LINGUIST List 9.80

Mon Jan 19 1998

Disc: L2 and dreams

Editor for this issue: Brett Churchill <>


  1. Meshka Taquet, Re: 9.76, Disc: L2 and dreams
  2. Sxren Harder, Re: 9.73, Disc: L2 and Dreams
  3. Alex HOUSEN, L2 and Dreams
  4. Ali Aghbar, Re: 9.76, Disc: L2 and dreams

Message 1: Re: 9.76, Disc: L2 and dreams

Date: Sun, 18 Jan 1998 22:34:52 PST
From: Meshka Taquet <>
Subject: Re: 9.76, Disc: L2 and dreams

this is just food for thought... i am not a linguist, but work as an 
interpreter. my L1 is english and L2 is american sign language. i often 
have dreams that contain both languages. one that was quite rememberable 
has to so with a sentence construction i had been struggling with in the 
L2. i had been working on a project for several weeks and was just stuck 
on a section that the entire story hinged on. then out of know where i 
had a dream in which i knew how to sign it. in my dream i never actually 
signed it, but i was drawing pictures in the sand. i awoke, jumped from 
bed and quickly taped it all on video. the next morning i realized that 
the video was some of my best interpretation work to date. another 
common dream is one that contains no language. These were very common in 
my childhood and i still remember them vividly. they are dreams that did 
not have language but i can recall them clearly through my other senses. 
One is about a barn that i often played in as a young girl. In this 
dream i hear no language or sound but i sense the warm sun rays that 
slide down from the slated roof and i can smell and see the dust that 
circles in the light and i feel the urgent beckoning of my mothers 
facial expression. almost of all the dreams of this type are from 
childhood. these dreams have a sense of connection in which people are 
more intuitively aware of each other body and facial expressions. there 
is no language in these dreams to understand and all the detail that 
language allows is missing, but the big picture is there and experienced 
without the confusion of langugage.
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Message 2: Re: 9.73, Disc: L2 and Dreams

Date: Mon, 19 Jan 1998 14:57:08 +0100 (MET)
From: Sxren Harder <>
Subject: Re: 9.73, Disc: L2 and Dreams

This topic is interesting, but I think one should be very careful to
draw any conclusion from our recollections of our dreams. First of all
because our memory, **especially of our dreams**, are prone to
reanalysis. If our dreams is a link to our 'subconscious' or other
cognitive capacities, it is not because of the dream itself, but of
the way we remember and interpret it.

I believe, moreover, that dreaming is not bound to any one 'level'. It
can be everything from 'normal cognitive working' (e.g. problem
solving') to neural fluttering. Likewise it might sometimes (seldomly)
be 'linguistic': that we, while dreaming, construct actual sentences,
but usually it is either completely alinguistic: communication without
any thought on how, or pseudo-linguistic: 'I spoke to this strange
fellow in a strange language'.

But, just an anecdote about language in dreams. I can give no
guarantee that the original story is true, and I might have
misremembered some bits (as you will notice, I don't remember the
details). But it is not something I've dreamt :-): 

The inventor of Esperanto is said to have had a dream as a rather
young man, in which he spoke to a person. There was some kind of
misunderstanding because of an ambiguity in what this person
said. When he awoke he didn't know which language it was, but he
noticed that the ambiguity could only have arisen through some feature
of the pronominal system, which wasn't present in any language he knew
(and presumably in no natural language). As far as I remember my
source (an e-mail on some list) said that the feature was later to be
in Esperanto.

If anyone know the source of this anecdote (or can tell it in a more
full version), I would like to hear it.


Soren Harder
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Message 3: L2 and Dreams

Date: Mon, 19 Jan 1998 15:15:00 +0100
From: Alex HOUSEN <>
Subject: L2 and Dreams

For what it's worth, here's my anecdotal contribution to the current debate ...
I too have recollections of dreaming in either Dutch (my first language)
and/or in English (my strongest L2), and of speaking either Dutch or
English in my dreams. And I may have some evidence that my recollections
are accurate (at least sometimes) and not just an instance of
"superimposing a language on a recollection".
Some time ago, shortly after I had returned to Belgium from a prolonged
stay in the US, I used to dream a lot about my days in the US. I woke up
one day after having dreamt about someone I'd been close with while in the
US, and I remembered that in my dream I had had a heated conversation with
her. Although I couldn't remember exactly what the conversation was about,
I remembered that it had been in English. This particular recollection was
confirmed by my Belgian girlfriend at the time, who turned out to be very
grouchy that very day for no apparent reason. After some insistence on my
part, she told me she had overheard me talking in my sleep that night. She
said I'd been "talking in English to some American girlfriend or
something". And in the months after that, she would occasionally reproach
me for having dreamt in English again ...
I don't often talk aloud in my dreams but I have other similar witness
accounts that when I do, it is occasionally in my L2-English (and sometimes
also in my Dutch dialect. I can't remember ever having dreamt in French or
German, two other languages I know but in which I am not very fluent).

Again, for what anecdotal accounts such as these are worth ...

-Alex Housen
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Message 4: Re: 9.76, Disc: L2 and dreams

Date: Mon, 19 Jan 1998 10:49:03 -0500 (EST)
From: Ali Aghbar <>
Subject: Re: 9.76, Disc: L2 and dreams

While majoring in English at college in Iran (I am bilingual in Persian and
Turkish), I had to take French as an additional language. I had a strong
desire to learn French well. After a couple of semesters, I started dreaming
in French and I sounded so good. One night I woke myself up as I was speaking
in French and for just a second or two I could hear myself speaking French in
semi-consciousness. It was pure gibberish; it was nothing like any of the
languages I knew and, for sure, it was not French. By the way, I never became
very good at French simply because I did not have much use for it. (I have
done quite well with English, I think.)

I often have the impression, in my dreams, that I am speaking in one of the
languages I know, but I think it is the context rather than linguistic fact
that is creating the impression.

Ali Aghbar, Dept. of English, Indiana U. of Pennsylvania, Indiana, PA 15705 Phone: (412) 357 4937 Fax: (412) 357 3056
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