Nacht und Träume: dreaming in languages, speaking in tongues

Holy Roman Emperor Charles V reportedly said, “Je parle espagnol à Dieu, italien aux femmes, français aux hommes et allemand à mon cheval” (I speak Spanish to God, Italian to women, French to men & German to my horse). Another version quotes him as saying: “Je parle latin à Dieu, italien aux musiciens, espagnol aux soldats, allemand aux laquais, français aux dames et anglais à mon cheval” (I speak Latin to God, Italian to musicians, Spanish to soldiers, German to lackeys, French to ladies & English to my horse). I guess it depended on whether he was riding a German horse or an English horse~!

I have studied seven languages over the course of half a century; it was only when I lived in Brussels and Paris in 1991-1992 that I began to dream regularly in French; many years later, I revived my French in 2003 as a political statement in response to the rampant francophobia of Republicans in Congress and the Bush administration as a reaction to France’s opposition to the Iraq war. In 2015, I began studying Korean and then took Norwegian in 2016 and 2017; in 2018, I began reviving my long dormant German. It was over the course of 2017-2019 that I began to dream in various languages other than English, increasing in frequency over the course of 2019, as this record of speaking and sometimes singing in my dreams show…


I just woke up from a dream in which I said ‘Elefant,’ ‘scheißen,’ ‘sechzig’ and ‘Gemeindezentrum’ in the course of a long conversation with German friends and a German community center functionary; the long conversation was a mix of German & English & there actually was an elephant in the dream and the elephant actually did poop in the room~!


I woke up from a long dream at the end of which someone said to someone else, “Du beginnst auf Deutsch, weißt du? und dann auf Englisch, oder…?” I was in the audience in a hall as someone was giving a talk without realizing that she was speaking in her native German to a mixed English- & German-speaking audience until someone said that. There was a lot more but that’s all I remembered…


I woke up from a dream this morning in which I said ‘die Gäns,’ though actually, ‘goose’ in German is ‘die Gans,’ while ‘geese’ is ‘die Gänse.’


I woke up from a dream in which I said 한국말 공부해요 (I’m studying Korean); I also said ‘Fischerweise’ (fisherman’s way), referring to the Schubert Lied; it was my first dream that included words in both Korean and German together…


I woke up from a dream in which I said the words ‘pièce théâtrale’ (in French).


I awoke from a dream in which I said just one word: ‘Schlagobers’ — which is ironic, since I actually hate whipped cream.


I awoke from a dream in which I said just one word: ‘dadurch.’


I awoke from a dream in which I or someone said, “Bittere Thränen weinte er in der Nacht” (He wept bitter tears in the night).


I woke up from a dream in which I counted to four in Norwegian and kept on repeating, “en, to, tre, fire” over and over again…


I woke up from a dream in which I was singing the Italian tenor’s aria (“Di rigori armato”) in Italian from the opera “DerRosenkavalier” of Richard Strauß…


I just awoke from a dream in which I uttered the immortal words of Michel Foucault, ‘surveiller et punir’ (in French).


I woke up in a dream in which I said, ” Ich kann Hochdeutsch und Französisch aber nicht Baierisch.”


I woke up from a dream this morning in which I dreamt the word Joseon 조선 (also Romanized as  Chosŏn or Chosun), the name for the last dynasty that ruled Korea from 1392 to 1910 that is also the name North Koreans use for the country…


In another dream scene, I was sitting with a Romanian woman (possibly transgendered); when I said ‘foarte bine’ (very well), she told me the B should be pronounced like a V; it was the first time I’d ever spoken in Romanian in a dream.


I woke up from a dream in which I said ‘mindestens’ (‘at least’ in German) as well as at least two words in French which I couldn’t remember upon waking…


I just woke up from a dream in which I had an extended conversation in French, at the very end of which I said, “Nous sommes une revue pour la communauté LGBT asiatique américaine…” I was explaining to a man I believed was French sitting in a Chinese restaurant that our little business next door was not a restaurant but publication.


