Dream Languages.

Sophie Hardach, the author of Languages Are Good For Us and frequently featured here at the Hattery (language loss, machine translation of Sumerian, translating languages that don’t have large written corpora, etc.), has another good BBC Future piece, Why we can dream in more than one language. It begins:

Just after I began work on this article, I had a very fitting dream. I was hosting a party in a hotel suite, with guests from the US, Pakistan, and other countries. Most of the guests were chatting away in English; one or two spoke German, my mother tongue. At one point I couldn’t find my son, and panicked. When I spotted him, I sighed a relieved “Ach, da bist du ja!” – “There you are!”, in German – and gave him a hug.

If you speak more than one language, you may have had similar experiences of them mingling in your sleep. My own dreams often feature English, which I speak in daily life here in London, as well as German, my childhood language. But how and why do our brains come up with these multilingual dreams – and could they have an impact on our real-life language skills?

She goes on to talk about generalities (“instead of randomly replaying linguistic snippets from our day, our brain appears to mash them up with all sorts of daytime worries, memories and problems. It may even create entire dialogues in an unknown, fantasy language”) and gives more examples, like:

There are also linguistic anxiety dreams, in which the speaker struggles to make themselves understood in a foreign language, has to catch a train or plane from one linguistic setting to another, or looks for words in a dream dictionary. A Polish study participant reported dreaming of an English word she couldn’t figure out – “haphazard” – then looking it up when awake. A Croatian participant dreamed of trying and failing to communicate with a stranger in Italian, German and English before realising they both spoke Polish, and laughing with relief.

Then she proceeds to the discoveries of researchers:

To understand the link between sleep and language, let’s start with just one language: your own. You may think you mastered your native language long ago, but you are actually still constantly updating it. Even adults still learn about one new word every two days in their mother tongue.

“Obviously when we’re children there’s a lot of new word learning, particularly over the first 10 years. But we’re doing this all the time, we just don’t really notice,” says Gareth Gaskell, a psychology professor who leads the sleep, language and memory lab at the University of York. When we learn a new word, we continuously update our knowledge around that word until we have a firm grasp of it, Gaskell says. […]

It’s during sleep that this integration of old and new knowledge happens. During the day, our hippocampus, which specialises in absorbing information quickly, soaks up new words. At night, it passes the new information on to other parts of the brain, where it can be stored and connected to other relevant information. This helps us choose the right word in any given situation, and suppress competing words.

That process is essentially the same regardless of whether the word is in a first or second language, according to Gaskell. In the case of multilingual people, foreign words are also stored within that huge mental inventory, and are chosen or suppressed in a similar way.

“You can imagine that you’ve got some sort of tag in your memories,” says Gaskell. “So if you’ve got your mental lexicon for German and English, each of the words you know will be tagged for the language, and you suppress half of those words, and focus on the other half when you’re talking.”

Is that what I was doing with my dream of a hotel suite filled with people speaking English and German – sorting through my store of languages, and adding meaningful tags?

It would be a nice explanation, but unfortunately, the integration and consolidation process happens during a phase known as deep sleep, or slow-wave sleep. This phase is characterised by slow brain waves and higher-frequency spindles. Complex dreams like my hotel dream tend to happen during a different phase, known as the Rapid Eye Movement (REM) phase. […]

What we do know is that aside from processing daytime information, our brain can also learn new words while asleep.

Marc Züst is a research group leader at the University Hospital of Old Age Psychiatry and Psychotherapy in Bern, Switzerland, who specialises in the neuroscience of aging, sleep and memory. He and his collaborators created pseudo-words, like “tofer”, and paired each with a German word such as “Baum” (tree), changing the meaning across participants to ensure the pairing was random and free of any accidental sound associations. They then played the word pairs to participants while they were asleep.

The next morning, they asked them if “tofer” would fit into a shoebox. This roundabout question acknowledged a known limitation of learning any new information when asleep: we can’t generally use that information in a conscious, explicit way when awake.

“They couldn’t consciously reproduce that knowledge and say, ‘tofer clearly means tree’,” Züst says of the participants. “They had more of a gut feeling for whether it was a large or small object.” About 60% correctly answered that “tofer” would not fit into a shoebox.

Crucially, both words – “tofer”, and the German word – had to be played during slow-wave sleep, and specifically, during a peak of slow brain waves. When the researchers missed the peak, the pairing wasn’t learned. […]

In a separate study by the team, participants were played Japanese words in their sleep, along with sounds that hinted at their meaning. For example, the word “inu” (dog) was played together with a barking sound, and the word “kane” (bell) played along with the sound of ringing bells. Different words were played during two different phases of sleep: light sleep, and the dream-intense REM phase. Again, researchers recorded the participants’ brain activity using EEG.

When awake, the participants were able to correctly associate the words heard during the light sleep phase with relevant pictures, with a better-than-chance outcome – pairing “inu” with the picture of a dog, for example. However, when it came to the words played during the REM phase, the outcome was no different from chance.

