LINGUIST List 9.76

Sun Jan 18 1998

Disc: L2 and dreams

Editor for this issue: Brett Churchill <>


  1. Wen-Chao Li, L2 and Dreams
  2. Dan Moonhawk Alford, Disc: L2 & dreams
  3. Mahmoud Sadrai, Re: 9.73, Disc: L2 and Dreams
  4. laura l koenig, L? and dreams
  5. Kathleen Therese O'Connor, Re: 9.75, Disc: L2 and Dreams

Message 1: L2 and Dreams

Date: Sun, 18 Jan 1998 11:51:49 -0600 (CST)
From: Wen-Chao Li <>
Subject: L2 and Dreams

A number of respondents have argued against the view of dreams being
alinguistic, citing as evidence dreams they had in which the "foreign
languages" they dreamt in were actually languages they had a little bit of
knowledge of. But it seems to me that unless it can be proved that people
have foreign language dreams ONLY in languages they have knowledge of
(however little), an odd dream or two in a known language does not provide
evidence to counter the alinguistic hypothesis.

I myself am a frequent dreamer, and have often had dreams in which I am
not the person that I am in real life, and speak fluently the language of
the character I become, even though I do not have the slightest knowledge
of the language in question. For example, I once dreamt that I was a
Russian dancer in a Russian ballet troupe, and that I was conversing with
my fellow dancers in fluent Russian, even though in real waking life I had
no knowledge of the language at all, other than the fact that if I were to
hear the language, say, on TV, I would be able to tell, from consonants,
intonations, etc., that it is Russian, and not, say, Polish or Czech. I
have also had dreams where the process was self-conscious: I am in a
foreign country (don't know what country or what language), and wonder
whether I would be able to understand the
speech of the people there, but in the end, understanding just happens
without knowledge of the language at the linguistic level. Also, I've had
dreams in which I communicate with animals, or am an animal myself, and
although we (me and my fellow animals) are not speaking English or any
other human language that I know of, we are clearly communicating notions
to each other, to the extend that the "story" in the dream can proceed
without any breakdown in communication. For me, random language dreams of
this sort far outnumber dreams I have had in languages I was trying to
learn (German, Spanish, Greek -- cannot recall dreams in any). Any views
on this?

Chris Li
University of Minnesota

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Message 2: Disc: L2 & dreams

Date: Sun, 18 Jan 1998 10:34:09 -0800 (PST)
From: Dan Moonhawk Alford <>
Subject: Disc: L2 & dreams

I remember taking German in lower division graduate days, with a great
teacher, I might add (though I've now forgotten her name). I remember in
my second year of the language dreaming quite vividly one night (I seldom
remember dreams) that I was speaking in fluent German to someone else. It
was after that that something seemed to "click" about German, and I became
more fluent -- phenomenologically, not translating into English anymore
but hearing the flow of meaning directly. Of others who have similarly
dreamed in an L2, did it seem to be a trigger for incipient fluency?

Is language superimposed on waking or, as others suggest, an integral part
of the dream itself? Perhaps a refresher on the Cheyenne Tower of Babel
teaching would not be out of line: "Long ago, humans and animals and
plants and spirits all communicated in the same way. Then something
happened. After that, we had to communicate with human speech. BUT -- we
retained The Old Language for *dreams,* and communicating with spirits and
animals and plants." 

Dreaming belongs to a different state of consciousness, one that is seldom
explored in our culture for actual information. Does it also belong to a
different state of Language, one that gets overlooked by our culture? And
is it valuable to consider this Old Language for what it can tell us about
the flow of meaning in a human as well as transpersonal context?

warm regards, moonhawk
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Message 3: Re: 9.73, Disc: L2 and Dreams

Date: Sun, 18 Jan 1998 13:12:08 -0600
From: Mahmoud Sadrai <>
Subject: Re: 9.73, Disc: L2 and Dreams

I have had two dreams that I'm aware of during which there was no
language use. I do have dreams where my L2 (the primary language of
use in the past 19 year is used exclusively; dreams during which L1 is
used exclusively; dreams during which the individuals code-switch;
dreams during which I use one code, and the other individual(s) use a
different code. However, I have awakened form two dreams on two
separate occasions during which there was clearly NO language used,but
communication was taking place. In fact, I remember the first time
around waking up in middle of the dream, apparently quite AMAZED that
I was communicating without a language, and I wondered if that sense
of amazement is in fact was the cause of my awakening.
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Message 4: L? and dreams

Date: Sun, 18 Jan 1998 16:26:19 -0500
From: laura l koenig <>
Subject: L? and dreams

Two additions to the list of personal observations:
 1) Some dozen years ago, i knew (consciously??) enough German to
carry on extended conversations, follow radio news reports, etc, and at
that time i would occasionally dream in German as well. But I've hardly
used the language since then, and my productive German has dwindled to a
handful of sentence structures and high-frequency vocabulary.
Coincidentally?, i also haven't had a dream in German in a good 6-7 years.
 2) This isn't an L2 observation, but i think it's worth considering
in the discussion over whether dreams are linguistic or not. I oftentimes
have dreams in which I compose sections of text. If it only happened with
prose i'd be willing to believe that it was composition at some higher
conceptual or semantic level, but i've done this with verse as well. The
most frustrating cases are those where, in my dream, i come up with the
line or two i've been digging for--the one that 'sounds right',
rhythmically and phonologically--and, on awakening, i can remember some but
not all of it (like, i know there were two more syllables at the beginning
of that line but i just can't come up with them). Although I can't cite
sources off-hand, i have also read of painters dreaming paintings and
composers dreaming musical compositions. I would also guess there are
architects who dream floorplans and mathematicians or physicists who dream
in formulae and equations. I may be roving dangerously far into psychology
and cognition here, but I suspect that individuals may differ considerably
in whether they experience their dreams as linguistic, visual, auditory,
etc., and maybe most of us have various types of dreams on different
occasions. This forces one to rephrase slightly the question of whether
dreams are linguistic or not.

pleasant dreams!

laura l. koenig
Brooklyn NY
Haskins Labs and Long Island University, Brooklyn
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Message 5: Re: 9.75, Disc: L2 and Dreams

Date: Sun, 18 Jan 1998 18:18:20 -0500 (EST)
From: Kathleen Therese O'Connor <>
Subject: Re: 9.75, Disc: L2 and Dreams

My experience with an L2 and L2 dream occurred while I was linving in
France hoping to regain my earlier acquired fluency in French. I am a
native speaker of English who learned fairly advanced conversational
French as a child. I then studied Spanish intensively and had spent a
semester in Mexico for graduate school. Afraid that I would experience
French attrition, I went to live in Paris in a foyer de jeunesse where I
spent a lot of time speaking Spanish to some fellow residents of the
foyer. I recall at night as I was falling asleep that if I turned on one
side I would begin pre-sleep dreaming in one language, and that when I
turned over to the other side I the same happened with the other. I don't
recall whether left was SPanish and right was French (I think that was the
case) or the other way around. But I remember wondering whether there was
some kind of neurological hemispheric linguistic selection that would
account for this type of experience.

Kathleen O'Connor
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