LINGUIST List 9.73

Sat Jan 17 1998

Disc: L2 and Dreams

Editor for this issue: Anita Huang <>


  1. Duane L. Blanchard, Re: 9.67, Disc: L2 and Dreams
  2. Magosanyi Arpad, Re: 9.67, Disc: L2 and Dreams
  3. Florin, L2 and dreams

Message 1: Re: 9.67, Disc: L2 and Dreams

Date: Sat, 17 Jan 1998 04:38:14 -0700
From: Duane L. Blanchard <>
Subject: Re: 9.67, Disc: L2 and Dreams

I disagree, but only partly. I think that in the subconscious realm, we
understand and retain more language than we are consciously capable of. This
accounts only for the extended fluency, however, and not for being able to
communicate without using a language as you suggest in the cases of the Deaf.

Of the L2 dreams I have personally had, I do remember one in which I
was speaking to a young Mongolian girl on the train from Bei Jing to
Ulaanbaatar. I was much more fluent than I could consciously have
been, but even then, I fumbled with a word that I didn't know. I
described the word to the girl and she told me what it was. I
remembered having learned it before, but it had been a long time since
I had used it in conversation. I find it remarkable that I couldn't
recall the word "consciously" in my dream, but that I could use the
word in her reply to my questioning.

Anyone else care to share a memorable L2 dream?

Duane L. Blanchard
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Message 2: Re: 9.67, Disc: L2 and Dreams

Date: Sat, 17 Jan 1998 16:33:57 +0100
From: Magosanyi Arpad <>
Subject: Re: 9.67, Disc: L2 and Dreams

> I think there's good reason to believe that dreams, at least some
> dreams are >alinguistic< with the language added only upon
> recollection of dream. Two points supporting this hypothesis:

I must admit that I am not an expert on this field, but I think that 
at least some dreams are not alinguistic. I can think of cases when the
dreamer talks on a language s/he can't possibly know, but I feel that in
most cases this is not the case.
> 1. The deaf often report that in their dreams they can communicate
> with hearing people during day-to-day activities. They do not use
> sign language. They do not lip-read. They just communicate. (This
> information comes from several people I interviewed, but not from a
> randomized sample of any sort.) There is no language that would let
> them do this.

The deaf most often know the language in question. In the majority of cases
they even able to speak it to some extent. This is why I feel that your
last sentence is not correct.
> 2. As you mention, people often have conversation in a foreign
> language that seem to exceed their ability. This has even happened to
> me. I've dreams that I was talking, in German, about the policitcal
> situation in Germany to someone from Germany. I don't know nearly
> enough German to do that. There are simply words I know I've never
> learned that I was "using."

I think this effect can be explained with the uninhibited nature of dreams.
I mean we are using grammatical constructs more freely, with very little
control of our "grammatical censor".
The same is true (I think) to our lexical memory, which can effect of using
words which is contained only in our passive vocabulary. 
I think (is there any theory supporting the idea?) that when we are
sleeping, the data in our memory gets "indexed", e.g. associations are built
between "notions" in it. The dreams are one side effect of this process.
Because of this indexing process the word "you've never learned" might got a
high reference count and popped up from your memory. Let's consider the
following scenario: You've seen or heard that german word in two or three
separate occasions without really understanding its meaning. And it has a
common origin with an english word. In your dream you vere busy indexing
that context, and these occasions with the help of the english relative were
enough to associate the word a (possibly dim and incorrect) meaning. In the
dream it is enough to use the word, but because its reference count and
sharpness of the related notion weren't too high, it would be only a neatly
familiarly sounding german word when you are awake.
> The only way I see to account for these is to assume that dreams do
> not directly involve language, but rather more abstract communication.
> When we remember the communication in our dreams, we superimpose
> language upon them.

I doubt it. I am used to have dreams when I'm communicating english (a second
language for me as you have surely noticed), and remember the process of
building the sentences. In my native language the only mental activity which
needs the amount of resources that I notice it is the occasional search for
some words. And it is impossible to confuse the building of sentences in the
two languages due to the deep structural differences.

- -
GNU GPL: csak tiszta forrasbsl
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Message 3: L2 and dreams

Date: Sat, 17 Jan 1998 09:50:51 +0200
From: Florin <>
Subject: L2 and dreams

What Joel Hoffman said about superimposing language is most interesting.
However, I would like to mention that although he may be right, this is
not necessary so. Here's my little example: I never studied Italian and
I can't speak it, but I can understand about 50% (even more) of what I
hear. Once I dreamed I was speaking Italian and I was surprised to
discover that I used an expression which I had trouble remembering if I
was awake. In my opinion, if indeed the subconscious is governing our
dreams, one is very likely to be able to remember while dreaming words
apparently forgotten.

Best regards,

PS: this is indeed a very interesting subject! Can you recommend any
book on the subject? Enrica Pagnozzi, maybe you can let us know more
about your thesis!
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