“Whenever we investigated REM sleep, so the phase where we have the most intense dreaming activity, we couldn’t find solid evidence that there was learning,” Koroma says. He adds that this doesn’t mean we can’t learn during that phase, just that more research is needed to understand if it’s possible. […]

Koroma points out that REM sleep is associated with problem-solving, and emotional regulation. In a similar vein, dreams may allow us to try out new words or phrases in different scenarios, he suggests, or explore emotions around the languages we speak.

Danuta Gabryś-Barker, a professor of psycholinguistics at the University of Silesia in Poland, comes to a similar conclusion in an analysis of multilingual people’s dreams, suggesting that such dreams can express “fears and desires” around learning a foreign language, including the yearning to be a native-like speaker.

That idea would nicely chime with studies showing that wrestling with words or tasks in our dreams may help with creative word-play and problem-solving when awake, as well as emotional processing. But as Koroma and the others emphasise, it is a possibility, not proven fact.

Lots more at the link, including links to actual studies. I find this sort of thing endlessly fascinating — thanks, Trevor!


  1. Paul Clapham says

    As a person who doesn’t see pictures and doesn’t hear sounds while dreaming, I am skeptical about those hypotheses. My creative wordplay and problem-solving abilities are just fine, for example. I have REM sleep like everyone else, so I doubt the hypothesis that dreaming is how learning is fixed in the brain.

  2. What do dreams consist of for you? I don’t think I hear sounds. But I also suspect that most of my dreams are lost to me on waking.

    What were the confidence levels on the study that found 60% of people were ‘correctly’ able to answer that tofer wouldn’t fit in a box? What was the control (among other things, to test whether 60% of people tend to think things they’ve never heard of don’t fit in boxes)? If they had asked whether “a tofer” would fit in a box, would it flip the results?

    And how certain were leaders of the Japanese words study that their results weren’t contaminated by people who had heard of the Shiba Inu dog breed, already 50th most popular in 2012 per the American Kennel Club, and rising to 44th 4 years later?

    I’m thinking replication crisis, but maybe a BBC article about these studies isn’t enough evidence for me to be so dismissive.

  3. Paul Clapham says

    It feels like I’m trying forever to solve a Rubik’s Cube, mostly.

  4. Thanks. That’s interesting.

  5. I very rarely used to remember dreams until a few years ago, when I started taking a daily drug (I had to cut back the dosage because my dreams became too vivid and unsettling).

    As far I can tell, my dreams are visual only, with no sound. As for problem solving — well, I had a dream the other morning in which I was apparently at the end of a hotel stay and was packing my suitcase. It took a long time because I kept discovering new things to pack and had to repeatedly unpack the suitcase and start over.

    I’d be curious to know what aspect of problem-solving that dream helped me with.

  6. I have occasionally thought up hilarious jokes in my dreams. Once I wrote one upon waking. I don’t remember the details, but upon reviewing it some hours later it was as nonsensical as Oliver Wendell Holmes’ turpentine smell. The words were English, though.

  7. David Marjanović says

    My dreams are almost purely visual, too; speaking does commonly occur, in several languages (sometimes), but in the opposite of the way it’s conventionally portrayed in movies: there’s no depth to the sound, no echo at all. Other sensations appear only in carefully selected ways, and there’s far less than one in every dream. Water temperature in particular does not exist.

    The idea that learning happens in dreams has always struck me as yet another desperate way of insisting that dreaming must have a function (as opposed to being a side effect of something else). My dreams are free association as far as I’ve noticed, and they don’t tend to make sense. I’ve done all sorts of clear thinking in dreams, but in very small doses.

    It took a long time because I kept discovering new things to pack and had to repeatedly unpack the suitcase and start over.

    I don’t have object permanence in my dreams either. I look at things, think about what I’m seeing, and in the process modify them or create new ones because I’m not in fact seeing them, I’m just thinking.

  8. Even adults still learn about one new word every two days in their mother tongue.

    WEIRD adults, maybe.

    My dreams are both audio and visual, but characteristically I can’t read. When I fall asleep while reading, I will sometimes notice the page turn to gibberish[*], realize that I’m asleep, and wake up. This usually happens very quickly, at least subjectively. On other occasions the page stays frozen even though it’s changing in the outside world, because I am reading online and I’ve fallen asleep with my finger on the space bar; when I wake up I’ll be startled at the sudden jump.

    [*] Update: Sometimes it looks like Armenian script.

  9. Interesting how differently people experience dreams. Mine are in color and in sound. In fact in my dreams I can reproduce multi-part instrumental music with a fidelity that I can’t do thinking about it consciously. Unlike JC, I also read text in dreams. In fact, I find trying to visualize a printed page in my mind is a helpful way to fall asleep.

    Frustratingly my dreams seem to mostly stay in English no matter what country I am living in or language I am using in daily conversation.

    Lately my dreams have even started having occasional narrative „twists“ where a person isn’t who they claimed to be or is revealed to be acting from hidden motives. I suspect that watching too much visual media probably has a direct effect on dreams.

  10. Jen in Edinburgh says

    Maybe I’m misunderstanding what David M said, but I have always understood the theory to be that dreaming IS a side effect of learning (or at least of the brain somehow using its downtime to catalogue what it has learnt), rather than that dreams are directly educational in a Victorian sort of way.

