Foreign languages in dreams?

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Brooks
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Foreign languages in dreams?

Postby Brooks » Wed Dec 19, 2007 6:25 am UTC

I had a unique (for me) language based dream that's made me wonder about how second languages fit into our brain in general, and especially in dreams. In the dream, I was traveling in France with random people who were, I think, Americans. At some point, we needed to find an office building. But we were all stumped because we didn't speak French. I was the spokesperson and tried asking people, in English, where the office building was. They replied in French that I couldn't understand, but from their mannerisms and tone it was clear that they didn't understand what I was asking.

Suddenly, in one of those dream moments, I realized that I had some French. So I confidently asked someone "ou est l'après". L'après, to me, being the office building. The person in my dream responded affirmatively and pointed me to where we needed to go. As we went, I confidently explained to my comrades that "ou est l'après" means "where is the office building," with "ou est" being "where is" and "l'après" being "the office building". I'm sure most you have enough French to see what's wrong there: après is "after", and to the extent that l'après makes any sense at all, it would be something like "the after."

There are a whole bunch of things there that I'm curious about:
- In real life, I know what languages I'm partly functional in. Why was it a surprise in the dream? Is that normal? I've had dreams entirely in French, and dreams where I speak both English and French, but this was the first dream I remember where I believed that I didn't know French.
- Why did I get most of the grammar right, only to substitute a weird noun/preposition for the correct noun? In the dream, I understood the accent on après and deeply knew the word. I was just wrong.
- As the dream continued and I explained to my friends what I had said, it made perfect sense to me.

It struck me as weird, but interesting. Any insights?

-b

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Re: Foreign languages in dreams?

Postby gmalivuk » Wed Dec 19, 2007 6:29 am UTC

I've heard it said that you truly understand a new language when you start dreaming in that language. But that's only true if I subconsciously know German, despite never having studied it at all. Because I've had more than one dream in which I was speaking "German". In other words, in the dream I believed myself to be speaking German, though of course that must have just been one of those little extra things one always seems to "know" in a dream.

I imagine that your dream was somewhere in between this and an actual "now I really know this language" dream, in that there was actual French being spoken, it just turned out not to be at all the correct French for the context. :-)
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Re: Foreign languages in dreams?

Postby Kizyr » Wed Dec 19, 2007 3:31 pm UTC

I hear the "you know a language when you start to dream in it" thing, but, I've found that not to really be the case... I've had dreams in Japanese and Spanish when I still didn't speak either all that well; although, it tended to be basic interactions, like asking for directions or help, not extended conversations (so, similar to your dream).

I do think it's an indication that you're at least on the right track with learning/speaking a given language, and I've found it more common to, say, dream in Spanish when I'm in a Spanish-speaking country, or dream in Japanese when I'm in Japan, but otherwise, I don't place a lot of weight on dreaming in another language. KF
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Re: Foreign languages in dreams?

Postby Brooks » Wed Dec 19, 2007 9:44 pm UTC

Yeah, I have definitely used languages I barely know in dreams; I also don't subscribe to the idea that dreaming in a language is indicative of fluency. For me, the times when I've really gotten up to speed in French (my one semi-fluent language) the sign has been when portions of my internal monologue switched over and I don't even notice for a while.

Dreams are weird things. I wish there was a way to reverse engineer 'em and see 'em thought-by-thought. Ah well.

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Re: Foreign languages in dreams?

Postby wisnij » Wed Dec 19, 2007 9:47 pm UTC

I had a dream once in which I was speaking Japanese to a native, and he was surprised that I knew the language. After I woke up I realized that my dream-Japanese was almost complete nonsense. Still, I guess it's the thought that counts.

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Re: Foreign languages in dreams?

Postby Owehn » Wed Dec 19, 2007 10:55 pm UTC

I had a dream once in German, back during my first year studying it. I was on a game show, sort of a question-answer deal. The host asked "Woher kommt das Wort 'Zehn'?" ("Where does the word 'Ten' come from?"). I thought to myself: Well, it must have come from either fingers ("Finger") or toes ("Zehen"). Aha! "Es kommt von das Wort 'Zehen'."

Needless to say, that's completely bogus. But it was German!
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Re: Foreign languages in dreams?

Postby Fargren » Thu Dec 20, 2007 4:14 pm UTC

wisnij wrote:The real fun is when you start dreaming in computer languages.

"I had a horrible dream! Zeroes and ones everywhere. And I think I saw a TWO!
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Re: Foreign languages in dreams?