I woke up from a dream in which someone said, “Sprach schnell,” though it’s puzzling because the imperative form of the verb would be ‘sprich’ and the past tense would be ‘sprachte.’ However, ‘sprach schnell’ would be correct if preceded by a subject (ich, er, sie, es).


I had by far my longest dream in German; I spoke for quite some time, engaging a German woman in conversation and then sitting down at a picnic table of some sort outdoors, chatting with three or four people; a young Asian asked me in German if I was interested in visiting countries other than Germany, apparently assuming that this was my first trip to Germany or Europe. I responded at length, saying in part, “Ich habe in Europa drei Jahren lang gewohnt: zwei Jahre in London, fünf Monate in Brüssel, sechs Monate in Paris, zwei Monate in Berlin und sechs Wochen in Regensburg.” And that was just the tail end of a long conversation in German. I was delighted to realize how long I spoke in German in the dream upon waking. I didn’t actually read German just before going to bed; instead, I read several pages from Edward Crankshaw’s “The Fall of the House of Habsburg.” But I’d spent some time in the afternoon playing and singing through “Die Fledermaus” as well as reading some of the spoken dialogue both from the Strauß opera and some of the spoken dialogue from the Wolfsschluchtsszene from “Der Freischütz” of Carl Maria von Weber, the most German of all German operas…


I woke up from a dream in which I said “sposa mia” (my spouse) in Italian.


I woke up from a dream in which I said “Herzlichkeit” (sincerity, warmth), two other words, and then “Brunnen” (fountain).


I just woke up from a dream in which I said, “J’ai commencés à rêver en français” & “J’ai étudié six langues…”


I just woke up from a dream in which I said the words Selbstverständnis & Bewußtsein and later in the dream explained to a friend that they mean ‘self-understanding’ & ‘consciousness’ in German…


I awoke from a dream in which I had an extended conversation in German. I was in the house of a complete stranger in some city in the Midwest & a woman who lived there asked if I spoke German. I responded, “Ich kann Deutsch. Aber im Moment kann ich nicht das gute Wort errinern.” I suddenly realized I was stark naked and asked her, “Wo sind meine Kleider? Kennen Sie? Wissen Sie? Ich muß anklagen…” Of course, ‘wissen’ is the right word, not ‘kennen,’ but interesting that I corrected myself. But ‘anklagen’ actually means ‘to accuse, charge, indict, prosecute or condemn,’ not to dress (which is ‘sich ankleiden’); still, despite two mistakes (one self-corrected), I did actually speak real German in my dream, which is something. I was going to read a Grimms Märchen before going to bed but I felt too tired, so maybe this dream was a reminder to get back into my reading of the Grimmsmärchen in the original German…


I took a nap in the afternoon and woke up from a dream in which I had a long conversation in German; someone in the dream whom I didn’t recognize from daily life asked me, “Was machst du täglich?” I responded, “Ich arbeite für Queens Pride House, eine LGBT organisation in Jackson Heights…” There was more to the conversation that I forget, but it was wonderful once again to be dreaming in German & even nicer that I didn’t make any major grammatical errors in my sleep~!


I woke up from a dream in which I said, “Es gibt ein Dokumentar über Michael; eh, voilà~!” followed by several sentences in German; it was by far the most German I’d spoken in any dream to date…


I awoke from a dream in which I said ‘Eugene V. Debs,’ ‘Gudrun und Gutrune’ and ‘vereinbar’ (‘compatible’ in German).


I awoke from a dream in which I spoke the words ‘Schwiegervater’ and ‘Schwiegermutter’ — ironic, since I have neither a father-in-law nor a mother-in-law; perhaps it was prompted by a chat over Facebook with a friend in Berlin that was partly in German…


I just woke up from a dream in which I said, “Ich interesse mich für die Grimmsmärchen. Ich lese die Grimmsmärchen auf Deutsch. Die beste der Grimmsmärchen sind wunderschön, nicht war…?” It was my first dream in which I spoke 3 whole sentences in perfect German~!


