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Language and Its Disturbances in Dreams

Through the centuries, dreams had been defined as a visual process. But as a vivid dreamer with a background in linguistics and psycholinguistics, I was long aware that dreams are not 'silent movies'; that there is a 'soundtrack' with dialogue between the characters in the dream scenario. My doctoral dissertation in medicine (University of Groningen) was entitled "Theoretical and Empirical Investigation into Verbal Aspects of the Freudian Model of Dream Generation." My experiments with dozens of subjects showed that speech in dreams (as recalled) is ubiquitous, usually grammatical, often syntactically complex, and generally appropriate to the scenario.


That verbal language, the highest cognitive faculty of homo sapiens, is apparently functioning at the wakeful level of competence in the dreaming state had, I argued, profound consequences for theories of dream generation. (Neo-)psychoanalytic theories and the recent highly influential neurophysiological activation-synthesis hypothesis were fully inadequate in this regard. Far more promising, I maintained, was the then-new psychoneurics model of dream generation, the analogue of the psycholinguistic model of language generation.


This research was incorporated into my book Language and Its Disturbances in Dreams: The Pioneering Work of Freud and Kraepelin Updated, published in 1993 by Wiley-Interscience. It also included relevant historical material, some newly discovered, on speech in dreams, which I translated from German into English. Most notable was the work of Emil Kraepelin who, though somatically oriented and not interested in psychoanalysis, is considered to be, along with his contemporary Freud, the founder of modern psychiatry.


The book was very positively reviewed in, among other periodicals, the leading academic journal Linguistics and The British Journal of Psychiatry. It has been cited in many academic books and articles on dreams and their generation.