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Many languages seem to use the same word for "dream" (psychological phenomenon) and "dream" (hope for the future). Quick scanning on Wiktionary gives the list:

  • Germanic languages: Danish (drøm), Dutch (droom), English (dream), German (Traum), Luxembourgish (Dram), Norwegian (drøm), Swedish (dröm), West Frisian (dream)
  • Romance languages: Catalan (somni), French (rêve / songe), Galician (soño), Italian (sogno), Portuguese (sonho), Romanian (vis), Spanish (sueño)
  • Baltic/Slavic languages: Czech (sen), Latvian (sapnis), Slovak (sen)
  • Greek (όνειρο)
  • Hebrew (חלום)
  • Indonesian (mimpi / impian)
  • Japanaese (夢)
  • Korean (꿈)
  • Marathi (स्वप्न)
  • Tagalog (panaginip)
  • Turkish (düş)

In some languages, the words for the latter meaning of "dream" seem to have been derived from the words for the former:

  • Chinese (夢想 from 夢)
  • Finnish (unelma from uni)
  • Thai (คาดฝัน kʰâːt fǎn or คิดฝัน kʰít fǎn, from ฝัน făn)

Some languages use different terms:

  • Georgian (სიზმარი sizmari vs. ოცნება otsneba)
  • Lithuanian (sapnas vs. svajonė)
  • Malay (mimpi vs. impian)
  • Polish (sen vs. marzenie - however, it is possible to call the psychological phenomenon marzenie senne, which is a more technical term than sen)
  • Russian (сон son or дрёма ˈdrʲoma vs. мечта mɛtʃˈt̪a)
  • Telugu (కల kala vs. స్వప్నం svapnaM)
  • Ukrainian (сон son vs. мрія mríja)
  • Yiddish (חלום kholem vs. טרוים troym)

My questions are following:

  1. Have such usages of the word "dream" been developed independently, or are they mere calques from a single language?
  2. If they have been developed independently, is there any linguistic speculation about how the two meanings of "dream" relate?
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To be sure, speculation about how the two meanings of "dream" relate is more of a philosophical question than a linguistic one. In linguistics it suffices to say that the evidence shows they are related. But, good question! –  Mark Beadles Oct 18 '12 at 16:19
    
I don't know Malay at all, but what gives you the indication that "mimpi" isn't related to "impian"? –  b a Dec 28 '12 at 22:51
    
Freud's theory of wish fulfillment? –  user1704 Jan 26 '13 at 22:45
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2 Answers

up vote 5 down vote accepted

This phenomenon is a specific case of how each language uniquely divides up the semantic space.

The real world of referents is not divided up neatly into semantic categories that we can directly turn into lexical categories. A classic example is the color space. In the real world, there are an infinite number of colors in the spectrum, and the human visual system can distinguish between 100,000 to 10,000,000 of them. Of course, no language has 10,000,000 color words - instead, each language divides the spectrum up into ranges and has color names corresponding to those ranges. We know that different languages divide up the color space differently, e.g. the range yellow vs. green vs. blue is notoriously different from language to language. See for example the color divisions of Piraha [PDF].

This is not limited to colors. Fingers and toes, states and locations of existence, kinship terms, literally every concept is slightly differently divided and named. This division extends down to the idiolect, in fact.

What is happening is simply that each language has a unique mapping of abstract semantic fields to concrete lexical fields.

In this particular instance, you are seeing that some languages (like Polish) happen to use two separate lexical fields for "vision while sleeping" (sen) and "aspiration for the future" (marzenie), and some (like English) happen to use one lexical field for both (dream). I say "happen to" because largely this is the end result of a complex combination of linguistic and cultural evolutionary happenstance.

Russian uses two different words голубой goluboj and синий sinij for colors around 475 nm, while English uses one word blue. Similarly, Russian uses two different words сон son 'vision while sleeping' and мечта m'ech'ta 'aspiration or reverie' for related concepts corresponding to the English lexical field of dream. The semantic field of "visions, aspirations, and reveries" is divided up uniquely.

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This is a nice, professional answer, but it also makes me wish it were a bit more speculative. If there is a tendency in the data, one that can't be explained away by calques or a common ancestor in a parent language, we maybe can do more than say it's just random. My first thought was conceptual metaphors in the cognitive linguistics tradition, but this list doesn't seem to contain anything about dreams. There might also be an interesting historical semantics approach. Thoughts? –  lapropriu Oct 23 '12 at 2:08
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As a note, goluboj is light-blue while sinij is darker, except some idiomatic constructs, e.g. синее небо (blue sky). –  bytebuster Dec 28 '12 at 13:53
    
@bytebuster I think "синий" is a more general term, with голубой being a light case of синий. –  Anixx Dec 14 '13 at 10:44
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I think there is a widespread conception that if a person wants something very much, he will think of it every time, and as such, will see it while sleeping. As such the word for seeing during the sleep also often used to designate a desire for future.

For example even though Russian has separate words for the both, still the word for sleep vision can be used figuratively for a desire. "Поступить туда на работу - это его сладкий сон" "Getting that job is his sweet dream". In this case the word for sleep vision is used to mean the desire. Note that to mean the desire one has to add the adjective "sweet" because otherwise the word also can mean an unpleasant sleep vision, for example "страшный сон" means nightmare. One can also say "Он видит эту должность во сне" "He sees this position when sleeping".

As such I would conclude that using the sleep visions metaphorically for desires remains highly productive and not necessary inherited from any proto-languages.

I want also to point out that English language has different words for visualized desires not connected with sleep, for example "reverie", "vision", "aspiration", "imagining", "desire", "infatuation", "idealization" etc.

The word for unpleasant sleep vision, "nightmare" can be also used in English and Russian to mean an outcome of which the person is very afraid of, even if not sleeping. "The loosing of this competition is his nightmare".

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