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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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  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

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.

11 of 11 people found this review helpful

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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.

27 of 29 people found this review helpful

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  • Nigel
  • Tauranga, New Zealand
  • 03-28-15

Outstanding exploration of the origins of meaning

Another great example of the benefits of reading your own book, Benjamin Bergen explores an amazingly complex and convoluted topic in clear and simple terms that anyone can understand. His passion for the topic is plain for all to see and his depth of knowledge of relevant literature is impressive. As a lifelong addict of meaning, I am a natural place for Bemjamin's thesis to receive an enthusiastic listen but I suspect most people with even a passing interest in how we communicate and make sense of our respective worlds will find this a highly rewarding purchase. Thankyou, Benjamin, for the extraordinarily focused effort that must have gone into writing this book!

39 of 43 people found this review helpful

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Too Technical for me

After the first 10 minutes I knew I was in over my head. I'm not a linguistics post grad looking for a new research project. I'm an average Joe looking for a little enlightenment. If you're not deep into language you may want to pass this book bye for something simpler.

43 of 49 people found this review helpful

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  • Donald
  • Greensboro, North Carolina, United States
  • 01-09-14

Great Performance!

This book is top-notch, and by that, I mean the author uses a great deal of evidence to back up his thesis. Roughly speaking, the thesis is that cognition is "embodied" rather than merely computational. Those familiar with George Lakoff's work will find themselves on similar ground here, with the added benefit of more concrete evidence.

Benjamin K. Bergen's performance was also par excellence; especially so because, in my experience most authors are poor narrators.

33 of 38 people found this review helpful

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  • Gillian
  • Austin, TX, United States
  • 05-22-17

Fun But Technical--Glad I Got It On Sale

It was my fault--I'm the kind of doe-eyed dreamer who stares at clouds and sees not sheep but turtles smoking cigars whilst teetering on balancing balls. I guess I thought this book, "Louder Than Words" would have more whimsy on why we give meanings like this to the world around us.
Don't get me wrong. It's a fun book and is filled with wonderful examples at the beginning of each chapter designed to get you to really delve into the concepts to be delivered. It's just that all of that is then followed by verrrry technical and involved studies. Verrrry interesting but holy cow! You'd better have the proverbial "thinking cap" on; you know, the one your fifth-grade teacher always told you to put on because she was about to say something beyond you. Here, you'll hear about "embodied simulation" and neuron bonds. Things of that ilk.
As a writer, I found it fascinating: Who doesn't need to know about how to get the most out of your words? About how to get the most out of your projected imagery? Meaning is key. As a reader, it made me think about how we all parse together words and fit them into neat little bundles of cognitive reality. As a layman, it had me inspired but scratching my head at times 'cause a lot of it is fairly ingenious studying.
It's not all technical, and it's all framed well. I appreciated the humor too. A sloth on quaaludes?!? You've got me hooked because that bit of imagery? I can bring a WHOLE LOT of meaning to that right there.
Very fun, but I'm glad I didn't spend a whole credit on something that was a bit more technical than my whimsical cloud-gazing mind was expecting...!

72 of 86 people found this review helpful

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  • J. C.
  • Thailand
  • 10-05-15

Very interesting and fun

Loved this book, especially the idea that we use concrete words when we talk about abstract ideas. I highly recommend this audible edition. The narration is excellent.

14 of 17 people found this review helpful

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Groundbreaking

This was over-the-top good. I've ordered a print copy for faster review. It was coherently written enough that I could enjoy it at 1.5 speed, which was helpful during his relating some of the more detailed studies he used to justify his conclusions. I don't think I will look at any of the languages I speak in the same way ever again. Good spirited and never boring. Near the end, he posits a very interesting theory about why we shouldn't talk on a cell phone and drive at the same time. I would definitely recommend this book to psychiatrists, students, teachers, writers of fiction & nonfiction, animal trainers & sales people to name a few. Useful, applicable, & interesting.

5 of 6 people found this review helpful

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Cognitive Science in an easy-to-swollow pill

What made the experience of listening to Louder Than Words the most enjoyable?

This Audible book was read by the author, which gave it a richness not found in other books. He knows which words are key to each sentence and can stress or emphasis the importance as he intended when he wrote it.

What was one of the most memorable moments of Louder Than Words?

The most memorable moments are when he gives examples of cognitive testing which has not been done. He gives the reader the potential of the unknown which can be insperational to some.

Have you listened to any of Benjamin K. Bergen’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

No I have not listened to any other Benjamin K. Bergen's other performances.

Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

My reaction to this book was one of understanding and clarity on things I have thought before getting into cognitive studies. This book opened up a the real world situations which cognitive sciences can apply. This book will definitely make you think about the world from an analytic point of view.

Any additional comments?

This book has inspired me to want to learn more about the connection between language and cognitive science, and which parts of the brain "light up" when we use language in our everyday lives.

9 of 12 people found this review helpful

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Worth Reading!

Although the book needs editing it presents important reseach and is well worth the time.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful