UC San Diego
Why do we swear? Why do we swear the way we do? What are the consequences of swearing? How is profanity fleshed out in the brain and in the body?
How does the mind compute meaning of words and sentences? What brain systems does this process use, and how do these systems support other aspects of human and animal cognition?
Why and when does talking interfere with safe control of a vehicle? How can smart vehicles most effectively communicate with drivers, passengers, and other road users?
We talk about abstract things in concrete terms. Do we also think about them in that way?
Words with similar meanings also tend to sound alike. Is this reflected is psychological processes? How can we use computational tools to discover regions of systematicity automatically?
Grammar choices convey meaning. Which choices convey which meanings?
Nearly everyone swears—whether it’s over a few too many drinks, in reaction to a stubbed toe, or in flagrante delicto. And yet, we sit idly by as words are banned from television and censored in books. We insist that people excise profanity from their vocabularies and we punish children for yelling the very same dirty words that we’ll mutter in relief seconds after they fall asleep. Swearing, it seems, is an intimate part of us that we have decided to selectively deny.
That’s a shame. Swearing is useful. It can be funny, cathartic, or emotionally arousing. It also opens a new window onto how our brains process language and why languages vary around the world and over time.
What the F answers intriguing questions: How can patients left otherwise speechless after a stroke still shout Goddamn! when they get upset? When did cock grow to be more than merely a rooster? Why is crap vulgar when poo is just childish? Do slurs make you treat people differently? Why is the first word that Samoan children say not mommy but eat shit? And why do we extend a middle finger to flip someone the bird?
What the F is mandatory reading for anyone who wants to know how and why we swear.
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?
Louder than Wordsdraws 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, 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 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.
Liu, Nian, and Benjamin Bergen. (2016). When do language comprehenders mentally simulate locations? Cognitive Linguistics, 27(2), 181-203.
Gutierrez, E.D., Roger Levy, & Benjamin Bergen. (2016). Finding Non-Arbitrary Form-Meaning Systematicity Using String-Metric Learning for Kernel Regression. Proceedings of the Association for Computational Linguistics.
Gutierrez, E.D., Ekaterina Shutova, Tyler Marghetis, & Benjamin Bergen. (2016). Literal and Metaphorical Senses in Compositional Distributional Semantic Models. Proceedings of the Association for Computational Linguistics.
Hendricks, R.K., Walker, E.J., Boroditsky, L., Bergen, B.K. & Núñez, R. (2016). Left-right mental timeline is robust to visuospatial or verbal interference. Proceedings of the 38th Annual Cognitive Science Society. Austin, TX: Cognitive Science Society.
Lupyan, Gary & Benjamin Bergen (2015). How language programs the mind. Topics in Cognitive Science.
Marghetis, Tyler and Benjamin Bergen. (2015). Embodied meaning, inside and out: The coupling of gesture and mental simulation. In Cornelia Mueller, Alan Cienki, Ellen Fricke, Silva H. Ladewig, David McNeill & Sedinha Tessendorf (Eds.), Body-Language-Communication. New York: Mouton de Gruyter.
Bergen, Benjamin. (2015). Embodiment. In Dabrowska, E., & Divjak, D. (Eds.) Handbook of Cognitive Linguistics. Walter de Gruyter GmbH & Co KG, 10-30.
Bergen, Benjamin. (2015). Embodiment, simulation, and meaning. The Routledge Handbook of Semantics, 142.
Marghetis, Tyler, Luke Eberle, & Benjamin Bergen. (2015). The mental number-line spreads by gestural contagion. Proceedings of the 37th Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Science Society.
Bergen, Benjamin, and Kim Binsted. (2015). Embodied grammars and linguistic humor. To Appear in Cognitive Linguistics and Humor Research, Geert Brone, Tony Veale, and Kurt Feyaerts (eds.). Mouton de Gruyter.
Sato, Manami, Amy Schafer, & Benjamin Bergen. (2014). Metaphor priming in sentence production: Concrete pictures affect abstract language production. Acta Psychologica.
Walker, Esther, Benjamin Stillerman, John Iversen, Aniruddh Patel, and Benjamin Bergen. (2014). Does beat perception rely on the covert use of the motor system? Proceedings of the 36th Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Science Society. Paul Bello, Marco Guarini, Marjorie McShane, and Brian Scassellati (Eds): 3061-3066.
Walker, Esther, Benjamin Bergen, & Rafael Núñez. (2014). Disentangling Spatial Metaphors for Time Using Non-spatial Responses and Auditory Stimuli. Metaphor and Symbol 29(4): 316-327.