I woke up from dreams in which I said ‘der Unterschied,’ ‘die Untersuchung’ and ‘wunderlicher Alter’; the last of these is a line from “Der Leiermann” (‘The Organ Grinder’ or ‘The Hurdy-Gurdy Man’) from “Die Winterreise” — Franz Schubert’s most famous song cycle — which includes settings of poems by Wilhelm Müller. The curious thing is that I’d sung two other songs from “Winterreise” the previous day but had skipped “Der Leiermann.” The words ‘wunderlicher Alter’ literally mean ‘curious old man,’ but in the context of the poem and the song, they are freighted with significance.


I awoke from a dream in which I sang (the first verse of) La Marseillaise (en français) & then later spoke the word ‘zusammengebrochen’ (auf Deutsch).


I woke up from a dream in which I sang the Italian tenor’s aria from the opera “Der Rosenkavalier” of Richard Strauß; I remembered this much:

“Di rigori armato il seno contro amor di ribellai, ma fui vinto in un baleno in mirar due vaghi rai. Ahi, che resiste fuoco astral poco cor di gelo…” but couldn’t remember the very last few words, “di fuoco astral.”


I woke up from a dream this morning in which I said, “‘gallina’ means ‘hen’ in Italian…”


I woke up from a dream this morning in which I was “au Lycée Louis le Grand” in Paris and said so (in French).


I awoke from a dream this morning in which I was singing, “Holde Träume, kehret wieder,” the closing line from “Nacht und Träume,” my favorite song of Franz Schubert; that was followed by Jerry Seinfeld (of all people) singing “Des muntern Fischleins Bade im klaren Bächlein zu” from “Die Forelle,” one of Schubert’s most popular songs and one whose melody he used as the theme for his ‘Trout Quintet.’ I may have been dreaming of singing “Nacht und Träume” because I didn’t get the chance to sing it yesterday, as I spent the afternoon walking 3.8 miles around the borough; and I channel-flipped through just a few seconds of “Seinfeld” on TV last night before going to bed. There is of course some irony in singing “Holde Träume, kehret wieder” in a dream~!


I just woke up from a dream in which I said “Min farfar var norsk och min farmor ochså; han komerste fra Haugesund” in Norwegian & “Schwarze Münster” in German. I said the two words in German in a part of the dream where I was part of some sort of chorus or choir. After we sang, I was chatting with a librarian in a library-like section of the building in which there was a whole series of books in Norwegian; that’s when I started to speak with her in Norwegian; that sentence was one I used quite often in Norway and more often than any other.


I just woke up from a dream in which I sang two words from Schubert’s song “Der Leiermann” (“Wunderlicher Alter” = ‘curious old man’), which I’m currently working on.


I woke up from a dream in which I spoke or sung in four different languages.  Ian’t remember what I said in French (I think I said, “J’aime le français aussi”), but I remember saying in German, “Die deutsche Sprache ist die Sprache von Musik. Die deutsche Sprache ist die Sprache von Bach und Händel, Schubert, Schumann, Mahler und Strauß.” I quoted two lines from the Norwegian/Swedish song, “Hvem kan seile foruten vind, hvem kan ro uten årer” (Norwegian); the (orignal) Swedish version (pronounced not too differently) is “Vem kan segla förutan vind? Vem kan ro uten årer.” And if I said one word in Italian (‘nonostante’ means ‘nevertheless’), that would make it a quadrilingual dream~!


I woke up from a dream in which someone said (and then I repeated), “Sono bello tutti,” though grammatically, it should be, “Sono tutti belli” (they are all beautiful); maybe it was the influence of a commercial advertising a liposuction service called “Sono Bello.”


I woke up from a dream in which I used the German word ‘braten’ (which means ‘to fry’ or to ‘roast’ and which I visualized in my dream capitalized as ‘Braten’) in the middle of a sentence in English.


I woke up from a dream in which I said something like “Da ist nichts dagegen” (there’s nothing against that) in German.


I woke up from a dream in which I said “Jag hadde studerarde svenska,” though “I have studied Swedish” is actually “Jag har studerat svenska.”


I awoke from a dream this morning in which I was canvassing for Bernie Sanders in Iowa and approached a house (it looked like a white farmhouse); when a woman opened the door, I sang the entirety of the Italian tenor’s aria from “Der Rosenkavalier” by Richard Strauss (Di rigori armato il seno) in the original Italian.


