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Several readers have written to suggest LL coverage of the latest viral site, "Sleep Talkin' Man". So if you're one of the half-dozen netizens who haven't yet browsed this compendium of oneirophonic entertainment, by all means do so now.

I haven't written about this because I don't have much to say, except that it's interesting how interested people are in such things. In some Elysian bistro, André Breton and Philippe Soupault are doubtless kicking themselves for being born too early to publish in the t-shirt and coffee-mug market:

En « logicien passionné de l'irrationnel », Breton est alerté par les phrases involontaires qui se forment dans le demi-sommeil ; tout illogiques, gratuites, absurdes même qu'elles soient, elles n'en constituent pas moins des « éléments poétiques de premier ordre » …


  1. codeman38 said,

    January 26, 2010 @ 11:29 am

    Also worth checking out is the LiveJournal community "The Color Wheel", in which members share their own sleep-talking stories.

  2. mumtaaz said,

    January 26, 2010 @ 11:47 am

    Great. Now I have to listen to 69 Love Songs. There goes three hours.

  3. Kylopod said,

    January 26, 2010 @ 2:13 pm

    I never was much of a sleep-talker, but one time when I was a kid, my mother was trying to get me up for school, and I kept telling her, "Uncertain." Here's how I perceived what was happening at the time: I was still dreaming when I heard my mother call to me to get up. I said "uncertain" because I was confused. Then my mother said, "You're dreaming." At that moment I realized I was, and I realized how absurd the answer sounded. I did not notice that I said the word repeatedly, however.

    What's curious about this episode is that, contrary to the stereotypical depiction common in cartoons, sitcoms, and the like, sleep-talking usually does not occur during REM sleep, when people dream. It is usually a kind of brain dump, where the person has no awareness of what he's saying at all.

    Most people cannot speak during REM sleep because they are paralyzed. On the occasions that people in REM sleep try to speak, what usually comes out is just moaning or mumbling. But strange things can happen when you're at the border between waking and sleeping, and that's probably what was going on with this "uncertain" incident.

  4. speedwell said,

    January 26, 2010 @ 4:04 pm

    I was training an engineering group in Germany last year and I had serious jet lag. Even with a cup of coffee, I was "wired and tired."

    Midway through the class day, as I was standing up explaining something at some length, I actually started to fall asleep on my feet. Muffled laughter from the class startled me awake. It turns out I had actually said something like, "And you need to click on this link on the home page to access the chicken under water with the fringe."

  5. Gigi said,

    January 26, 2010 @ 5:26 pm

    Don't some of these look fake like some of the entries in Overheard in New York?

  6. mollymooly said,

    January 26, 2010 @ 7:54 pm

    Competitive sleeptalking has been ruined by discordance enhancing drugs.

  7. E. said,

    January 26, 2010 @ 10:56 pm

    I often see text in my dreams and hypnagogic states– it's a pity I never remember it when I wake up. Most of it appears to be word salad, though.

  8. Neil Dolinger said,

    January 27, 2010 @ 12:19 am

    I guess I was one of the half-dozen. The most topical response I can think of is "Colorless green ideas sleep furiously".

  9. Simon Spero said,

    January 27, 2010 @ 1:18 am

    Is the first 'it' a weather it? If so, is it nice weather for ducks?

  10. William Berry said,

    January 27, 2010 @ 3:48 am

    Sorry to be so cynical, but Gigi has it, I think. This website has the earmarks of an almost-clever fraud. I mean, how hard would it would be for an intelligent but dishonest person to make a few bucks selling T-shirts?

  11. William Berry said,

    January 27, 2010 @ 4:07 am

    "how hard would it be," of course.

  12. Cecily said,

    January 27, 2010 @ 5:14 am

    The alleged quotes are amusing and sometimes thought provoking, but genuine sleep talk? I think not.

    I have heard many sleep talkers over the years (boarding school, husband and son) and it's very rare to be able to understand much even if one is awake at the time. What one can grasp is often banal and usually fragmentary.

    Still, if they can entertain people and make money, good luck to them, and if times get hard, they could probably branch out into writing fortune cookies and horoscopes.

  13. outeast said,

    January 27, 2010 @ 5:25 am

    'Fraud' is a bit strong even if it is a hoax. I'm sceptical of its veracity, but it's still very funny. And isn't the humour the point? No one is trying to reap any illicit benefits from this.

    And it's not like anyone's getting ripped off: even if it's fictional, the only money apparently being made is from Google ads and t-shirts – and if you buy the t-shirt you have a funny t-shirt regardless of whether the story is true.

    Besides, the ads and T-shirts were evidently added after the site went viral; and that suggests opportunism rather than marketing. (It's possible it's actually a viral marketing campaign, of course; but even that would not be 'fraud', though it would be a disappointment).

    [(myl) My own guess, FWIW, is that this sleep-talking is roughly as authentic as the surrealists' "automatic writing" was.]

  14. “Pork chops are most satisfying. Mmmmmmm. Dangle them from the ceiling.” « Panther Red said,

    January 27, 2010 @ 6:32 am

    […] Talkin' Man" since it hit a few weeks ago, but when it was mentioned on Language Log yesterday, I had to look at it.  A woman named Karen reports what her husband Adam says in his sleep.  I […]

  15. Nicholas Waller said,

    January 27, 2010 @ 9:22 am

    My guess is that all this is broadly real. My basis being, there's a whole range of people in the world, including some of whom don't sleeptalk at all, some who do but nobody hears them, some who do – and someone does hear them – but what they say is incoherent, right up to a some people who sleeptalk a lot, say a few vaguely intelligible things and have a partner keen to copy them down.

