I once asked a French friend whether he dreamt in French or English, given that he was fluent in both and living in England. He said he wasn’t sure but that he thought if the dream was populated by people he knew from England, and if it was set in this country, then they all spoke English, but if the topic was more French, the people French, or the setting France, then they would speak in French. This led me to questioning my own dreams. Since I am only fluent in one language (I’d like to think that ‘fluent’ is an understatement but I suppose that’s up to the reader!), it seems obvious that people in my own dreams always speak English. However, when it comes to actually remembering an occasion within a dream, I’m not so sure that they do. I have the sneaking suspicion that we just understand each other and that actual words aren’t used. I liken it to reading a book: when you read in your own head you are understanding the text without actually hearing the words. You are not reading it aloud in your head (or at least I’m not!); you are intercepting the process because you don’t need to go the whole hog and formulate the words. Similarly, when he talk, we are not, as a general rule, formulating what we are about to say before we say it. We may know that we are going to agree, counter an argument, confess our undying love etc, but we don’t actually form the whole sentence structures in our heads before voicing them. There just isn’t time. I feel sure that psychologists and linguistic experts will have something to say about this, but I present it to you as a simple observation, simply to say- ‘Well! How odd!’
The conversation also made me think that my friend’s dreams must be much more normal than mine if such categorisations were even possible. It seemed that they contained people that didn’t morph into others, settings that didn’t suddenly change to another place entirely that had been patched together by memory. There was even a far more normal, traceable narrative than the twists and turns and total nonsense that can fill my head at night. (Either that, or he was covering up for the turmoil he kept in his own head…)
I don’t think I could say ‘this dream is set in Venezuela and features friends I met on a caving holiday’ without massively oversimplifying the narrative in my head. It would be far more apt to say something like ‘this dream begins in a sort of upside down house which is vaguely reminiscent of my old school except that the 3 piece suite from my own childhood lounge is sat in the middle of the hall which has just turned into a forest. Oh look! There goes my best friend/ cousin/ a tiger’. I wonder if these changes are markers of a new dream or whether it is all one or if I’m even remembering it right.
Equally I sometimes have the most mundane dreams imaginable. I might be at work serving customers for a seeming eternity or hurrying to finish cooking a never ending meal before the swimming pool closes (I can’t tell you how tiring it is, going to work in the morning when you’ve already been at work all night). But always there will be something not quite right about the scenario; it is never free from continuity faults.
Also tiring, is hearing about the utter nonsense of other people’s dreams, so I do apologise for the above. We actually banned my sister from regaling us with her dreams of the previous night on school days because we would all be late and ready for a nap by the time we had to get going and she’d still only be half way through her Rice-Crispies and her dreams.
I wonder how different people’s dreams actually are, how far they are affected by early experiences, how good your imagination is, and what you do in your daily life. I also can’t even imagine how people who were born blind dream. Do they have an instinctive ability to create abstract visuals which mean something to them? Do they form images from how they think a thing must look given how it feels when touched? Are their dreams completely blank visually and focussed entirely on the sound and can they dream textures somehow? I don’t think I can. Do people who have been born deaf dream without sound or can they hear things inside their own dreams? So many questions for dreamers…