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Verbal language in dreams

Verbal language in dreams is the speech—most commonly in the form of a dialogue between the dreamer him/herself and other dream characters—which forms part of the overall (mostly imagistic) dream scenario. Historically, there have been abundant references to verbal language in dreams going back millennia. Early in the twentieth century German psychiatrist Emil Kraepelin presented a large corpus of dream speech, almost all from his own dreams and virtually all deviant, without any pretense that this was representative of dream speech in general. The first systematic elicitation of verbal language in dreams from a large subject pool under methodological protocols was presented beginning in the early 1980s, along with detailed analyses as well as theoretical consideration of the implications for various dream models, from the psychoanalytic approach to more recent theories.

Traditionally, dreams have been defined predominantly in imagistic terms. Prominent dream theories of the modern era from Sigmund Freud's psychoanalytic model (1900) to the present have similarly placed emphasis of the visual aspects of dreams. Yet, even the earliest of written sources, such as the Hebrew Bible and The Odyssey make clear that dreams need not be "silent movies"; they may be "talkies" incorporating a "sound track" abounding in verbal dialogues or monologues.

A survey by Heynick of several books containing over 300 dreams, both genuine reports and dreams incorporated into works of fiction, showed that some three-quarters contained verbal dialogue or explicit reference to speech in the dream. As a specimen of a dream with dialogue as part of a famous work of fiction, Heynick cites the dream of Charles Swann, the main character in Proust's Swann's Way (1913; italics added):

The painter remarked to Swann [the dreamer] that Napoleon III had eclipsed himself immediately after Odette. "They had obviously arranged it between them," he added; "they must have agreed to meet at the foot of the cliff, but they wouldn't say good-bye together, it might have looked odd. She is his mistress." The strange young man burst into tears. Swann endeavored to console him. "After all, she is quite right," he said to the young man, drying his eyes for him and taking off his fez to make him feel more at ease. "I've advised her to do that myself a dozen times. Why be so distressed? He was obviously the man to understand her."

  • Frank Heynick 1993 Language and Its Disturbances in Dreams: The Pioneering Work of Freud and Kraepelin Updated; John Wiley & Sons.


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