  11. I had a very exciting dream last night, in the nature of a historical thriller (that is, I was watching it, not participating in it). It was about the kidnapping of the Austro-Hungarian Emperor by the Bulgarian government in 1913. The action was interspersed with a lot of meetings between officials of various governments beforehand.

    It becomes clear that the war party that won in OTL (instigating the Second Balkan War) had been discredited; a direct attempt to claim northern Macedonia was seen as suicidal, and eventually the Tsar was convinced to take an alternative course, which might fail embarrassingly, but which would not have such a disastrous downside. So he encouraged the Emperor to make a state visit to Sofia, seized his person and his guards, and issued an ultimatum to Austria which was successful in bringing it into the undeclared war on the Bulgarian side.

    The movie ends with a scene between two characters we haven’t seen before: one asks the other “So why did your mission to assassinate the Emperor fail?” The other replies, “How could I know that his entourage would turn right instead of left? We knew their plan was for turning left!” Finally, there are a series of closing titles saying that the Bulgarian Suzerainty, though never really stable, was successful in maintaining the peace in the Balkans and in Europe for a generation.

    Hey, don’t hold my daylight persona responsible for all this! It probably makes no sense whatsoever.

  12. Update: Triggered by this post, no doubt, I had a dream last night in which I was in a German city — I had the sense that it was Frankfurt — and was trying to figure out local bus and train maps and buy a ticket. I tried to speak German to get my ticket, but I didn’t make any sense, and the guy at the ticket counter spoke back to me in rapid-fire German which I didn’t understand in the least.

    The novel thing is that I could hear him talking in my dream. I don’t think I’ve experienced that before, unless I just hadn’t registered it. At any rate, I credit this blog with expanding my universe of dreams.

    (In what remained of the dream, I was on a bus riding around said German city, not knowing where to get off, and increasingly bemused by how areas with grand old buildings abruptly turned into ruins when the bus turned a corner.)

  13. January First-of-May says

    Hey, don’t hold my daylight persona responsible for all this! It probably makes no sense whatsoever.

    By the standards of alternate history – especially the kind that makes it to cinema – it makes quite a lot of sense. I’ve seen many AH plots that made this one look like the proverbial dictionary. I’d watch a movie about this. I’d definitely read a fleshed-out story about this.

    It doesn’t have to be very fleshed out, TBH; the story as described here sounds like very good TLIAD material. If I was any better at writing and if I actually knew anything about 1913 Bulgarian politics I’d have probably tried writing it up as one.

    Honestly the hard part would have been figuring out how the Suzerainty failed in (presumably) the late 1930s or early 1940s, and what would the world have been like by then…

    …On the subject of languages in dreams, I’m very much reminded of this story from 2016.

    Reading in dreams happens frequently to me (usually fanfics, probably corresponding to the kind of stuff I read in the waking world); it’s sometimes in Russian and sometimes in English and sometimes I can’t quite tell. Every so often the book turns into a movie (as described by me later in the linked thread).

    Back when I was actively doing UFCC lines I kept having dreams about finding various sources of football game results in whatever period and doing the lines with them. Usually the sources were websites, sometimes they were a card catalog or something; at least once it was a giant screen on the street.

    My dreams are free association as far as I’ve noticed, and they don’t tend to make sense. I’ve done all sorts of clear thinking in dreams, but in very small doses.

    That does sound correct-ish for me as well; there’s often (what feels like) some kind of overarching plot, but it rarely lasts the entire dream, and the actual events involved are pretty much free association even then.

    This whole thing actually reminds me of another old dream report I made…

    I dreamed of the UFCC, which was relegated to the second Andorran division, except Andorra didn’t have a second division, so we just awkwardly waited for the cup.
    I dreamed of a debate about the formation of Moldova; the other guy said Napoleon was involved and I said he was far away and in any case it was all Biron’s fault.
    I dreamed of going to a Czech office to find some facts in an old newspaper, except partway through going up the stairs I realized I had no idea which date to look for.
    I dreamed of an unusually optimistic Fate fic, and of an author’s comment on a much later page that explained it was taking place in the protagonist’s reality simulation.
    I dreamed of a website about some obscure area’s tourist attractions that had to move several times as it became unexpectedly popular, and I think there were bagels, or maybe baguettes?

    Then I woke up and realized it had only been an hour.

  14. What I find most interesting is that when you wake up you can remember more than one dream. Or at least, a dream that has a series of what seem like entirely disconnected segments. That’s not my experience. John’s experience of remembering the convolutions of a dream with a plot is also different from mine.

    I’ve doubted my 8-year old’s narration of dreams that roll out like complete episodes of a cartoon she has been watching, assuming that she is making some of it up on the fly to tell a good story. But maybe she really retains these details.

  15. David Marjanović says

    Anyone here dreaming in black-and-white? That was supposedly widespread back when TV was in b&w. I’ve always dreamt in color, usually sunshine even.

  16. Never dreamt in black-and-white, found it difficult to believe anyone ever did.

    In an otherwise Anglophone dream the other day, I somehow ran into a Hebrew speaker and racked my brains for something I could say in Hebrew. In the end I said “yesh dag”, “there is fish”. Unfortunately I can’t remember why this was pertinent (if it was), but I woke up happy to have been able, without even being awake, to retrieve that much of a language I’ve never once spoken in a real world context.

