Monday, March 09, 2015

The Language of Dreams

"It is very remarkable, that as we dream in words, and carry on imaginary conversations, in which we speak both for ourselves and for the shadows who appear to us in those visions of the night, so she, having no words, uses her finger alphabet in her sleep. And it has been ascertained that when her slumber is broken, and is much disturbed by dreams, she expresses her thoughts in an irregular and confused manner on her fingers: just as we should murmur and matter them indistinctly, in the like circumstances."

Charles Dickens, American Notes for General Circulation, writing of Laura Bridgman. Bridgman, left blind, deaf, and unable to speak after an early illness, learned to communicate by means of a manual alphabet while in residence at the Perkins Institution near Boston, Massachusetts.

The mind habituates itself to whatever tools it has at hand. If I converse in Spanish for a while and then return to English, it sometimes takes me a moment to realize that I no longer need to mentally translate before speaking. After reading Dickens's lengthy description of Bridgman, (much of which reproduces the written account of her teacher Samuel Gridley Howe), I found myself only slowly returning to a world in which the senses of sight and hearing could be taken for granted.

Laura Bridgman eventually learned to write with ink and paper. Among her writings are descriptions of her dreams.

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