    There've probably been thousands of these people over the years, but only in the current tech environment where non-media individuals can blog this stuff to the world daily with no gatekeeper, and in the current privacy environment where a woman has no worries about telling everyone, inclduing her parents and in-laws, that her husband shouts out "COCK HUNTER!" and several fairly unflattering things, does anyone get to see it.

    No doubt it is selected for clarity. Similarly, some people don't sleepwalk at all, some people do a bit of wandering about the house, and some people go out, climb cranes and lie down high up, or manage to drive, or kill someone else – though this sort of behaviour is harder to monetise.

    Most of them aren't all that funny, just a bit odd. My favourite that I have seen is: "I haven't put on weight. Your eyes are fat." (Though in fact I would think skinny eyes would make other people seem fatter…)

    If, on the other hand, they were to admit that it was all fake, then I would be mildly disappointed but not outrageously shocked and surprised.

  16. Amy Stoller said,

    January 27, 2010 @ 9:25 am

    I've had a couple of surgeries, and my surgeon for the first one (outpatient) informed me that I told jokes while under anesthesia. No such report for the second one (hospitalization), but I was under a lot longer, and possibly more deeply.

    I've been told I talk in my sleep, even laugh in my sleep. I'm not aware of any of it. I regret to report that my own snoring has woken me up. Goodness only knows what my dog thinks of it all.

  17. Amy Stoller said,

    January 27, 2010 @ 9:28 am

    @Nicholas: "I haven't put on weight. Your eyes are fat." That's one I've seen long before Sleep Talkin' Man made an appearance. Or possibly what I saw was a close variant. FWIW, the other utterances, whether real or invented, are completely new to me.

  18. Amy Stoller said,

    January 27, 2010 @ 9:38 am

    "I haven't put on weight. Your eyes are fat." Several entries from 2007 list this as one poster's "location." I'm pretty sure I've seen it on aprons in US catalogs.

  19. Nicholas Waller said,

    January 27, 2010 @ 10:10 am

    @ Amy Stoller [re: eyes are fat] "I'm pretty sure I've seen it on aprons in US catalogs."

    Ah well, I guess the chap just retalked, as it were, something he'd heard. In fact, that might be evidence against this being a calculated hoax; careful media-savvy hoaxers with a business plan would not just nick a bunch of easily googleable phrases from somewhere else.

    My other favourite one is, in the context of a sequence of pirate-related stuff: "We haven't got a plank. Just fucking jump", though I expect someone will discover that's a line from Pirates of the Caribbean (I just did a cursory hunt and it doesn't appear to be).

  20. J said,

    January 27, 2010 @ 12:06 pm

    My sister, in a liminal sleep/awake state, once insisted that I tell her where my "Land main" was. After a bit of back and forth, I said "You're asleep! You don't know what you're saying!"

    "I'm not asleep," she said primly. "You just don't want to tell me where your Land Main is."

  21. Acilius said,

    January 27, 2010 @ 12:08 pm

    I'm with Nicholas Waller. Whoever is behind this, whether it really is a couple named Karen and Adam or not, clearly is/ are savvy enough to use Google. Under the central conceit of the blog, "Adam" knows that his wife is doing this, that the site is capturing an audience, and that people are buying tee-shirts from them. It would therefore be unsurprising if "Adam" had done the same searches Gigi and Amy Stoller did, saw the same results, and thought them over. If he really is as prodigious a sleeptalker as "Karen" represents, then he might re-produce those phrases. It would be more surprising if, after the site had caught on and the person/persons behind it had started selling tee-shirts, they'd committed such easily detectible acvts of plagiarism.

    Besides, why shouldn't "Adam" be at one extreme of the sleep-talking curve? The most we know about "Adam" is that he's some guy who is married to a woman who is online and who wouldn't mind selling some tee shirts. I'm no expert on noctiloquism, so for all I know maybe something in that description narrows the range of possible degrees of sleep-talking "Adam" would be likely to exhibit. I can't imagine what, though.

  22. Zora said,

    January 27, 2010 @ 9:53 pm

    Recently I woke up with one portentous word retrieved from the wastes of sleep:


  23. Mike Duncan said,

    February 22, 2010 @ 5:56 pm

    I know someone who does this, though infrequently, and will sometimes get into a conversational state where they can respond to questions. The responses are always lightning-fast and always slightly wonky and simplistic. It's as if everything in their language center is being gently blended around and around, and overseen by a four-year-old. They never remember any of it.

  24. Chris Barts said,

    January 10, 2011 @ 4:52 pm

    In "passionate logician of the irrational, " Breton is alerted by the unintentional sentences that form in the half-sleep while illogical, gratuitous even absurd they are, they nevertheless constitute "elements of poetry first order "

    Ah, mangled gibberish. Perfect commentary on this phenomenon.

  25. Peter G. Howland said,

    January 12, 2011 @ 3:13 am

    re: Sleep Talk

    During a long-ago late evening when my younger brother and I shared a bedroom, I was doing my homework and he was sleeping. He got up from his bed, in an apparent state of noctambulation, and went to the closet where he pulled down an empty wire hanger. He then came over to where I was sitting, nudged me aside, opened the center drawer of the desk and proceeded to stab and stir at its contents with the clothes hanger.
    “What are you doing?” I asked cautiously.
    “Looking for my glass of water.” he replied, clearly still asleep.
    After a few unfulfilled moments he then tossed the hanger aside and returned to bed.
    My recounting of the event to our mother the next morning gave us all a good laugh, despite eight-year-old Gary’s petulant denial of its veracity. However, even now some sixty-odd years later, whenever anyone within earshot requests a glass of water, Gary can be counted on to say, “You’re gonna need a coat hanger for that!”
    Oneirophonics becomes waking life.

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