Postby Clumpy » Thu Dec 20, 2007 11:48 pm UTC

This is a cool psychological experiment - as I get better speaking a language I find that I no longer dream in that language. That midpoint where your English starts getting funny as you make the transition is a strange time, full of repetitive muttering and thought translation into the new language.

I once dreamed that I was in the mob. In the dream I had no morals, no scruples and went around dealing drugs and killing. This didn't fit with my conscious morality at all - I successfully made a "character" switch. It doesn't seem that much of a stretch to me that you could also trick yourself into believing you knew a language.

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Re: Foreign languages in dreams?

Postby deejbot » Fri Dec 21, 2007 5:15 am UTC

I haven't really polled other people, as it seems a bit of an odd question, and few of my friends are bi- or more -lingual; but from my experience, what I know as a "foreign language" in dreams is, as you say, not entirely correct, and probably half the time gibberish. Also, it's extra classy if it's a conlang.

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Re: Foreign languages in dreams?

Postby stockpot » Fri Dec 21, 2007 6:22 am UTC

On using the wrong word: written and spoken words get reassigned to different meanings in many of my dreams. For example, I might be reading a sign aloud in a dream, and come to the word TREE. I will pronouce it as WIT and understand that this word means what we awake people mean when we say PURPLE. Odd stuff.

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Re: Foreign languages in dreams?

Postby Hurduser » Fri Dec 21, 2007 10:17 am UTC

When I was in the world cup fewer, in 2002, I had a dream that I was in South korea and had a quick conversation with someone in korean - even though when awake, I don't know the language :oops:
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Re: Foreign languages in dreams?

Postby Clumpy » Sun Dec 23, 2007 7:50 am UTC

I often read in my dreams. I'll be reading the newspaper and actually see the words on the page. My subconscious makes up the words in real time, but they don't make a lick of sense. They are, however, read worlds (i.e. the words I see on the page are the same as the words I sound aloud). It's stream-of-consciousness nonsense, though. "Pickle to do has left since upon the rocks sitting etc etc etc. . ."

I don't know why, but that word "pickle" is always present.

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Re: Foreign languages in dreams?

Postby Brontide » Sun Dec 23, 2007 11:14 am UTC

The one time I had a dream in Spanish (which I'd been studying at highschool for 4 or 5 yrs) it was one of those absolutely nonsensical strange dreams - but when I awoke I still remembered one of the sentences I had dreamt. And it made absolutely no grammatical sense at all, although the words were all correct - quite disappointing really!

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Re: Foreign languages in dreams?

Postby phantom » Tue Jan 01, 2008 6:59 am UTC

I've been taking German for a while, and I've had dreams where at least parts have included German. I can never really be sure if it was actual German, or I just thought I was speaking it. Except this one time, I had a dream where I was translating for an exchange student and couldn't remember if the gender for the translation of cell phone (Handy). In the dream, I guessed "das", nuder. When I woke up, I checked, and I was right :P

In real life, I tend to think to myself in German a lot, especially when I know the right words for the situation.
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Re: Foreign languages in dreams?

Postby Razzle Storm » Tue Jan 01, 2008 9:08 am UTC

Apparently I speak Mandarin in my sleep. I said "欢迎你们来中国“,the day some new students were supposed to arrive at my school. I had been thinking about saying it earlier, and I guess I just desired to so badly that I couldn't wait?

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Re: Foreign languages in dreams?

Postby lamarguerite » Wed Jan 02, 2008 2:02 am UTC

Dreaming in a language is... not necessarily to be trusted to mean you're fluent.

If you can think in a language and sustain it for more than an hour or so, that's something.

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Re: Foreign languages in dreams?

Postby Hurduser » Wed Jan 02, 2008 2:13 am UTC

That'd imply to think mostly in words...
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Re: Foreign languages in dreams?

Postby No Picnic » Thu Jan 03, 2008 1:42 am UTC

Razzle Storm wrote:Apparently I speak Mandarin in my sleep. I said "欢迎你们来中国“,the day some new students were supposed to arrive at my school. I had been thinking about saying it earlier, and I guess I just desired to so badly that I couldn't wait?

I teach English at a Chinese university. I've heard reports from two different students whose roommates heard them speak in English when they were sleeping.

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Re: Foreign languages in dreams?

Postby targetpractice » Wed Jan 23, 2008 10:41 pm UTC

I'm glad this thread exists because recently I've been plagued with dreams in Chinese and French. I'm going to china to study for five months in a few weeks, and I'm pretty nervous, because I also need to research my senior thesis whilst there - a terrifying prospect for me since i've studied for a year and a half so far. As to the OP's question of where second languages fit into the brain and interact with dreams, it's tough to say since we don't really know anything about dreams, but as to the sections of the brain that deal with native and secondary+ languages - that I actually know something about. Right now a few of my professors are working on just this question; they believe, and have a few fMRI scans to back up, that there is a part of your brain dedicated to your Native tongue(s) and another node devoted to secondary, tertiary and other learned languages right next door. The study used to figure this out is really awesome - I think. Students were taken who were proficient in a secondary language, and learning a third or fourth, and if any of you are Psych students, you'll recognize the study. You're shown a word which may or may not be false (such as: Doctor, Floom, Turtle, Brarse) and told to press a button (Y=real, N=fake, whatever) and your reaction time to the word being real is timed. Psychological studies have shown that if the following real word is related to the previous word (Doctor, Nurse) people are faster at recognizing whether it is real or not. So their study tested whether people were faster at recognizing real words when the previous real, related word was in the Native language or the secondary language. (Milk - 牛, Lait - 牛) What they found was that people were slightly faster when it went from secondary-tertiary vs. native-tertiary. The study hasn't been published yet, so I don't know too much more, but it makes sense if your dreams primarily contain your secondary and tertiary vs. native and tertiary or whatever. Damn this was long.
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Re: Foreign languages in dreams?

Postby Interactive Civilian » Thu Jan 24, 2008 9:05 am UTC

gmalivuk wrote:I've heard it said that you truly understand a new language when you start dreaming in that language. But that's only true if I subconsciously know German, despite never having studied it at all.

In my personal experience, it goes something more like this: "You can tell you are really starting to learn a language when you start dreaming in it, and you know that you truly understand a language when you can no longer tell if you are dreaming in that language or your native language."

When I was learning Japanese, I started dreaming in Japanese. I realized this because I couldn't understand what people were saying, though I could pick up bits and pieces here and there. Over time, as I picked up more and more, it became clearer and clearer. Then, when my mind threw it's mental switch and I started thinking in Japanese (seriously a one day to the next thing), I could no longer be sure which language I was dreaming in because I could understand everything... well, as much as any random firing of neurons can be understood. ;)

Nowadays, I can tell when I'm dreaming in French and Thai, but English and Japanese are jumbled up and interlinked...
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Re: Foreign languages in dreams?

Postby audoue » Wed Mar 19, 2008 3:05 am UTC

Not only do I dream in Russian, But I speak it too, while asleep, and have actual conversations (I know this because I have some russian friends who sometimes happen to be in my bed at that time (and not only because we had sex!)) And they said I was talking to them with no accent at all like if I was born there. And back during daytime I have no idea how to handle a conversation.

It's part of wath makes me belive I have to go and live there!

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Re: Foreign languages in dreams?

Postby Brontide » Wed Mar 19, 2008 3:28 am UTC

Hurduser wrote:That'd imply to think mostly in words...

This is something I wonder about quite a lot... see the thing is, I think I DO think mostly in words... and it makes me kind of confused about how I used to think when I had no vocabulary? Or whether my thinking is limited to an extent by my vocabulary? Or whether language has limited my thinking? Or whether the language a culture speaks influences the way that culture thinks? Actually I suppose that last one's a bit chicken-and-egg, I mean presumably a culture would come up with words for the things which it considered important or which played a big part in the culture...
Gah, language is confusing sometimes :?

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Re: Foreign languages in dreams?

Postby meta- » Tue Mar 25, 2008 5:34 am UTC

Brontide wrote:
Hurduser wrote:That'd imply to think mostly in words...

This is something I wonder about quite a lot... see the thing is, I think I DO think mostly in words... and it makes me kind of confused about how I used to think when I had no vocabulary? Or whether my thinking is limited to an extent by my vocabulary? Or whether language has limited my thinking? Or whether the language a culture speaks influences the way that culture thinks? Actually I suppose that last one's a bit chicken-and-egg, I mean presumably a culture would come up with words for the things which it considered important or which played a big part in the culture...
Gah, language is confusing sometimes :?


That would be the suggestion of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis. How people use choose to use and acquire language definitely socializes us--if not tautologically so. I personally can't imagine a world where you can separate human thought from language.

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Re: Foreign languages in dreams?

Postby 4=5 » Tue Mar 25, 2008 7:11 am UTC

I can, I think in ideas. words are one group of ideas associated with meaning, sounds are another, pictures are a useful third but what I think in are much more compressed; I think in meanings.

and yes the ideas conveyed through other people's words have been very useful

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Re: Foreign languages in dreams?

