LINGUIST List 7.811

Sun Jun 2 1996

Disc: Lg & dreams, -y, LSA

Editor for this issue: T. Daniel Seely <>


  1. Peter Daniels, Re: 7.804, Disc: Lg & dreams, -y
  2. Waruno Mahdi, Re: 7.780, Disc: Lg & dreams
  3. benji wald, dreams and elsewhere
  4. benji wald, defense of -y
  5. Karl Teeter, Re: 7.805, Disc: LSA & Political Correctness

Message 1: Re: 7.804, Disc: Lg & dreams, -y

Date: Sat, 01 Jun 1996 14:58:24 CDT
From: Peter Daniels <>
Subject: Re: 7.804, Disc: Lg & dreams, -y
Rather than dreaming in a foreign language, I felt really good about having
"learned" French and German when I (a) could make jokes in them and (b) could
read a book in them for fun. The first book in another langauge was a French
book about French postage stamps (which I collected in those days) that for
some reason was in the Cornell U library. I think it was more a matter of
confidence than anything else.
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Message 2: Re: 7.780, Disc: Lg & dreams

Date: Sun, 02 Jun 1996 12:56:27 +0200
From: Waruno Mahdi <>
Subject: Re: 7.780, Disc: Lg & dreams
Mon, 27 May 1996, *moonhawk* wrote (7.780, May 29 1996):

> I'd like to repeat (for some) a story I collected from Sakej Henderson,
> now Director of the Native Law Centre of Canada, which pertains
> directly to this topic, and which I have called the Cheyenne Tower of
> Babel Teaching: "Long ago, people and spirits and animals and
> plants all communicated in the same way. Then something
> happened. After that, we had to talk to each other in human speech.
> But we retained The Old Language for dreams, and for
> communicating with spirits and animals and plants."
> So is 'human language' all there is to 'language', or is there a
> shadow complementary 'language' that links human beings into the

Let's pretend we don't know anything about the brain physiology of
speech generation (that doen't need much pretending). Let's furthermore
dream that we are very fluent in computer-hacker hyp talk (not more
difficult than dreaming we speak fluent Bulgarian). Then, that which
we pretended not to know anything about may perhaps look like this:

(1) the program DISCOURSE.EXE loaded in our CPU sends a proto-utterance
to the LANGUAGE Compiler. (2) The LANGUAGE Compiler transforms it into
an alphanumeric meta-utterance string and sends that to an audiomotoric
interface. (3) The audiomotoric interface reacts on the incoming string
by outputting the necessary command impulses to the lungs, vocal cords,
tongue, and other articulatary peripherial modules, resulting in an
audible utterance.

In a dream, I imagine, it suffices that phase (1) is activated, to create
the impression that one is "talking". To speak Bulgarian in a dream, it
would then suffice to imagine that the utterance was sent to a LANGUAGE
Compiler for Bulgarian. It is surely not forbidden to dream one had one,
even if one didn't. And whether the proto-utterance ever arrives at that
(non-existent) compiler is only of consequence when one tries to speak
Bulgarian while awake, but apparently not when in a dream.


- ---------------------------------------------------------------------
Waruno Mahdi tel: +49 30 8413 5408
Faradayweg 4-6 fax: +49 30 8413 3155
14195 Berlin email:
Germany WWW:
- ---------------------------------------------------------------------
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Message 3: dreams and elsewhere

Date: Sat, 01 Jun 1996 22:07:00 PDT
From: benji wald <IBENAWJMVS.OAC.UCLA.EDU>
Subject: dreams and elsewhere
As a serious student of nonsense, I must interject myself into the
discussion of languages in dreams. To begin with, we have to
understand, as Freud said in a garbled way, dreams are a projection
of the will. Therefore, if there is a will to learn or speak another
language, that will appear in the willer's dreams. It has nothing to
do with level of proficiency, any more than does practicing the language
speaking out loud in solitude -- a practice well-known to scholars
of second language acquisition (and comparable to the babbling stage
and beyond in first language acquisition). Will also accounts for
dreams in which the dreamer is more proficient than in reality. This,
of course, also happens in both dreaming and daydreaming in a first
language, as when the dreamer imagines verbally defeating a verbal
opponent -- with a fluency which might not be realistic. To get
personal for a moment, I sometimes compose beautifully fluent
openings for articles and absolutely persuasive foolproof arguments
- in my mind, only to have them disintegrate on me as soon as I get
to a keyboard. (I live in LA so this typically happens while I'm
driving and don't have my hands free to write these earth-shaking
thoughts down -- until it's too late. NB since we're talking about
dreams, most people sleep more than engage in any other activity
worthy of the name. In LA driving is second to sleep as a time-
consuming activity. "Work" is too varied to count as a single
activity except for purposes of pay. No, Ling.list is usually done
very quickly as you can tell by the painful agrammatisms in my
hasty writing, and my frequent failure to understand what I've
read and think I'm responding to.)

