

Denne meddelelse er blevet slettet af dens forfatter.

28YorickBrown
jul 9, 2007, 5:48pm

Anyone else remember the episode of Batman: The Animated Series where Scarecrow has Batman trapped in a dream world, and the way Batman figures it out is that he can't read? Supposedly (according to the cartoon), you dream with the right half of your brain and read with your left, so you can't read when you're dreaming.

Of course, I clearly remember having dreams with legible text in them. (That's the last time I try to learn neuropsychology from Batman.) Once when I was a kid, I even had a cartoon dream with a title, which was displayed in text.

29vpfluke
jul 9, 2007, 7:37pm

I had a dream in which I was going to learn to orate in Latin using old texts. I was in a medieval rhetoric class.

30misskate
jul 10, 2007, 3:55pm

Good dream discussion. I dream in English and Italian, but when I dream I'm reading it's always in my mother tongue, English. Wonder why, because I'm almost totally emersed in Italian all day.

31sydaisy
feb 11, 2008, 6:40am

I dream in English mostly, but all the writing in my dreams tends to be Japanese, which is weird because my spoken Japanese is much better than my written (at least with kanji, which does explain the hiragana overkill in my dreams). I didn't used to dream with much text in my dreams at all, which is probably why i started noticing that.
I occasionally dream in Japanese/English mixed which gets confusing when I wake up and try to recall. The weirdest one of those was when I dreamed about one of my friends who doesn't speak any English and we were talking about half and half of both. Mostly the Japanese was verbs in short forms, and I realized when I woke up that my grammar structures were wrong (compared to when I actually do talk half and half with some of my friends who do speak both, it's actually kind of a bad habit since I tend to do it with friends who only speak one or the other after awhile, especially when I'm tired I just use whatever is shorter).
I also tend to dream in accents if I've been hearing them a lot. Scottish especially sticks with me, I had a friend who from Scotland who was studying here, and when his friends came to visit him I hung out with them for a weekend. I spent the week after they left dreaming with everyone talking in Scottish accents. Luckily they were all from the Lowlands as I don't want to know what my subconcious would do with a Highland accent.
I spent a semester in Cork, and my landlady there's accent there made my dreams incomprehensible. I could just about understand her when I was awake, but it's hard to pay that much attention in dreams, or at least i found it hard.
One of my professor's main field of studies was Osaka-ben sign language and he said that he started dreaming in sign language after about a year. He also said that he signs in his sleep at the same time as he's talking in his sleep now, which is probably because he translates like that a lot.

32Choreocrat
feb 13, 2008, 7:55pm

When I was on an international exchange, everyone said that the moment you feel that you're accepting your situation is when you dream in the language of the country you're staying in. That never really happened for me because I can never remember dreams, but it's a common feeling.

Deaf people do dream in sign language. If you don't have the experience of spoken speech (only signed), then you will dream only your experience. On the other hand, if you have partial hearing, it's likely that you'll dream with sign and the bits of spoken language that you *do* hear.
There are lots of reports of deaf people sleep-signing, in the same way as people mumble in their sleep, as well as talking to themselves in sign. It's the evidence that sign language is a full and true language, not an inferior substitute for speech, because it works in all the same ways spoken language works. There is also signed poetry, and ways to sign lyrics to go with music, to make it musical, even if you can't hear the music. It's a very interesting field.

33vpfluke
feb 13, 2008, 11:01pm

There is at least one book, From Hand to Mouth : The Origins of Language, which makes the thesis that language originated in gestures.

34AntiLeah
feb 22, 2008, 4:33pm

Back in my early internet days I used to play on a MUD quite a lot. It was an entirely text based role playing game (Much like the old "You are in a cold dark dungeon. You can go east, west, or south" etc. games but with multiple players). Just as while reading a book, your mind would create a visualization of the world as you were playing. The visualization in my mind and the act of reading and typing became very linked in my mind. Eventually I would have dreams about the MUD, and the dream would replicate the sensation of the words scrolling across the screen while simultaneously creating the visualized version of the world I had created in my mind. It was a very odd way to dream.

35keigu
maj 1, 2010, 1:45pm

Here are a couple paragraphs from a chapter on cats saving face in The Cat Who Thought Too Much. Seeing Han-chan switch seamlessly from one intended action to another under many differing circumstances, I wondered -

Could it not be something like the chain of associations instantaneously born in our dreams where physically discontinuous action may be tied together by a common mood, or the inverse, where unrelated moods are strung together by seamless action, and words pivot from one context into another as they do in Japanese poetry by pun?

