Notes from a Linguistic Mystic

So, last night, I’m dreaming quietly in bed. In my dream, I’m sitting in my Linguistics department’s phonetics lab (although it’s bigger and better equipped, it is a dream, after all). In comes a group of undergrads with an adult speaker of some unnamed language, and a faculty member from the department who does fieldwork and who I respect greatly.

They all sit down around a big table and start doing field research with the speaker, asking grammar questions, trying to pick apart the phonology (sound patterns) of the language. After a while, I get sucked in, and the faculty member baits me into joining, hinting towards what I was already thinking was a phonemic initial glottal stop contrast. (For the less linguisty among you, that means that in this dream language, the sound in “Hawai’i” or “Uh-oh” can occur at the start of the word or not, and whether it’s there or not changes the meaning of the word).

So, at this point being unable to resist, I jump in. I quickly start trying to elicit the speaker to highlight the contrast by having him repeat words, partly for my own joy and partly to show the undergrads what’s going on. Then, as is always wise in a field methods class, I start trying to produce those contrasting words myself, something I’m quite comfortable doing having spent as much time in phonetics as I have.

Then, in my dream, I realize that I couldn’t. No matter how hard I try, I just couldn’t make that initial glottal stop, I just kept producing the words without it. I knew it was there, I knew how to make it, and I knew it SHOULD be working, but I couldn’t do it. And worse still, the speaker was getting frustrated, the faculty member was judging me, and the undergrads were all starting to mock me. Finally, scared, confused, and completely glottal-stop-less, I woke up.

I think I have a problem.

Having dreams about linguistics is nothing new to me. Heck, I’ve even analyzed dream languages for hours while sleeping. But this one, to my mind, crosses a line. I’ve heard that police officers sometimes can’t fire their guns to save themselves in their dreams, and maybe firefighters sometimes run out of water in their dreams.

Now, I know for sure I’m in the right field because apparently for me, in a nightmare, it’s not that I’ll be naked in class, that my gun won’t fire, or that my car won’t start. Instead, I’m up at night worried about laryngeal misfires. If that doesn’t make me a phonetician and a linguist, I don’t know what would.

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