Dictionary of Untranslatables: A Philosophical Lexicon (Translation/Transnation)

Dictionary of Untranslatables: A Philosophical Lexicon (Translation/Transnation)

Language: eng
Format: mobi
Publisher: Princeton University Press
Published: 2014-02-08T16:00:00+00:00


French, between thought and dream

While other languages, such as English, German, Spanish, or Italian, only have one word for dream ( Ger. Traum, Sp. sueño, Ital. sogno ), French has two: on the one hand, songe ( from the Lat. somnium ), and on the other rêve, derived either from a form of the Latin rabies ( rabies ) or from the popular Latin for “vagabond,” exvagus, or according to others from a form of Gallo-Roman, exvagares, from exvadere, “to go out.” “Delirium” overlaps with “escape” in our imagination, unless one is in fact superimposed on the other. As well as the “interpretation of dreams ( rêves ),” French also has the expression “key to our dreams ( songes ),” and this singular duality has its own history. Songer, the verbal form, has a noble lineage. Its values can be situated in a context of quite wide semantic freedom. The word oscillates between the rigor of focused thought ( songez-y bien, “pay close attention to this, think it over carefully” ), and the vagueness of the imagination ( à quoi songes-tu donc? “what are you dreaming about?” ). The evolution of the language meant that it rather dominated the field, referring on the one hand to the rational operation of “thinking,” derived in Romance languages from the Latin intensive pensare, “to weigh,” which connects reflexive activity to evaluation and appreciation, not present in songer, and on the other hand, suggests the opposite world of dream experiences. The lexical unity became fractured and split off in two different directions. Penser gained the upper hand over songer, pushing songe into the realm of illusory appearance. Rêve, which was used to mean delirium or ecstatic extravagance, has only recently supplanted songe, without eliminating it entirely, however, such that when one is songeant, one is sometimes thinking, concentrating, or recalling, and sometimes one is dreaming, or letting oneself be carried away.


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