In other words, the cat may be a somnambulist – though less a sleep-walker than a walking-dreamer – a creature to whom life is indeed “nothing but a dream.” And if you are in a dream, you are all there, which is to say, in the present. If you are present-minded, or living in the now, would it not make perfect sense to constantly renew the meaning of your movement so that no mistakes would be possible? Or, could the continuous flow of association be seen as never-ending rationalization expressed in action rather than words? Thanks to cats, I find myself suddenly wondering if the mark of human waking thought – as opposed to dreaming thought – is not so much its being logical as its being discrete, i.e., stopping and starting.

Yes, I came to appreciate dream-as-improvisation from watching my cat and how to read the puns better by translating Japanese poetry. And, some of the best translations were actually done while dreaming!

36modalursine
maj 1, 2010, 3:56pm

Come to think of it, I don't believe I've ever had a dream in which written material appeared.

I gather now that other people have, but I'm confused about whether people can "read" in their dreams or not.

In the same vein, I don't ever recall hearing music in actual deep dreams, though I have "heard" (or imagined) music in that not quite dreaming, falling-asleep state.

I have had non english dialog but I can't swear it was "for real" and not a premise of the dream itself with the "dream master" fudging the grammar or words I didn't really know.

37jjmcgaffey
maj 1, 2010, 9:30pm

I have read in dreams, but I can't remember it on waking - very frustrating! One time it was a plaque commemorating something I'd done, another time it was a big book (2 feet by a foot?) with a great fantasy story in it. Read it, loved it, woke up and remembered the reading but not what I'd read. Very tactile, too - it was a very heavy book, with relatively thick pages as I turned them.

38ambushedbyasnail
maj 2, 2010, 7:00pm

I read in my dreams. (I was also delirious once with fever and read the entire third Harry Potter book, word for word - without having it in front of me. I also watched a movie that I'd only seen once before.)

I know a girl who talks in her sleep, fluent French, but has never studied the language. Her grandparents spoke it and it's likely she heard it when she was a baby, and that memory comes up when she's sleeping.

I also know a guy who speaks Latin in his sleep but the source I heard that from is less reliable and I'm not convinced.

39vpfluke
maj 11, 2010, 10:30pm

I have had a dream in which I am trying to sing from a Methodist hymnal, but get quite confused.

In another dream, when I am checking in at an airport, my book bag is taken by the agent and thrown into the baggage chute before I can reclaim it and read on the plane.
Later on in the same dream, I realize the airline has given me a flat top computer to play with, so I don't have to have a book to read.

In a third dream I write down notes on what the worship service was like (Episcopal Church).

Another dream, I am supposed to play two short pieces of music on the piano, but when I look at the music, I realize I haven't practiced them at all, so I just play something from within.

I have had library dreams, and in one I note the Boston Globe and the Long Island Newsday in their newspaper room, but not sure that I fully "read" them.

40atiara
maj 26, 2010, 11:41pm

I "read" in my dreams, then can't much remember when I wake up and wish I could. I sometimes dream that I have been solving math or science problems in my sleep and remember snatches when I wake up. I assume that's my brain's way of consolidating the pharmacology I was cramming into it until 4am.

41varielle
maj 27, 2010, 7:45pm

I write in my dreams the most brilliant prose and poetry with really fabulous turns of phrase and can't remember any of it when I wake up.

42CliffordDorset
maj 30, 2010, 8:01am

What we remember after a dream is our reaction to what our mind was inventing, something therefore that never existed in the first place. This is why dreams can tell us so much about our state of mind.

43VivienneR
maj 30, 2010, 2:07pm

Several times I have dreamed that I finished the book I was reading before going to sleep. It is a surprise on waking to find the book on the night stand with the bookmark still clearly showing the book as unfinished. My "dreamed up" endings are without fail totally different to the author's although I'm always eager to finish the book to find out how they compare - and before I forget mine.

44iblis
okt 19, 2010, 12:09am

Our subconcious is a very powerful sponge. I myself have over my life have talked in languages i don't know! you're not alone. As for the hand gestures-think about the basic understanding you interpret for seeing these and you will know what is said. As far as any book to recommend, sorry i can't help you there.

45iblis
okt 19, 2010, 12:11am

well said!