Troyer, Melissa, Lauren B. Curley, Luke Edward Miller, Ayse Pinar Saygin, & Benjamin Bergen. (2014). Action verbs are processed differently in metaphorical and literal sentences depending on the semantic match of visual primes. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience.
Marghetis, Tyler, Rafael Núñez, and Benjamin Bergen. (2014). Doing arithmetic by hand: Hand movements during exact arithmetic reveal systematic, dynamic spatial processing. The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology.
Sato, Manami, Amy Schafer, and Benjamin Bergen. (2013). One word at a time: Mental representations of object shape change incrementally during sentence processing. Language and Cognition 5 (4): 345-373.
Marghetis, Tyler, Jasmeen Kanwal, and Benjamin Bergen. (2013). Placing Numbers in Behavioral Space: Activity-Specific Interactions between Number and Space with a Single Response Button Proceedings of the Cognitive Science Society.
Liu, Nian & Benjamin Bergen. (2013). When Tuesday comes before Threesday: Cross-linguistic differences in numerical transparency of time words predicts temporal reasoning strategy and performance. In M. Knauff, M., Pauen, N., Sebanz, & I. Wachsmuth (Eds.) Proceedings of the 35th Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society (pp. 924-929). Austin TX: Cognitive Science Society.
Sato, Manami and Benjamin Bergen. (2013). The case of the missing pronouns: Does mentally simulated perspective play a functional role in the comprehension of person?. Cognition 127(3):361-74.
Bergen, Benjamin and Nancy Chang. (2013). Embodied Construction Grammar. Oxford Handbook of Construction Grammar, Thomas Hoffmann and Graeme Trousdale (Eds.). Oxford University Press.
Bergen, Benjamin, Nathan Medeiros-Ward, Kathryn Wheeler, Frank Drews, & David Strayer. (2013). The crosstalk hypothesis: Why language interferes with driving. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General 142(1): 119-130.
Parrill, Fey, Bergen, Benjamin, and Patricia Lichtenstein. (2013). Grammatical aspect, gesture, and conceptualization: Using co-speech gesture to reveal event representations. Cognitive Linguistics 24(1): 135-158.
Bergen, Benjamin. (2012). Louder than words: The new science of how the mind makes meaning. New York: Basic Books.
Bergen, Benjamin, and Ting Ting Chan Lau. (2012). Writing direction affects how people map space onto time. Frontiers in Cultural Psychology 3:109.
Winter, Bodo and Benjamin Bergen. (2012). Language comprehenders represent object distance both visually and auditorily. Language and Cognition, 4:1, 1-16.
Sato, Manami, Hiromu Sakai, Jennifer Wu, and Benjamin Bergen. (2012). Towards a Cognitive Science of Literary Style: Perspective-Taking in Processing Omniscient versus Objective Voice. Proceedings of the 34th annual meeting of the Cognitive Science Society.
Marghetis, T., Walker, E., Bergen, B., & Nunez, R. (2011). Making SNAP judgments: Rethinking the spatial representation of number. Proceedings of the 33rd Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society (pp. 1781-1786). Austin, TX: Cognitive Science Society.
Parrill, F., Bergen, B., & Lichtenstein, P. (2011). Grammatical aspect in language production: Using gesture to reveal event representations. Proceedings of the 33rd Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society. Austin, TX: Cognitive Science Society.
Bergen, Benjamin, Avis Lau, Shweta Narayan, Diana Stojanovic, and Kathryn Wheeler. (2010). Body part representations in verbal semantics. Memory and Cognition 38(7):969-981.
Bergen, Benjamin, and Kathryn Wheeler. (2010). Grammatical aspect and mental simulation. Brain & Language 112:150-158.
Dennison, Heeyeon and Benjamin Bergen. (2010). Language-driven motor simulation is sensitive to social context. Proceedings of the 32nd Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Science Society.
Wheeler, Kathryn, and Benjamin Bergen. (2010). Meaning in the palm of your hand. In Sally Rice and John Newman (eds.) Empirical and Experimental Methods in Conceptual structure, Discourse, and Language. Stanford: CSLI.
Kaplan, Frederic, Pierre-Yves Oudeyer, and Benjamin Bergen. (2008). Computational Models in the Debate over Language Learnability. Infant and Child Development 17:55-80.
Bergen, Benjamin, and Jerome Feldman. (2008). Embodied concept learning. In Paco Calvo and Toni Gomila (eds.) Handbook of Cognitive Science. Elsevier.
Bergen, Benjamin, Shane Lindsay, Teenie Matlock, and Srini Narayanan. (2007). Spatial and linguistic aspects of visual imagery in sentence comprehension. Cognitive Science 31: 733-764.