  17. Anyone here dreaming in black-and-white?

    I suspect that may be true of me; at any rate, I never remember any colors from my dreams (there are plenty of books and buildings and subways).

  18. I dream in sound and color. Twice that I can remember I’ve had touch, smell, and taste in a dream – I guess I paid for the upgrade bundle.

    Generally, my dreams have some transportation component, usually bright clean modern-looking subways or trains. Often they have places I know, like Princeton, but with extra buildings. (I’m pretty sure I dreamed the new buildings of Butler College before they were built.)

    My dreams are always peopled. I don’t remember any dreams where I haven’t interacted with someone. Since my parents’ passing, they occasionally appear in my dreams, but they don’t deliver profound wisdom or important messages.

    I used to notice that there seemed to be a correlation between eating certain foods, like oregano, and remembering my dreams more strongly, but I haven’t noticed that for a while.

  19. This dream was beyond exceptional for me: I’ve had (or at least remembered) plotty dreams like this maybe a few times in my life.

    I’ve doubted my 8-year old’s narration of dreams that roll out like complete episodes of a cartoon she has been watching, assuming that she is making some of it up on the fly to tell a good story. But maybe she really retains these details.

    I suspect that’s a difference that makes no difference. Dennett talks about two theories of false memory: the “Orwellian” one in which our perceptions are accurate but we recall them inaccurately, and the “Stalinesque” one in which we recall accurately what was inaccurately recorded at the time. He says that the difference between these is incoherent; there really is no boundary between storage and recall, at least over a short enough time frame.

  20. Vanya: I also read in dreams, it confuses me that people claim that it’s not possible to. I read fictional emails and notes in a notebook in dreams sometimes, and remember the text upon awakening — and they’re sometimes relevant to what I was thinking of before falling asleep.

    Ryan: “What I find most interesting is that when you wake up you can remember more than one dream. Or at least, a dream that has a series of what seem like entirely disconnected segments.” — that also happens occasionally to me, but usually they try to merge into a grand narrative.

  21. Lars Mathiesen (he/him/his) says

    I had a waking-up dream this morning that I was explaining at a child about an inscription in a picture that said THOU ART ORGA, and somehow orga was a case form of orc. The font (and the general context) was some sort of generic fantasy RPG one. (Why my brain wanted the “predicate of the subject” case to be different from the citation form, I don’t know).

  22. Craig: I dream of dead people important to me all the time; it’s actually a common theme that I suddenly remember the person is now dead and switch to another dream, because that can’t be happening because they’re dead — but there’s this transitional period where I know they’re dead but can’t tell them because it would upset them. They’re usually an abstraction of their persona — not the actual person. And they usually do not speak — that’s when the dream switches to another narrative or I wake up. Come to think of it, no person ever speaks in my dreams — it’s only text and the impression of a three-dimensional environment. With colour (more like the _concept_ of colour, and somehow deeper), but no sound. Only text, like letters or postcards or emails. Emails are the most clear upon waking up, but notes in a notebook also.

    I once had a dream where I emailed Simon Baron-Cohen and he replied; I googled the contents of the email when I woke up and it was relevant to what I was thinking about before going to sleep. I’m pretty sure religions typically get started with folk misinterpreting stuff like that.

  23. I regularly dream that I’m speaking a language I can’t actually speak – never one I don’t know anything about, but one where I’ve got a reasonable idea of the grammatical nuts and bolts, but not enough vocabulary to actually communicate anything useful. I know I’m talking Finnish or Persian or whatever it is, then wake up and remember I can’t, and feel quite put out.

    (The only historical dream I ever remember having was also about the last years of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. I didn’t recall much after waking except that I was present at the assassination of Franz Ferdinand, but that was detailed enough that it was clear that Cannock, where I grew up, was standing in for Sarajevo, and the archduke was shot next to the bowling green.)

  24. Kate Bunting says

    I sometimes retain a surprisingly vivid image of an imaginary place from a dream (certainly in colour!) but I don’t remember ever hearing a foreign language spoken. Indeed, I’m not sure whether I hear actual words or just somehow know what the situation is. My dreams are often garbled versions of situations I’ve been in in real life.

  25. John Cowan: “So he encouraged the Emperor to make a state visit to Sofia, seized his person and his guards, and issued an ultimatum to Austria which was successful in bringing it into the undeclared war on the Bulgarian side.”

    That would be funny as hell. Thank you, my muse. I will credit you.

  26. I look forward to reading my dream, in a sense rather different from the usual. I should note that in my dream the movie was factual, not counterfactual; a dramatization of what happened, not of what could have happened.

  27. David Marjanović says

    (Why my brain wanted the “predicate of the subject” case to be different from the citation form, I don’t know).

    Isn’t that the Finnic equative case?

    and the archduke was shot next to the bowling green

    The Bowling Green Massacre explained at last !!

    Indeed, I’m not sure whether I hear actual words or just somehow know what the situation is.

    Both of these happen in my dreams.

  28. Isn’t that the Finnic equative case?

    Do you mean essive? If so, not exactly. Finnish essives are mostly quasi-adverbial (“as an X…”); there is a predicative use though where e.g. “He is linguist-ESS” = “He is currently a linguist, working as a linguist”, and for all we know Lars’s dream orc may only have been a contingent orc, so maybe. There don’t seem to be too many languages with a true predicative case — Google seems to know of Tabasaran, a Northeast Caucasian language, and not much else, though I’m sure David E will be along momentarily to tell us all about the pragmatics and etymology of the predicative case in Kusaal.

  29. David Eddyshaw says

    You rang?

    As befits a true daughter of Niger-Congo, Kusaal doesn’t do cases at all, let alone predicative cases.

    However, I am happy to tell you that Kolyma Yukaghir does have a predicative case: it uses it for the predicates of nominal clauses (duh) and, perhaps more interestingly, as a drop-in replacement for the subject or object of verbal clauses as a focusing strategy.

    Interestingly*, Kusaal (hah! got you – you thought it was safe to get back in the water, didn’t you?) can use bare demonstratives as predicates, always with the subject in focus:

    Bɔɔ la?
    what [focus particle**] that [content-question particle]
    “What is that?”

    and (this is the interesting bit) it can embed such verbless clauses as they stand in verbal clauses:

    Fʋ maal bɔɔ la tis mam?
    you make what [focus particle] that [linker particle] give me [content-question particle]
    “What is this that you have done to me?”

    Menomini (teste Bloomfield himself, no less) has/had special predicative forms of all the personal and demonstrative pronouns, which similarly are also used for focus, essentially via clefting:

    Nenɛsaq nɛtomet.
    “It’s me he’s calling.”

    They also inflect for mood, because Algonquian.
    Old Nubian had a predicative case, and I daresay lots of its descendants and relatives still do. (Those languages do do cases. Quite a bit.) It’s also used as a vocative, which kinda makes sense.

    * My wife tells me that this use of “interestingly” is a verbal tic of descriptive linguists. This may be the case with nerds more generally …

    ** Kusaal has lots of perfectly real distinct words (well, six, anyhow) with zero segmental form. For two pins, I would say more … yet I am merciful.

  30. this use of “interestingly” is a verbal tic of descriptive linguists. This may be the case with nerds more generally …

    Yep, pretty sure it’s not restricted to descriptive linguists.

    It was a verbal tic of my Dad, who wouldn’t have known a descriptive linguist from a jar of gooseberries. He would use “interestingly” to introduce some detail of steam locomotives, church organ construction (interestingly not an entirely disjoint topic), electric circuitry (ditto), …

    We kids would roll our eyes — which would only lead to even more “interestingly”s.

  31. He is currently a linguist, working as a linguist”

    So this means that our Hat is a linguist-NOM, but not a linguist-ESS? (Obvs he is not a linguistess.) Of course, what the Finnish case system would make of David and David might not be quite the same thing, as they are linguists in a still remoter sense.

    “You are linguist, no? So listen, and try to understand.” —Jakobson

  32. I better remember dreams when I sleep long.

    “Fʋ maal bɔɔ la tis mam?”

    Russian too. Ты что это (мне) такое говоришь? you what this (to me) such say?

    vs. Что ты такое говоришь?

  33. I woke from a dream this morning remembering that I had thought of a woman I met in the dream “She has brown eyes.” My first thought was “OK, I guess I do dream in color,” followed immediately by the realization that people talk about color in black-and-white films, and I didn’t actually remember the color of the eyes, just the thought.

  34. Some Slavic languages use the instrumental case as a predicative, e.g. Polish jego ojciec jest profesorem “his father is a professor”. In Polish, it is used for both transient attributes / roles and for permanent attributes. In Russian, this is more limited; but Russian uses the instrumental for roles (он работает в зоопарке крокодилом “he works at the zoo as a crocodile”).

  35. Lars Mathiesen (he/him/his) says

    dead people: My mom’s boyfriend (who just turned 90) told us of a dream he had the other night: He is driving his car with his twin brother (deceased in the waking world) in the passenger seat, and suddenly realizes that he doesn’t have a license any more (because of a minor stroke some years ago). “Why aren’t you driving?” he asks his brother who simply answers “I’m dead, I can’t drive”. Which made total sense in the dream — I think they just continued talking after that, I didn’t ask.

    “Interestingly, in the high plains culture of the Wollywags, rolling your eyes means ‘please go on'”.

  36. Hans, and there is also instrumental after was/will be.

  37. John Cowan: “When I fall asleep while reading, I will sometimes notice the page turn to gibberish” that happens to me when I get a stress-induced epileptic seizure. It’s usually five minutes that I have before the convulsions, and I have to sit down before they begin, and I have to do it fast . Happens once a year or two, when I’m unusually calm (I have social anxiety); I don’t get them when I’m stressed. The last seven years or so. Always when reading on my phone while walking (and yes, I’ve had MRIs several times, and doctors are confused about the results of it) — the text gets garbled and that’s when I know the seizure is coming.

    They happen when I’ve been calm for at least two months.

    I have the habit of reading when I walk, even when I was 5 or so, but the seizures did not begin until relatively recently, 2017 or so. When the text gets garbled I know I have to sit somewhere ASAP. My reading mind becomes a random text generator. I get a seizure some time _after_ I _stop_ being stressed.

  38. Hans, and there is also instrumental after was/will be.
    Yes, but unlike in Polish, it’s not obligatory, and I didn’t want to get into too much details 🙂

  39. True, though “I will-be [noun].NOM” is now uncommon, as for adjectives it also competes with the short form…. which itself is a predicative case:-)

  40. Jen in Edinburgh says

    If I fall asleep reading I seem to go on reading something that makes sense to me at the time – it’s just not at all the same as what’s on the page in front of me if I wake up again.

    I don’t think I often see intelligible text in dreams otherwise.

  41. I generally dream in the language I have last heard IRL, which is mostly English. But if I’ve spent some time on the phone with my sister, or watching N12, it’s Hebrew. If I watch a few episodes at night of a serial in some other language (mostly French, Italian or a Scandinavian one) then it’s that language, even if, as in the case of Swedish or Norwegian, I don’t know the language. Then it becomes a matter of made up words in made up sentences that sound like words and sentences in that language. The funny thing is that I don’t dream with sound, it’s like “thinking” in that language the same way that I “think” in English IRL (except when counting coffee measures for the coffee-maker, when I invariably revert to Spanish). Strangely enough I don’t remember having ever dreamt in Yiddish, though it was my mame-loshn until I was 5 — but I can’t be absolutely 100% sure about never having done Yiddish because like David L I never remembered my dreams (in fact I used to insist that I just plain never dreamt) until I started taking some medicines for blood pressure, which seemed to open the flood gates of oniric memory. Having said all that, I’m never sure after waking up from a talking dream (unless it was in Spanish, English or Hebrew) whether the language was indeed good French or Italian or it was just a case of prisencolinensinainciusol, as when it’s Swedish or German, for instance

  42. David Eddyshaw says

    I’ve always dreamt in full Technicolor* with Dolby sound, and am always a bit surprised to hear that this experience is by no means universal.

    Most of my dreams are transparent wish-fulfilment stuff. My subconscious is evidently an obliging sort (as well as being the one who can actually do cryptic crosswords: I hardly ever arrive at the answers by conscious deduction.)

    * More vivid when I was younger, but then, so was the waking world.

  43. made this one look like the proverbial dictionary

    Do you actually have a proverb about dictionaries, or is “the proverbial X” just a expression in this case?

    If I was any better at writing and if I actually knew anything about 1913 Bulgarian politics I’d have probably tried writing it up as one.

    “If the dog would catch a rabbit, we would have rabbit stew for dinner — if we had a dog.”

  44. David Marjanović says

    Most of my dreams are transparent wish-fulfilment stuff.

    I’m so bad at imagining my wishes could be fulfilled that there’s very little of that in my dreams. Like… not every year. Wishes don’t even come up often, and when they do, they’re partially or entirely averted in most cases.

  45. Once I saw an alien invasion and so did my freind.
    I don’t know if it counts as “wishes”….

  46. January First-of-May says

    Do you actually have a proverb about dictionaries, or is “the proverbial X” just a expression in this case?

    This was a mildly mangled attempt to refer to the Red Queen’s quote. Perhaps “proverbial” is not quite the right word here.

    FWIW, my brain decided to introduce an extra point to this for me because I was able to read text in Hebrew in a dream last night. It was תל אביב something and I read it out as “Tel Aviv Airport”, apparently in English, despite the narration being otherwise in Russian.
    (I was trying to figure out which other airport I ended up at, because I knew it was an Israeli airport but I thought there was only one airport in Israel and I’ve already been there in the dream? It took a while before I found a sign, which confirmed my suspicion that it was Tel Aviv. Then I tried – and failed – to remember what the other, initial, airport was.)

    Then in another dream later the same night, I also encountered some text in Hebrew, but as I tried to look closely to figure out what it actually said, I realized that it was absolute gibberish (as in, some letters were mirrored, and I think a few others were even more garbled). I think I woke up shortly afterwards.

  47. For me, a dream in monochrome (generally actually very dark brown versus very pale cream, rather tham true black and white) is pretty much guaranteed to be a nightmare. In my very lucid dreams, I can (as I have previously mentioned) often read and do math up to the level of simple calculus. However, my excellent analytical skills are counterbalanced by my more marginal spatial competence. I love mazes in all forms, and my dreams often feature labyrinthine settings that I have to navigate. However, I’m not generally capable of keeping track of the geometry of those mazes as I mentally traverse them. Sometimes, this actually demonstrates a division in my dreaming psyche between a sort of “player” persona, who is trying to find their way around, and the “gamemaster” part of my mind, seemingly one level deeper into my subconscious, who creates and depicts the labyrinth around the exploring player. Even if the higher-level player persona knows how to retrace their steps to return to an earlier area, they will generally end up somewhere entirely different if they try, because the gamemaster isn’t actually keeping track of what connects up to what. This quickly becomes something my player alter ego finds very frustrating.

  48. Allan from Iowa says

    I once saw Russian writing in a dream — a language I have never studied except for place names and movie credits. When I woke up I wrote down Ност (the last letter had the handwritten or italic form that looks like m). This is not a real Russian word. Google suggested an acronym in some company names and part of the name of a character in the Star Wars Extended Universe. I don’t know where my subconscious got it.

  49. “How could I know that his entourage would turn right instead of left? We knew their plan was for turning left!”

    I realize now that this is an element of alternate history reaching into the dream itself: the action had come out otherwise than what was expected within the dreamed history.

  50. David Marjanović says

    Wishes don’t even come up often, and when they do, they’re partially or entirely averted in most cases.

    I had some largely averted wish fulfillment in a dream today: a list of globally widespread word roots, with quite precise meanings, but in what seemed to be handwaving Ruhlen-style non-reconstructions and without any statistical or other evidence attached…

  51. Trond Engen says

    I’ve been thinking that I never remember dreams, but I realised this morning that my dreams are continuations, or extensions, or disparate pieces, of my inner monodialogue. My thought process often takes the form of my inner voice explaining or discussing something, and that’s exactly what’s going on in dreams, just less predictable.

    It also strikes me that this can be related to something else: I’m a pretty good talker in front of a room, be it inpromptu speeches at weddings or funerals, prepared lectures and course classes, or (as I’ve recently had the opportunity to discover in my professional capacity) as a witness in court.

  52. Mostly REM sleep without the proper amount of non-REM can be also ruinous — they call it power-naps, and it’s actually a fad.

  53. This particular Hat post has messed me up. Last night I had a dream in which I was eating with some other people at a restaurant that I had reached, for reasons that were not at all clear, by bicycling along various freeways and off-ramps. The waiters kept bringing out trays of mysterious and unidentifiable food items, and at one point I tried something and could taste it.

    It was distinctly unpleasant, which I guess is why I remember it.

  54. I have a book about fin de siècle Balkan diplomacy, published in 1926 about recent Bulgarian foreign politics. It’s mostly 1884 to 1912 though. Most of it is based on analysis of diplomatic correspondence. Germany seems to be mostly irrelevant. It’s the Austrians, the Ottomans, the Bulgarians and the French that are relevant. It’s in my Sofia apartment, though.

    Germany and Britain are mentioned as an aside, Britain as it pertains to the Ottomans, Germany as it pertains to Austria.

    EDIT: I think it was called “A recent history of Bulgaria”.

  55. Russia was so obvious I forgot the mention it. But it was mostly about the Ottomans and France. And Austria — It was mostly Austria and France when it was not about Austria or Russia.

  56. @V: I’m not sure fad is the right word to describe something as old power napping. I associate the term with the Me Decade, when it was probably also depicted as a fad (think Wall Street bankers napping between deals and coke binges), and the OED has attestations going back to 1980. Although it says the term is “originally and chiefly North American” (and meaning “a brief but refreshing nap, esp. one taken during a long working day to restore alertness”), the first citation is actually from a British source:

    1980 Globe & Mail 25 Aug. 13/6. The renewed energy he brought with him led to more speculation that perhaps he had used the 90-minute absence from stage to take a power nap.

    That suggests that the term was in regular use well before 1980. The psychologist James Maas claims to have invented the term power nap.* However, that claim doesn’t appear show up until the 1990s—long after the term was already in circulation—although that doesn’t appear to stop lots of news outlets from breathlessly repeating the probably bogus assertion.

    Maas’s medically-recommended version of the power nap involves sleeping for just fifteen or twenty minutes, so that there isn’t even time for slow-wave sleep to develop fully. The Wikipedia page for the term even begins with the assertion: “A power nap or cat nap** is a short sleep that terminates before deep sleep (slow-wave sleep; SWS).” However, I think the OED‘s definition is more accurate in reflecting everyday usage—that a power nap should be short, but it certainly doesn’t have to be that short.

    * He might actually have coined power sleep, but only after power nap was already out there, and power sleep has never really caught on.

    ** The inclusion of “cat nap” here is a pretty clear further indication that this Wikipedia page should not be taken very seriously as a reference. However, it does make me wonder how fully the traditional definition of cat nap (“a short nap while sitting” according to the OED) has been bleached to remove the “while sitting” element. Certainly, I have heard many people refer to a “cat nap” taken while lying down.

  57. When I woke up I wrote down Ност

    Have you read Tolkien?

  58. Allan from Iowa says

    Yes, I have read Tolkien. But in Fornost, the last morpheme is ost, not *nost.

  59. I suppose if Russian (or OCS) had felt the need to borrow Greek νόστος in some sense it could have ended up as Ност…

  60. the traditional definition of cat nap (“a short nap while sitting” according to the OED)

    That’s news to me, and also to the various cats I have lived with over the years. Kittens sometimes fall asleep while sitting and then promptly fall over, thus becoming the stars of adorable online videos. I’ve never known an adult cat nap while sitting. They are wise enough to find a comfy spot, such as a recently emptied cardboard box.

  61. David Marjanović says

    This morning I tried to read the sign on a building in a dream. Supposedly it was in Serbian Cyrillic. I read the first of the 3 or 4 lines just fine… and then I ran so completely out of creativity I couldn’t manage to invent the second line in the first place, so I had nothing to decipher.

