LINGUIST List 7.742

Fri May 24 1996

Disc: Language in dreams

Editor for this issue: T. Daniel Seely <>


  1. Paul Woods, Language in dreams
  2. Ken Berry, Language in dreams
  3. Charles Rowe, re: 7.720, lang. in dreams

Message 1: Language in dreams

Date: Thu, 23 May 1996 15:04:02 -0000
From: Paul Woods <>
Subject: Language in dreams
I am not sure of the experience of others.
However, at various times I have dreamt in
English, German, Cantonese, and Mandarin.
I am a native speaker of the first, and 
would say that I have had many more dreams
in my own language than in any others.
Also, I dreamt more in a second language
when learning it, rather than after
achieving a certain fluency/competence.
In addition, I've never had a nightmare
in anything but English!
I speak Mandarin every day now, but rarely
dream in it. The other day I was in a dream
in Xinjiang. There people were using Mandarin,
the local TV was in German, and some folks
outside were speaking a language I'd never heard
and was unable to identify - I placed it as
Don't know if this helps...


Paul Woods
Uni of Sheffield
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Message 2: Language in dreams

Date: Thu, 23 May 1996 11:01:04 CDT
From: Ken Berry <>
Subject: Language in dreams
> Dreamers who "speak" a language they don't know well is only half of
> my evidence. In my opinion, equally strong suggestion comes from the
> deaf population, who reguluarly report that they communicate in dreams
> with hearing people, but not through sign language, nor through
> lip-reading. The point is, there is no language that they might be
> using.
> -Joel
> (

In contrast to this statement, I once had a hearing ASL instructor who is 
a native speaker of both English and ASL tell me that she frequently 
dreams in sign. Additionally, she made the point that when communicating 
with a hearing person in one of these dreams, that person would be able 
to sign fluently.

It seems to me that language may not be necessary in dreams, but that 
because of the subjective nature of dreams, the communicative environment 
adapts to whatever method the dreamer "chooses".

Ken Berry
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Message 3: re: 7.720, lang. in dreams

Date: Thu, 23 May 1996 23:22:47 EDT
From: Charles Rowe <>
Subject: re: 7.720, lang. in dreams

I think there's a lot of individual variation in the phenomenon of lang.
in dreams which has yet to be pinpointed. To some extent the variation in
the types of experience with lang. use in dreams would have to correlate
with the *type* of lang. learner a person is (most linguists, I believe,
would submit that there is much variation in L2 acquisition).

My *personal* experience has been that in order to dream in a foreign
I had to be in the country where that lang. is spoken as the "national"
My level of fluency had to be quite high and virtually 100% effortless,
generally to the exclusion of *thinking* (to the extent that thinking is
almost verbal in character to some degree) in my native language.

Furthermore, dreams in the L2 were still infrequent, and the level of
ling. competence--or at least, complexity of syntax--in the dream was
*significantly* lower than my actual competence in the language. Most
utterances in such dreams were idiomatic/"stock" phrases, especially very
high-frequency phrases.

On the other hand, I have had students report to me--after only two
semesters of the language, learned in the formal classroom setting in
their native country--that they had dreams in the L2. Perhaps it is
important to note that these students were taught the L2 under a largely
immersion-type method.

Given that the variation is so high among individuals, I think some
biological differences may be in action here. Given the recent research
on the differences (biological/physiological/neurological) between how
women and men learn languages (L1? L2?), I would expect that differences
in the language-in-dreams phenomenon could be explained partly on these
or similar bases.

Charlie Rowe
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