Incidentally, I think my own thinking and writing is best soon
after reading what and how other scholars I favor write on the
topic at issue same topic as me. It fades if I wait too long.
Even in revising, when I'm reading myself as one of my favorite
scholars, I often go back to other scholars' writings I'm
discussing for an additional boost (and check for accuracy on
what I think they're saying). I'm quite aware I'm engaged in a
social process even if I've internalised it.

The idea of alingual dreams is about as valid as alingual thinking --
they can happen but they are not typical of the way people redesign
their internal *social* reality in their imaginations. Maybe it
was more prevalent among the star-struck in the days of silent movies.

More interesting is the dream in which someone ELSE speaks another
language to the dreamer, either a language the dreamer recognises
or doesn't recognise. That raises interesting questions about whether
the dreamer is replaying some piece of conversation once heard.
Hypnosis might be able to recover such things -- but there is no
guarantee that the hypnotised's phonological competence in that
language would be equal to the impression which remains in the mind,
just as in recognising another dialect of the same language which
the dreamer cannot successfully imitate, but can identify. For
that matter, can't familiars talk to you in dreams the way they
do in real life, but you can't do accurate impressions of them, even
if they speak the same dialect?

No doubt such hypnosis research has or should be done (or should it?)
with language-forgetting. Hypnotise some adult into remembering a
language they haven't spoken or heard spoken since they were four, six,
or whatever. Linguists who have been in fieldwork situations with
their families, including young kids at the time, are often in this
situation. The children used to know the language, sometimes quite
well, but have since forgotten it, except maybe for a few expressions.
I could give some anecdotes about that from trading stories about
such experiences with other field linguists.

The issue of knowing various languages, and why not also dialects
(passively most often), but not being able to use them at will,
occurs to me when I see movies about multiple personality
characters. Do they all have the same "idiolect"? Could their
grammaticality judgments differ? (Of course, that even happens with
"single personality" people, but nevertheless...?) Now, they do
have different voices for their different personalities, but that's
not the same thing at all. Some may favor different registers, like
proper speech vs. cursing etc. That's more interesting but mainly
lexical and begs questions about "personality" and different styles of
speaking for a "single-personality" uh person, or somebody with
Turret's syndrome. -- Benji

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Message 4: defense of -y

Date: Sat, 01 Jun 1996 18:11:00 PDT
From: benji wald <IBENAWJMVS.OAC.UCLA.EDU>
Subject: defense of -y
I'm not sure the censors exercised good judgment in my last message

Next, in response to furious personal mail I must point out a misprint
where I typed "batty" along with "quickie" etc as Adj+y -> N. That's
how confusing exchange morphemes are. It should have been "fatty", as
a/n N. Then I could point out that "fatty" is also an Adj derived from
N+y, like "batty", "heady", "thoughty" (or is it "thoughful"?) etc.
So surface ambiguity for "fatty" because of the exchange derivational
process (as indeed for "fat" with the 0-derivational exchange morpheme).

Larry Trask also point out V+y, as in "chewy" and some others. I
admitted it (privately), not being enough of a sophist to insist that
Ns and Vs are not lexically distinct in English (but "have a good chew
on that"). Although it wasn't mentioned I felt that "skinny" must be
N+y even though there is a verb "skin", since I can only conceive of
"skinny" as coming from "skin and bones" (i.e., no fat). But we can
question that for synchronic analysis for those who accept "skinny
pencil" as "grammatical" (or is it "semantic"?) Or, do we "skin"
pencils when we sharpen them?

Karl Teeter I had to disagree with again when he suggested that
Japanese is also a candidate for the perfect singing language. I
pointed out that allophones count in singing, and Japanese, like
Russian, and all languages in between, manages to fit into their
allophony somewhere that "impure" back unrounded high vowel (or
something else "barred i"-like). It's good enough for Boris Gudenov,
but it's not good enough for perfect singing vowels. Now this notion
may threaten a replay of the 18th c Piccinists vs. the Gluckists,
but that was at least one case when the Italians lost -- but not their
language (well, true Gluck switched to French lyrics in gratitude,
but we'll overlook that.) Enough music. Back to language! Even
Salieri conceded that music should be the servant of the words. --Benji
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Message 5: Re: 7.805, Disc: LSA & Political Correctness

Date: Sat, 01 Jun 1996 11:20:06 EDT
From: Karl Teeter <kvthusc.HARVARD.EDU>
Subject: Re: 7.805, Disc: LSA & Political Correctness
Dear Friends and Colleagues: Having been in on many discussions of LSA 
meeting policies over the years, I must honestly begin by saying I am 
strongly in favor of not meeting in cities which have discriminatory 
laws. As for "political correctness" it may be time to recall that this 
phrase and concept is one invented by reactionaries for use in 
stigmatizing liberal social policies -- those in favor of ethnic 
tolerance and the like. As far as I can see, it is not generally evil to 
be "politically correct". Yours, kvt
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