Dream Speech Word Salad Memories

Seemingly random sequences of words can seem humorous or poetic. Often, of course, they are not random at all, but merely products of language error by non-native speakers, as in this photo taken by the author in Fujiyoshida-shi, Yamanashi Prefecture, Japan, in 2009. Though the image essentially documents bad English grammar on a storefront—it also embodies the spirit of the author’s experience of language-based dreams.

Seemingly random sequences of words can seem humorous or poetic. Often, of course, they are not random at all, but merely products of language error by non-native speakers, as in this photo taken by the author in Fujiyoshida-shi, Yamanashi Prefecture, Japan, in 2009. Though the image essentially documents bad English grammar on a storefront—it also embodies the spirit of the author’s experience of language-based dreams.

Keep your letter hands numb.

Oferując wytrwałe kotły monopobielu zieleni.

My guy is more shemuai in the shemshai sen sense.

Wielki niewiadom kapitan jabłek.

Is salt maybe a better way to go than “learn”?

Ingestia może dostrzec się siostrze raczej tylko gdy się mija.

Onday onsirgence.

About one decade ago I noticed an intriguing and satisfying occurrence that sometimes presented as I was waking from sleep: a deliberate and coherent string of words and a sense of their tremendous significance. I don’t mean words spoken or heard in the context of a dream. Rather, these words were the dream. Very rarely, I would manage to remember this snippet of language long enough to be able to write it down—and it was only after the memory itself was gone (minutes, hours, years later) that I could study the proof of the memory, scrawled by my confused, sleepy hand, and unequivocally confirm that the words had not been coherent at all. Just synapses firing on autopilot, running their maintenance software.

I began to suspect that this curious edge-of-consciousness phenomenon was in fact a near-daily dose of overwhelming intellectual pleasure, almost instantly forgotten. The barriers to documenting my experience were of course largely environmental—no pen and paper next to the bed, no time to study the subconscious before the morning rush. But a key barrier was also built into the experience itself: as these linguistic dream sequences unfolded, they seemed clear and ubiquitous. What’s the point of writing down something that seems important, vivid and as plain as day?

Lately I’ve become more diligent about keeping a pencil and pad by my bedside, and I’ve been able to collect enough material to attempt a preliminary analysis of these dreamed wordstrings I sometimes experience. I’ve noted that the syntactic operations are always in Polish or English, never in a mix of the two. The morphological phenomena mostly obey the lexical rules governing Polish and English word formation, but there are occasional surprises of mysterious structures with mystery etymologies.

I’ve also discovered that there is a psychiatric condition or symptom called schizophasia (less formally and more widely known as word salad), which describes a similar linguistic occurrence in the lucid mind. It is typically a symptom of mental disorders associated with manic and psychotic states or various aphasias. In dreams, however, it is a perfectly normal if somewhat rare sub-type of dreaming, and it is then simply referred to as dream speech.

Above are some of the dream speech examples I was able to record over the years. (There are more, but I’ve used bits of many of them as my online passwords, for the way they manage to combine both the desired randomness and that irresistible personalized sentimentality that usually gives most passwords away. And should you be alarmed that these password formants are recorded in writing—trust me, there’s not a pair of eyes but my own that is going to figure out just what it was I scratched onto paper in my sleep on some random day.)

A final note: I realize the post title may seem a lot like an instance of word salad, too, but it’s really just a complex noun phrase denoting with dry precision the subject of the post.