LINGUIST List 7.1432

Sun Oct 13 1996

Disc: Language in dreams

Editor for this issue: Ann Dizdar <>


  1. Dan Maxwell, language in dreams

Message 1: language in dreams

Date: 11 Oct 1996 10:48:56 EDT
From: Dan Maxwell <100101.2276CompuServe.COM>
Subject: language in dreams
I thought that the recent postings on the topic of language in dreams
had pretty much covered the range of phenomena in existence on this
topic, but it appears that I was wrong. I was recently browsing
through a biography of Zamenhof, the creator of Esperanto, called
"L'homme qui a de'fie' Babel"(the man who defied Babel) by Rene'
Centassi and Henri Masson, when i came across an account of a dream
which Zamenhof had, apparently at the age of about 16. That would
have been more than 10 years before 1887, usually considered the
birthyear of the language, when his first grammar of Esperanto was
published. He at that time was concerned with the question of whether
his language should have a definite article, having noticed that his
own Polish, and also Russian (presumably the prestige language of that
time and place, since Zamenhof lived in Bialystok, then part of the
Russian Empire), did not. In the dream he was pondering this question
near a forest with his uncle Jozef and his Greek teacher, whose name
was Billevitch. Zamenhof suggested that they might find someone in
the forest who could help them. Billevitch, on the contrary, warned
against going into the forest on the grounds that there were three
girls in red who wanted to harm them. Zamenhof then looked toward the
forest, saw the girls in question, and cried out, "there are
-the-(author's emphasis) three girls in red." Zamenhof then woke up
in a sweat, but decided that his problem had been solved. The
definite article had in his view proved its usefulness. And, as every
Esperantist knows, there is a definite article, namely the invariable

I can't remember having or hearing about a dream with this degree of
linguistic specificity. It is also not clear what language the dream
occurred in. Probably not Polish or Russian, since these lack the
article which played such a prominent role. Zamenhof knew several
other languages, most of them with definite articles, so these appear
to be better candidates. In any case, postings from others suggest
that people can dream in languages that they don't know very well.
The last possibility is that the language was some embryonic form of
Esperanto itself, since Zamenhof was so intensely concerned with this

Dan Maxwell 
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