Tseng, Meylysa, Yiran Hu, Wen-Wei Han, and Benjamin Bergen. (2007). "Searching for happiness" or "Full of joy"? Source domain activation matters. Proceedings of the 31st Annual Meeting of the Berkeley Linguistics Society.
Bergen, Benjamin. (2007). Experimental methods for simulation semantics. In Monica Gonzalez-Marquez, Irene Mittelberg, Seana Coulson, and Michael J. Spivey (eds.) Methods in Cognitive Linguistics: Ithaca.
de Beule, Joachim, and Benjamin Bergen. (2006). On the Emergence of Compositionality. Proceedings of the 6th evolution of language conference.
Bergen, Benjamin, and Seana Coulson. (2006). Frame-Shifting Humor in Simulation-Based Language Understanding. IEEE Intelligent Systems.
Bergen, Benjamin. (2005). Mental simulation in literal and figurative language. In Seana Coulson and Barbara Lewandowska-Tomaszczyk (eds.) The iteral and nonliteral in language and thought.
Bergen, Benjamin. (2005). Mental Simulation in Spatial Language Processing. In Proceedings of the Twenty-Seventh Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society.
Bergen, Benjamin and Kathryn Wheeler. (2005). Sentence Understanding Engages Motor Processes. In Proceedings of the Twenty-Seventh Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society.
Bergen, Benjamin, and Nancy Chang. (2005). Embodied Construction Grammar in Simulation-Based Language Understanding. In Jan-Ola Östman and Miriam Fried (Eds.), Construction Grammars: Cognitive grounding and theoretical extensions.
Bergen, Benjamin, and Madelaine Plauché. (2005). The convergent evolution of radial constructions: French and English deictics and existentials. Cognitive Lingusitics 16(1): 1-42.
Tseng, Meylysa and Benjamin Bergen. (2005). Lexical Processing Drives Motor Simulation. In Proceedings of the Twenty-Seventh Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society.
Chan, Ting Ting, and Benjamin Bergen. (2005). Writing Direction Influences Spatial Cognition. In Proceedings of the Twenty-Seventh Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society.
Narayan, Shweta, Benjamin Bergen, and Zachary Weinberg. (2004). Embodied Verbal Semantics: Evidence from a Lexical Matching Task. Proceedings of the 30th Annual Meeting of the Berkeley Linguistics Society.
Bergen, Benjamin, Nancy Chang, and Shweta Narayan. (2004). Simulated Action in an Embodied Construction Grammar. Proceedings of the Twenty-Sixth Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society.
Bergen, Benjamin. (2004). The psychological reality of phonaesthemes. Language, 80(2).
Bergen, Benjamin, and Kim Binsted. (2004). To awaken a sleeping giant: Blending and metaphor in editorial cartoons after September 11. In Michel Achard and Suzanne Kemmer (Eds.) Language, Culture, and Mind. CSLI.
Bergen, Benjamin. (2004). The cognitive linguistics of scalar humor. In Michel Achard and Suzanne Kemmer (Eds.) Language, Culture, and Mind. CSLI.
Bergen, Benjamin, Shweta Narayan, and Jerome Feldman. (2003). Embodied verbal semantics: evidence from an image-verb matching task. Proceedings of the Twenty-Fifth Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society
Bergen, Benjamin. (2001). Of sound, mind, and body: neural explanations for non-categorical phonology. Ph.D. Dissertation. Department of Linguistics, U.C. Berkeley. (Advisor: George Lakoff)
Bergen, Benjamin. (2001). Nativization processes in L1 Esperanto. Journal of Child Language. 28(3): 575-595.
Bergen, Benjamin, and Madelaine Plauché. (2001). Voilà voilà: Extensions of deictic constructions in French. In Alan Cienki, Barbara Luka, and Michael Smith (Eds.), Conceptual and Discourse Factors in Linguistic Structure. CSLI.
Bergen, Benjamin. (2000). Probability in phonological generalizations: Modeling optional French final consonants. In Alan Yu et al. (Eds.), Proceedings of the 26th Annual Meeting of the Berkeley Linguistics Society. Berkeley: Berkeley Linguistics Society.
Bergen, Benjamin. (2000). Ramifications of phonology-syntax interactions for phonological models. In Proceedings of the 24th Annual Penn Linguistics Colloquim, 27-36.
Plauché, Madelaine and Benjamin Bergen. (1999). Markedness and the Evolution of Binary Spatial Deictics: French voilà and voici. In Steve Chang et al. (Eds.), Proceedings of the 25th Annual Meeting of the Berkeley Linguistics Society. Berkeley: Berkeley Linguistics Society.
Department of Cognitive Science
UC San Diego
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La Jolla, CA