Postby Kizyr » Tue Mar 25, 2008 2:46 pm UTC

meta- wrote:That would be the suggestion of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis. How people use choose to use and acquire language definitely socializes us--if not tautologically so. I personally can't imagine a world where you can separate human thought from language.

I remember first learning about the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, and thinking it was largely BS. At least, when carried out to any extent.

Basically, if you've ever had a thought that you can't express in words, it pretty much disproves the hypothesis. Not to mention that there're several concepts in other languages that I have a tough time explaining or translating into English. But, just because English was my native language, it didn't preclude me from learning what those those concepts were.

Note that this isn't a comment on you... but, only on my initial thoughts regarding S-W. KF
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Re: Foreign languages in dreams?

Postby pedestrian » Wed Apr 09, 2008 12:54 am UTC

I've been signing (American Sign Language) for years, and it's only been within the past year that I've actually had a dream in ASL. It was pretty weird, but sweet! (wow, I'm a nerd...) :)

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Re: Foreign languages in dreams?

Postby ave_matthew » Wed Apr 09, 2008 5:54 pm UTC

The sapir-warfh just doesn't hold water, what if you invent your own language, lots of people do that (or I'm odd).
So take the following situation, this is true by the way.

Born : No language.
Child : English.
Primary school : English + French (it was immersion)
High school : Decide the two languages you do speak suck, if you can't find the word you want, or if a word sounds sucky, make up a new one. - step one : concept genesis as words.
Later on in High school :
- Learn spanish in english and french, find it insanly easy compared to french, decide that mabye now that you've seen how simple a language really can be then it can't be too hard to make one.
- Find esperanto, think "you must be shiting me". By this point you have a deep enough understandng of grammar in three/four languages that you can make a fifth grammar.
-step two : Creat a grammar (still in progress).
now that the languge has a grammar framework, words start to be a necessity (the language is quasi-polysynthetic).

STEP THREE : Find a word in the new language that you have difficulty translating into any of your previous languages!
now the sapir-wharf hypothesis is defunct.
I'm sure there exists a languge with this word, but not one that I could produce.

If you wanna know what the word was
Spoiler:
the word was acctually a combining prefix of size/grandeur/intensity , fayt- [fejɐt]
I can sorta translate it into the others. like this
English : Beyond the highest possible degree that a person would be able to imagine from the ground next to the object Français : Au dela de la plus important grandeur concevable par le locuteur en proximité du objet et au niveau du sol.
Spanish : más que la más importante grado que una persona podría imaginarse del nivel del suelo junto al objeto.
Esperanto : ~ egega

Ex.
fayt-tralkaáno : A forest bigger than the eye can see and the mind can imagine. (fayt-tree'group)
fayt-rioma'inde : the ocean. (fayt-water'place)
*I haven't studied that much spanish so excuse any non-sense please :)*



As to dreams, how do you know that when you dream in your native language you dreams are grammatical.
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Re: Foreign languages in dreams?

Postby johndoughy » Wed Apr 09, 2008 8:53 pm UTC

I once learned to conjugate a word in a new way in German while in High School. I took 4 years of German, and I asked my teacher in what scenario the verb "sein" would be at the END of a sentence, and he couldn't think of one right off, for some reason. A few weeks later, I had a dream and someone did it, and I told him and he said I was right!!

I've had whole dreams in German, which I never really got to speak to anyone, and started learning at 13.

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Re: Foreign languages in dreams?

Postby Arancaytar » Wed Apr 23, 2008 1:14 pm UTC

wisnij wrote:The real fun is when you start dreaming in computer languages.


I saw the whole universe built on an infinity of instances and inherited types!

It was beautiful... and so bloated. :P
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Re: Foreign languages in dreams?

Postby miron721 » Wed Apr 30, 2008 6:22 am UTC

I've had something like this happen once, except it was less in a dream and more in real life while asleep. Apparantly, I yelled out "Fuck you, slut" in Russian when abruplty woken up, even though I don't speak it.

Now I want to learn Russian.

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Re: Foreign languages in dreams?

Postby Arancaytar » Wed Apr 30, 2008 9:14 am UTC

My sister swears I mumbled Spanish in my sleep once. Neither of us speak any Spanish, so I'm pretty sure she had it confused with Quenya.
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Re: Foreign languages in dreams?

Postby ave_matthew » Wed Apr 30, 2008 5:36 pm UTC

Arancaytar wrote:My sister swears I mumbled Spanish in my sleep once. Neither of us speak any Spanish, so I'm pretty sure she had it confused with Quenya.

off topic, but how similar do they sound, I was under the impression that quenya sounded like finnish or welsh. Also, how hard is quenya to learn?
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Re: Foreign languages in dreams?