I woke up from a dream this morning, the first dream in which I sang in more than one language in the same dream. I sang “Ombra mai fu” from Handel’s “Serse” in Italian and then “Bist du bei mir” (attributed to Johann Sebastian Bach) in German.


I woke up from a dream in which I spoke the name of the German Lutheran hymn, “Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern” (How Brightly Shines the Morning Star), apropos of nothing.


I woke up from a dream in which I was singing “Die Rose, die Lilie, die Taube, die Sonne” (The rose, the lily, the dove, the sun) from Robert Schumann’s “Dichterliebe” song cycle; I was also playing the accompaniment on a small keyboard, but I could only remember “Die Rose, die Lilie, die Taube…” Op. 48, No. 3 is in fact one of my favorite Schumann songs & I sing & play it quite often.


I woke up from a dream in which I said ‘im Ruhrgebiet’ (in the Ruhr region) to someone who was a classmate in high school; Gwen Stellberg was in the same English and math classes as me and also in both the symphony orchestra and the chamber orchestra; the rest of the conversation was in English and we were considering which cities in Germany we could visit together (we were apparently already in Germany); we decided that Freiburg and Baden Baden were the most best bets.


I woke up from a dream in which I said ‘blessés,’ which means ‘wounded’ (plural) in French.


I woke up from a dream in which I said ‘sex personer,’ which means ‘six persons’ in both Swedish and Norwegian (spelled ‘seks’ in Norwegian); the next day, I told a friend about the dream and she said she thought it sounded like a pun on ‘sex persona.’


I woke up from a dream in which I had an extended conversation in French but I only remember a small part of it. In the dream, someone referred to ‘le Wisconsin français,’ a small part of the state perhaps in the northeast corner of Wisconsin; he then referred to the rest of the state as ‘le Wisconsin britannique.’ I responded, “J’ai habité Angleterre et le Wisconsin n’est pas très britannique…”


I woke up from a dream in which I said, “‘Mild und leise,’ the Liebestod from ‘Tristan und Isolde’…”


I was on a bus in San Francisco and suddenly realized it was an express bus. I got off in Alameda and found myself on a farm after following some people off the bus into a field. I then asked a woman, “¿Dónde esta la  ‘el autobús?” but she just shook her head. I then asked a white woman in English and she pointed out the bus stop. Upon waking, I checked the gender of the word and discovered that it’s ‘el autobús,” so I made a grammatical error in a dream in a language which I’ve never (seriously) studied.


I woke up from a dream this morning in which I sang “Vivi, tiranno” from Handel’s “Rodelinda” in the original #Italian (the complete ‘A’ section but no ‘B’ or da capo ‘A’). I was singing to a group of about 15-20 people in a room in either an office building or at a university.


I just woke up from a dream in which I used the word ‘Grundgesetz’ (‘basic law’ in German) in a sentence otherwise entirely in English…

