How can humans keep thousands of words in mind and have no difficulty understanding trillions of sentences? The answer to this question might lie in parents teaching their children language skills, or in in the human brain, which may be equipped with a language instinct or maybe in impressive memory skills that link words to their perceptual information. Undoubtedly, there is some truth to some of these explanations. But one answer – perhaps the most important answer – has been largely ignored. Keeping Those Words in Mind tries to remedy this oversight.
Linguist and cognitive psychologist Max Louwerse, PhD. argues that understanding language is not just possible because of memory, brains, environment and computation, but because of the patterns in the sequence of sounds and words themselves.He demonstrates that what seems to be an arbitrary communication system, with arbitrary characters and sounds that become words, and arbitrary meanings for those words, actually is a well-organized system that has evolved over tens of thousands of years to make communication as efficient as it is. What is needed for humans to acquire language, is for humans to recognize and discover the patterns in our communication system.
By examining how our brains process language and find patterns, the intricacies of the language system itself, and even scientific breakthroughs in computer science and artificial intelligence, Keeping Those Words in Mind brings a brand new and interdisciplinary explanation for our ability to extract meaning from language.
"A delightful tour of our amazing collective ability to spin the web of language. Sparkles with insights, striking metaphors, and wonderful examples of how language is both utterly familiar and full of mysteries."
–Nick Chater, Professor of Behavioral Science at the University of Warwick and the author of The Mind is Flat: The Remarkable Shallowness of the Improvising Brain
“If you have ever marveled at the complexity of language, you might also have wondered how brains learn to use it. Many approaches to this question assume mechanisms that enable us to invent language for ourselves. In Keeping Those Words in Mind, Max Louwerse provides a fascinating and accessible alternative. Each of us grows up in an environment in which language is already present, and the social reality of language and its use greatly eases the problem of learning it. Not only will this book change the way you think about language, but it will bring you new insights into how you think in general.”
–Art Markman, Professor of Psychology at the University of Texas and author of Smart Thinking and Bring Your Brain to Work
“In Keeping Those Words in Mind, Louwerse’s prose is simultaneously captivating, accessible, and even suspenseful. While getting just deep enough into the weeds to satisfy a scientist and still keep a non-scientist engaged, Louwerse has written a masterpiece that touches on all of the key debates in the sciences of language. His ability to bring the reader into a new perspective on how language works has the potential to change the way everybody thinks about howand why our words mean what we think they mean. Louwerse shows us that, while humanity is constantly redesigning language, language is in turn constantly redesigning humanity.”
—Michael J. Spivey, Ph.D., Professor of Cognitive & Information Sciences at the University of California, Merced and the author of Who You Are and The Continuity of Mind
“Compelling…. Drawing on his expertise in linguistics, artificial intelligence, philosophy, and brain science, Louwerse takes the reader on a thrilling tour of the ways words work. Keeping Those Words in Mind should be required reading for anyone with interests in psychology, linguistics, neuroscience, or computational social science. The writing is crisp and the ideas are exciting and far reaching.”
–James W. Pennebaker, Regents Centennial Professor of Psychology, University of Texas at Austin, and author of The Secret Life of Pronouns
“How do people construct meaning from words and language? As expected, the theoretical models are complex, abstract, and difficult for a newcomer to understand and appreciate. I strongly recommend that the first book newcomers read is Max Louwerse’s Keeping Those Words In Mind. It communicates in plain language, with tantalizing concrete examples to provoke thought and debate. It also is a fascinating read for seasoned researchers who enjoy being updated on progress in multiple fields and some real-world applications.”
– Art Graesser, Ph.D., Emeritus Professor of Psychology and Intelligent Systems, University of Memphis