LINGUIST List 7.891

Fri Jun 14 1996

Disc: Language in dreams

Editor for this issue: T. Daniel Seely <>


  1. Patricia Ellen Schneider-Zioga, Re: 7.880, Disc: Language in dreams

Message 1: Re: 7.880, Disc: Language in dreams

Date: Wed, 12 Jun 1996 23:51:56 PDT
From: Patricia Ellen Schneider-Zioga <>
Subject: Re: 7.880, Disc: Language in dreams
As Marina Yaguello points out, the psychoanalytical literature makes very
interesting observations about language in dreams. For instance, Freud in
"The Interpretation of Dreams" (originally published 1900 as "Die
Traumdeutung") makes the claim that "all the material making up the
content of a dream is in some way derived from experience." He then gives
an illustrative example based on Delboeuf's (1885) experience. Delboeuf
dreams about some lizards and a plant of which he knew the name of in the
dream: "Asplenium ruta muralis." When he was awake, Delboeuf knew the
Latin names of very few plants and he did not consciously know the term
"Asplenium." He was able to confirm that there actually was a plant called
"Asplenium ruta muraria,' a name which he had slightly distorted in his
dream. 16 years later, Delboeuf discovered that 18 years earlier he had
actually written out the name of a great many plants in Latin as part of a
present involving an album of pressed flowers. He found that he actually
*had* written out the name "Asplenium ruta muraria" at the
dictation of a botanist. Freud adds a footnote to this discussion in 1914
 where he attributes to Vaschide (1911) the remark that"it has often been
observed that in dreams people speak foreign languages more fluently and
correctly than in waking life." [Vaschide: Le sommeil et les reves.Paris 1911].

This aside, I think it is interesting to notice that besides abilities
to fluently speak a foreign language due to whatever reason, in dreams
also our perceptual abilities can be quite different than is possible in
our conscious life. For instance, not only can we dream of being on
another planet or somewhere else it would seem we have never been, we can
also see things in ways that are not possible in waking life, e.g.,
perhaps we can see through solid material or see everything at once or else
dimensions are unlike they are in waking life. We can also physically feel
things in our dreams
in ways that are not possible in waking life- for example being able to
put our hand through solid matter or we can awaken with a vivid
tactile memory of something we couldn't possibly have ever touched- When the
senses are involved in our perception of things in ways that are not
possible in waking life, it is not necessary to conclude that perceptions
in dreams use other mechanisms than they do in waking life (that they
would be "aperceptual"). I suppose it would be plausible that our dreams
can simulate perception through biochemical means or whatever so that our
dreams are not aperceptual (in contrast to the earlier claim on the list
that language in dreams is alinguistic). Since I don't really know how the
senses work,
this last point is admittedly naive speculation, but it would seem easier
to explain impossible memories of seeing and feeling in a straightforward
way than knowledge of a second language we don't really know (unless
Jung's collective unconscious gives us access to everyone's UG or

In any case, when we consider
language and view dreams as a kind of communication between the conscious
and unconscious self, then it is obvious that creative linguistic
mechanisms are very central to dreams. For instance, in the Freudian
interpretation of dreams, roughly speaking,
dreams can be understood as having some kind of meaning for the dreamer
which can be gleaned through word association. The dream might be
about something made out of "wood" when the intended communication is
"would" or perhaps the dream mentions a shopping "mall" when the intended
communication is "maul," etc. Given the validity of this view of dreams as
communication between the unconscious and conscious self, the unconscious
self's application of linguistic knowledge about sound meaning
correspondences and pragmatics is central to dreams. Metaphors can also
figure prominently in dreams: you might dream of someone knitting without
any yarn or needles and upon awakening describe the literal content of the
dream in a way that makes its posible metaphorical message of someone
"going through the motions" clear.

Patricia Schneider-Zioga
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