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Publisher's Summary

Whether it’s brusque, convincing, fraught with emotion, or dripping with innuendo, language is fundamentally a tool for conveying meaning - a uniquely human magic trick in which you vibrate your vocal cords to make your innermost thoughts pop up in someone else’s mind. You can use it to talk about all sorts of things - from your new labradoodle puppy to the expansive gardens at Versailles, from Roger Federer’s backhand to things that don’t exist at all, like flying pigs.
And when you talk, your listener fills in lots of details you didn’t mention - the curliness of the dog’s fur or the vast statuary on the grounds of the French palace. What’s the trick behind this magic? How does meaning work? In Louder than Words, cognitive scientist Benjamin Bergen draws together a decade’s worth of research in psychology, linguistics, and neuroscience to offer a new theory of how our minds make meaning. When we hear words and sentences, Bergen contends, we engage the parts of our brain that we use for perception and action, repurposing these evolutionarily older networks to create simulations in our minds. These embodied simulations, as they're called, are what makes it possible for us to become better baseball players by merely visualizing a well-executed swing; what allows us to remember which cupboard the diapers are in without looking, and what makes it so hard to talk on a cell phone while we’re driving on the highway. Meaning is more than just knowing definitions of words, as others have previously argued. In understanding language, our brains engage in a creative process of constructing rich mental worlds in which we see, hear, feel, and act. Through whimsical examples and ingenious experiments, Bergen leads us on a virtual tour of the new science of embodied cognition. A brilliant account of our human capacity to understand language, Louder than Words will profoundly change how you read, speak, and listen.
©2012 Benjamin K. Bergen (P)2013 Gildan Media LLC
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful
3 out of 5 stars
By kwdayboise (Kim Day) on 06-04-17

Almost too thorough

Benjamin Bergen has created a detailed book on the latest insights into how we form meaning in our minds out of words and images. He collects a wide range of detail from linguistics and neuroscience to show how we interpret information as well as how we collect and store it.

It's an interesting book for anyone interested in language (guilty) and has some applications for those who write or use media. But there's such a massive collection of scientific minutiae that it tends to cross the typical boundaries of what's normally considered "popular science" books.

As general topics it can be interesting to consider whether there's a difference in the mind of a reader in left-to-write script as opposed to right-to-left (Hebrew, for example) when describing a jogger. Does the direction of script influence how those different readers picture the jogger? (The answer: Maybe, maybe not.) It can also be intriguing to guess along with science about why it may be harder for a test subject to identify something after picturing it in the mind, how we process sentences in different ways when reading or hearing, or how some concepts take longer to perceive because they take a longer route in the brain from one thought center to another.

Interesting, yes, but at times I found myself wishing for the Cliff Notes version as Bergen describes one eye-direction or computer experiment after another. I'd have also been as happy with a general layman's description in the text with some details in the notes to skip or absorb as wanted. As it stands, the author's enthusiasm gets a bit lost in the scores of experimental examples he uses for illustration, each going into finer detail into, generally, how grad students do in various studies.

If you have a strong interest in the topic this is the book for you. If you have more of a peripheral interest there are books easier to digest.

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11 of 11 people found this review helpful

5 out of 5 stars
By J. A. on 01-30-16

Accessible introduction to an interesting field

One of the things I most liked about this book was that not only does it introduce interesting ideas in cognitive linguistics but also how one goes about asking questions as well as how to test them. I liked the audio version so much, I bought the paperback version for reference.

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27 of 29 people found this review helpful

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