I just woke up from a dream in which I sang “Ombra mai fu” — including the opening recitative — in the original Italian; in this dream, there was a baritone who started to sing the aria, but by the end of it, it was clear that it was I who was actually singing; he and I were singing before a large group of people in 18th c. costume, though it’s not clear whether this was a theatrical production or a costume party of some sort; this may have been the fourth time I’ve sung the aria from Handel’s “Serse” in my dreams…
I woke up from a dream this morning in which I said, “Sie sind bezaubernde Füße” or “Sie hat bezaubernde Füße” (either ‘she has charming feet’ or ‘they are charming feet’ in German)
I awoke from a dream in which I dreamt in Spanish for the first time. I was at a post office — I think it was in a town in Mexico — trying to by stamps & I told the clerk, “Non parlo spanolo.” She corrected me & said, said, “Español.” So I responded, “No hablo español.” I then said, Hablo francés y alemán y un poco de italiano.” She gave me my stamps & gave me back my credit card. By that point, there was a big crowd of people behind me, so I just took my stamps & left. But it did strike me as rather remarkable that I spoke Spanish & did so for the first time, given that I’ve never studied the language formally, except for one or two informal tutoring sessions several years ago.
I dreamt two words in Italian in a long dream I awoke from this morning: ‘del bosco’ (of or from the forest)
I woke up from a dream in which I said, “beide deutsche Köpfe” (both German heads).
I woke up from a dream this morning in which I said ‘bemerkte,’ which means ‘noticed’ in German…
I woke up from a dream in which I dreamt the word ‘Eisenbaum’ without knowing that there is in fact a tree called ‘Ironwood’ — — a.k.a., ‘Persischer Eisenholzbaum’; there’s also a park in Germany with a tree literally made of iron, Der Eisenbaum Regionalpark RheinMain…
I awoke from a dream in which I said, “Es ist wie ein Tugendbund” in a conversation otherwise entirely in English. ‘Tugend’ means ‘virtue’ in German & ‘Bund’ literally means ‘bond,’ though it can more metaphorically mean a ‘fellowship’ of some sort, in which case ‘Tugendbund’ would mean a ‘fellowship of virtue.’ I read “Der Königssohn, der sich vor nichts fürchtet” (#121 from the Grimmsmärchen) and then re-read “The Council of Elrond” from “The Fellowship of the Ring” (which I’ve read countless times) just before going to bed; interesting that it’s the chapter in which the fellowship is established; it is in fact a kind of ‘Tugendbund.’
I woke up from a dream in which I sang, “Je suis encore sous étourdie,” though the line from Massenet’s opera “Manon” is actually “Je suis encore tout étourdie.”
I just woke up from a dream in which I said, “Es gibt alle bøker über svenska,” mixing in words from three different languages: the word for ‘books’ is ‘bøker’ is Norwegian, ‘Bücher’ in German and ‘böcker’ in Swedish. I was in a big rambling office building and a Swedish woman took me down into the basement where there was a little alcove filled with books in Swedish.
I woke up from a dream in which I said, “Die Unterstützung für die Alternative für Deutschland liegt in der ehemaligen DDR,” which was the beginning of an extended conversation in German.
I had a dream in which the thought occurred to me that my grandmother’s expression ‘rutsing around’ probably came from the German verb ‘rutschen,’ meaning, to glide or slide (German was her Muttersprache)
I woke up from a dream in which I had an extended conversation in French. There were two men sitting on the couch in the political science department office at UIUC and one was a new member of the faculty who specialized in French politics and might potentially be a new member of my dissertation committee. I said, “J’ai déjà écrit trois ou quatre chapitres de ma thèse sur la structure et les processus de l’Union Euroéene. Vous pouvez lires ces chapitres et commenter…”
I woke up from a dream in which I said ‘unbekannte Sigelhofter’ but upon waking realized that the workd ‘Sigelhofter’ doesn’t exist in German.
I woke up from a dream this morning in which I’d gotten a a tiny little Yorkshire Terrier puppy & named him Bo Skovhus; I looked up his name & only then remembered that he’s a Danish opera singer (baritone); what’s most interesting is that ‘Bo’ as a word can mean ‘stay’ or ‘live’ in Danish (which I haven’t studied), Norwegian or Swedish (both of which I’ve studied) & ‘skovhus’ means ‘forest house.’ Before going to bed last night, I started to read one of the Grimms Märchen & I was struck by this passage in “Die beiden Wanderer” (The two travellers), which is not atypical for a Grimms fairy tale but is esp. poetic in its description of a forest: “In dem Wald war es so still wie in einer Kirche. Kein Wind wehte, kein Bach rauschte, kein Vogel sang, und durch die dichtbelaubten Äste drang kein Sonnenstrahl” (It was as quiet in the woods as in a church. No wind stirred, no brook murmured, no bird sang, and through the thickly-leaved branches no sunbeam forced its way); upon waking, it struck me that the ‘skov’ (‘skog’ in Swedish & Norwegian) might connect to the ‘Wald’ in the fairy tale, in which case, ‘Bo Skovhus’ could mean ‘living in a house in the forest,’ which is a romantic if not downright Romantic image; the Yorkshire Terrier is obviously an indication of my love of dogs & wish that I could have one…
I woke up from a dream in which I said ‘oficina’ (‘office’ in Spanish), which is odd, since I don’t speak Spanish and have never studied it.
I woke up from a dream in which I said, “lasch gewesen” (‘became stale’ in German).
I just dreamt four words (“En meny?” “Nei, takk.”) that are the same in Swedish & Norwegian (though spelled differently; in Swedish, it’s ‘nej tack’).
In the dream, I was in a Swedish restaurant (though it wasn’t clear whether it was in Sweden or not; it may have been in NYC or another American city); I’m with two friends but most of the people in the restaurant appear to be young children. The waitress comes up to me & asks in Swedish if I’d like a menu; I reply, “No, thanks,” which in Swedish is spelled ‘nej tack,’ but I picture it as ‘nei, takk,’ which is the Norwegian way of writing it.
I woke up from a dream in which I said something in German that ended with “…endlichen Krieges war…”
I woke up from a dream in which I told a friend, “Deine Macht ist sicher…”
I woke up from a dream in which I asked someone, “Können Sie Deutsch?” He said, “Ja…” and I said, “Wir müssen uns sprechen.”

