Ability to talk only in dreams?

Brian MacWhinney macw at cmu.edu
Fri Dec 31 19:12:18 UTC 2010

Dear Daniel,
    I am totally unqualified to give you any real information about this.  After all, only a doctor
can really speak to an issue like this.  However, it is reasonable to expect that one might find 
something on the issue in the research literature.  I have read a little bit of some relevant literature,
but it mostly focuses on the status of language after operations performed to remove the foci
that cause epileptic seizures.  
    The fact that this boy cannot perform basic activities suggests that his seizure was quite severe.
It is likely that he was then given medication to reduce the possibility of repeated seizures, which could
be life-threatening.  Perhaps those also kept his language use reduced.  Perhaps the drugs
particularly impeded conscious language control.  Perhaps, language returns  during sleep because it
then arises without conscious control.  (Sounds a bit like Freud's "Psychopathology of Everyday Life").
These are all "perhaps".
    Of course it would be nice to know exactly what level of language he is producing in his sleep.  THere
is a literature in aphasiology about the production of automatic language in cases where controlled
production is not possible.  
     Just some ideas to think about.  Having more data on the various missing facts would help too.

-- Brian MacWhinney
On Dec 31, 2010, at 9:09 AM, Daniel Riaño wrote:

> I am puzzled by this case. Two years ago, the son of an acquaintance of
> mine, who was a perfectly normal and healthy 16 years old kid, suffered an
> ictus, and he has been at the hospital all this time, under professional
> care, unable to perform the most basic daily activities. He can't speak a
> word, although he can hear (sometimes he can move the eyes to look for the
> origin of a new voice speaking) and he seems to understand at least a part
> of what he's been told by his family. However, in the last weeks he has
> started to speak during his sleep time (and only during his sleep time). In
> his talking he seems to be speaking with family or acquaintances. His family
> thinks he is speaking about recent-past daytime events, but I think it could
> be remembering events before the stroke happened. I have absolutely no
> professional knowledge about his medical situation, neither I am related
> with his medical care, but, out of curiosity I have been asked about this
> circumstance. I had to admit I had no idea of what can be the reason for
> this sleep-time only talking, and less I know about what can it mean about
> his recovery. However, I am really curious about this. Could some list
> member more familiar with such cases recommend some bibliography (specially
> from the linguistic and cognitive point of view) about this phenomenon?
> Many thanks in advance,
> Daniel Riaño, CSIC, Madrid

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