Postby Kewangji » Wed Apr 30, 2008 6:11 pm UTC

I dream in English (I'm Swedish). :|
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Re: Foreign languages in dreams?

Postby pfm » Tue May 06, 2008 6:47 pm UTC

It happened to me once or twice. I had a dream about speaking English and listening others speak this language, though I think there were many grammar errors.

4=5 wrote:I think in meanings.


Usually I also think in meanings and ideas, especially when it comes to spontaneous ideas and creativity (except for creative thinking about the use of a language).

I believe it is much faster to think in meanings. Suppose we are to paint a red car. In words, you would have to imagine yourself talking to yourself "now I will paint a round red splash." This is complex, because it requires thinking about meanings, sounds, using some grammar and so on. With simple ideas, we only have to imagine the colour and the shape.

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Re: Foreign languages in dreams?

Postby the-munich-man » Tue Jun 22, 2010 11:57 am UTC

This topic is really interesting for me, as I've been having dreams lately, and been unable to remember/notice the language I'm dreaming in. I recently (read: 9 months ago) moved over to munich. I'm fluently bilingual, and can get by in 4 other languages. Up until a point where I went home to England for a short visit to my Girlfriend, I would wake up and go "Oh, that dream was in Spanish." or, "Oh, that one was in English" etc. When I came back to Germany and started working (in my second language) again, I would wake up without knowing which language I was dreaming in. My theory is that it is now easier for my brain to process switching between languages, and my internal monologue switches around a lot anyway, that it is nothing special for the brain to react to. However, there is also the chance that when dreaming, the language centre of my brain switches off to give itself a rest, and I think (and interact, within my own subconscious) purely in meaning. I also seem to dream more, or remember more dreams at any rate, per night, which would stick with the second theory, I think. what about you guys?

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Re: Foreign languages in dreams?

Postby RabbitWho » Fri Jun 25, 2010 9:48 pm UTC

I dream in Czech or Irish quite often if I watch TV in Czech or Irish, which I haven't been doing recently. Recently it's been a very common theme that I talk to people in dreams and they don't understand me, because that's been my life for the past 2 years.

I don't need to be familiar at all with the language to dream in it, just the sounds, when I was in Turkey for two weeks I had dreams in Turkish. Of course it wasn't Turkish at all, just Turkish sounds and the few words I knew thrown in here and there.

What's interesting to me is that in the dreams when someone says something in their funny sounds and I understand them, it is some instinctive knowledge unconnected with the individual words, but it never goes directly into "mentaleese", always into English first, where as in waking life sometimes the meaning of the other language can skip the translation in my brain and just be understood.

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Re: Foreign languages in dreams?

Postby Iulus Cofield » Fri Jun 25, 2010 10:16 pm UTC

When I learned -mi verbs in Ancient Greek I had a dream where I was reviewing their conjugations. Can't remember if I was conjugating correctly, but my roommate reported I was saying some non-English possibly non-sensical things in my sleep.

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Re: Foreign languages in dreams?

Postby TheMelancholyJaques » Sat Jun 26, 2010 9:24 pm UTC

I've had two instance of dreaming like this. First was on a German exchange. It took me a week before I was getting a grip on the day-to-day language, and somehow, it filtered into my sleep as well! Second was when I was revising my maths A-level. Not having done much work through the term, I studied solidly for a week or so, enough to dream in numbers. Not of numbers, but in them! Quite an experience :)
Lupus in fabula!

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Josephine
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Re: Foreign languages in dreams?

Postby Josephine » Sun Jun 27, 2010 4:32 am UTC

I had a dream in which I spoke fluent Russian. I haven't so much as looked at a wikipedia article on the Russian language.

And on the topic of thought without words, I sometimes think in words, sometimes images, sometimes ideas. For instance, I saw a door handle with the screws visible on the outside. I was trying to figure out if there was some way of getting the handle to stay attached with the screw inside. So I quickly conjured an exploded diagram of the whole thing in my head and determined that it couldn't be done (at least not in the 5 seconds I thought about it). When playing a strategy game, I'll think in words. It varies depending on which is most useful at the time.
Belial wrote:Listen, what I'm saying is that he committed a felony with a zoo animal.

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Mighty Jalapeno
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Re: Foreign languages in dreams?

Postby Mighty Jalapeno » Sun Jun 27, 2010 4:42 am UTC

When I'm having a seizure, I hear music and lyrics spoken in a definite non-English language. Sometimes I have had a pencil handy and I wrote down the words. When the seizure fades, the characters make no sense, and I can't remember the music OR the lyrics.

Brains r fun!


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