I woke up from a dream in which I spoke several words in. German, the only one of which I can remember is ‘Leben.’
I woke up from a dream in which I said ‘Pfannengesang,’ a word that doesn’t actually exist in German; it literally means, ‘song about pots and pans.’
I may have spoken an entire sentence Italian in a dream for the first time, saying “Tutto Siviglia conosco Bartolo; Il birbo Figaro vinto sarà!,” which I was thinkng was from “Il Barbiere di Siviglia” of Rossini; but it’s actually a line from Bartolo’s aria “La Vendetta” from “Le Nozze di Figaro” of Mozart & the correct line is, “Tutta Siviglia conosce Bartolo: Il birbo Figaro vinto sarà!”
I woke up from a dream in which I sang “Ombra mai fu” (the famous aria from Handel’s “Serse”) twice, with the complete Italian lyrics; it was sung not spoken Italian, but it was Italian, and the longest I’ve ever communicated in Italian in any dream I’ve ever had.
I woke up from a long and elaborate dream in which I spoke several sentences in French. I discovered some games in the corner of the room and said, “Il y a des jeux, des jeux de cartes.” There were little games in boxes that looked like flash cards, including one labeled “Republic” and one labeled “Nemesis.” So I said, “Vive la République… mais pas la République de Platon~!” After meeting a Frenchwoman, she said, “Au revoir” and I said, “Enchantée d’avoir fait votre connaissance~!” I then accidentally caught my scarf on a safety pin she was wearing and had to detach myself from her. But the main thing I was struck by was the fact that I spoke in French and it was several sentences, all of which were grammatically correct. I’m now dreaming in French more regularly than at any time since when I was living in Brussels and Paris. Et voilà l’interieurisation du français~!
I woke up from a dream in which I said “dimenticato” — the first word of Italian I remember ever having spoken in a dream; I should have said “ho dimenticato,” but I forgot the ‘ho’~!
I woke up from a dream on Saturday morning in which I met Park Geun-hye for the first time; I actually spoke one word of Korean, 공부해요; ‘kongbuhaeyo’ means ‘studying,’ which is odd, because I didn’t say what I was studying; I should have said 한국말 공부해요; ‘hangukmal kongbuhaeyo,’ which means ‘I’m studying Korean,’ but what’s amazing is that I spoke even one word of Korean; it was my second dream in which I spoke Korean; in the first one, a few weeks ago, I spoke just four words (the Sino-Korean words for ‘1,2,3,4’: il, ee, sam, sa).
I had my first tri-lingual dream. I dreamt in English, French & German, even if most of it was in English. I dreamt that I met 3 German women & started to converse with them in German; “Ich kann ein bißchen Deutsch” (‘I can speak a little German’), I told them, and then began conversing in German; when one of them indicated that she also spoke French, I started to converse with her in French. The German/French part of the dream was relatively brief, with just a few sentences in each language, but it’s the first time that I’ve spoken in both of those languages in the same dream.

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