    It’s possible I eventually woke up at that stage, but now I can’t remember.

  62. Juan Dolores, the Tohono O’odham linguist and author and Alfred Kroeber’s collaborator, had a dream about translating his writings into English:

    “I saw words appearing on the wall, like a moving picture show. First a word would go clear across the wall and then automatically arrange itself into two or three words. Sometimes there would be only one letter and under it, would be two or three English words. When I awoke, I said this is no dream. It is the correct way of writing the Indian language.”

  63. Someone said in my dream today:
    ‘the Arabic word for “teach” is šatl‘.

    (Not too bad: šatl is “planting”…)
    I even know what inspired this line (an advertisment ‘learn Arabic with native tutors from scratch!’).

  64. John Cowan: that might have been unclear: I emailed Simon Baron-Cohen in my dream; he replied to me in my dream. I subsequently woke up and went to my computer.

    I logged in to my Gmail account and there was nothing from him. It was then that I realised it had been a dream. I still remembered the content of the reply for about half an hour afterwards, slowly fading.

    As I said, that’s probably such events that religions get started by.

    Edit: I don’t recall corresponding with him but some acquaintances of mine have.

  65. David Marjanović says

    In a dream this morning, I tried to read a list in a Wikipedia article (in English). Soon ran out of creativity, couldn’t visualize any more lines and woke up soon thereafter.

  66. I once emailed Ivan Derzhanski about some details of Lojban, when I was at the Technical University of Sofia (two decades ago?), from the public UNIX terminals and he replied. I guess that’s what the dream was based on, a decade later.

  67. John Cowan says

    (он работает в зоопарке крокодилом “he works at the zoo as a crocodile”)

    Uh, okay, and what do human crocodiles do at the zoo? (I know, more or less, what reptilian crocodiles do there.)

    I’m so bad at imagining my wishes

    This garden-pathed me pretty severely.

    Perhaps “proverbial” is not quite the right word here.

    I read once a reference to “the proverbial man of straw”, though as far as I know strawmen are not the subject of any proverbs.

    I once emailed Ivan Derzhanski about some details of Lojban

    You and me both.

  68. Uh, okay, and what do human crocodiles do at the zoo? (I know, more or less, what reptilian crocodiles do there.)
    Who said anything about a human crocodile?
    The sentence is a quote from a famous Soviet animated film, here at 3:50

    (Spoiler: it’s a real crocodile who works in the zoo as a crocodile during the day and then goes home to his apartment in the evening.)

  69. “Proverbial man of straw” is quicker than “found-in-logic-and-argumentation-textbooks man of straw.”

  70. John Cowan says

    Well, yes, but strawman is even shorter.

  71. Last night, I had another one of those dreams. This time we were trying to navigate around some kind of combined zoo and amusement park, and I could never get back to where I wanted to attend a meeting. Eventually, I got so angry that I yelled out in frustration—so loudly that I woke myself up and freaked out my sons who were asleep on the other side of the house.

  72. Anyone here dreaming in black-and-white?

    I have on occasion dreamed in two-color as well as uncolored comic strip. Note that uncolored doesn’t just mean black & white, but also blue or red tint and white.

  73. I dreamed I discussed with others our dreams.

  74. I have had dreams in which the visual images appeared to be duotones.

  75. Stu Clayton says

    I dreamed I conquered the world in my Maidenform bra.

  76. A couple nights ago, I had a dream (or rather, a series of dreams) that were mostly in black and white. However, that was because I dreamed that I was watching a series of episode of The Twilight Zone. During the second (and longest) episode, I gradually seemed for forget the framing device, that I was supposed to watching a program from the 1960s, and it became more participatory and switched to being in color. However, when that episode ended, it went back to black and white, and the next story started with an introductory monologue, just like a real episode of the show (although the person doing the monologue was not recognizably Rod Serling).

    What happened next was even stranger though. I dreamed that (as I was moving with the camera on a tracking shot) I burned the heel of my foot against a hot toaster. That woke me up, and my foot kept hurting! As I lay, almost fully awake, I could still feel a sharp pain in my left foot, for maybe twenty or thirty second; then it quickly but smoothly faded away. At this point, I pulled my foot out from under the covers and discovered that it was completely unharmed—not even red or tender or anything. I regret now that I did not inspect my foot more quickly, but I was too astonished that the stinging dream pain was persisting while I was awake to take the logical action. I concluded that the pain almost certainly originated entirely in my central nervous system, not in the afferent neurons—which seems to have been a new experience for me.

  77. David Marjanović says

    That’s amazing.

  78. I had a dream that I was out of a particular brand of fish sauce, and then I found a bottle in an unexpected place. Why that particular brand? _No_idea_. It was Thai, with the label in Thai. I don’t even know Thai, but somehow in my dream I could read the label.

  79. John Cowan says

    I dreamed I conquered the world in my Maidenform bra.

    What on earth was the world doing there??! Musta been a tight fit….

    In any case, dreaming that you dwell un marble halls is always an option.

    I dreamt I dwelt in marble halls,
    And each damp thing that creeps and crawls
    went wobble-wobble on the walls… (Lewis Carroll)

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