I Can Hear You Whisper: An Intimate Journey through the Science of Sound and Language

I Can Hear You Whisper: An Intimate Journey through the Science of Sound and Language

by Lydia Denworth
I Can Hear You Whisper: An Intimate Journey through the Science of Sound and Language

I Can Hear You Whisper: An Intimate Journey through the Science of Sound and Language

by Lydia Denworth


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An investigation into the science of hearing, child language acquisition, neuroplasticity, brain development, and Deaf culture. 

A mother notices her toddler is not learning to talk the way his brothers did… Is something wrong?  Her search for answers is a journey into the mysteries of the human brain.

Lydia Denworth’s third son, Alex, was nearly two when he was identified with significant hearing loss that was likely to get worse. Her sweet boy with the big brown eyes had probably never heard her lullabies.

Denworth knew the importance of enrichment to the developing brain but had never contemplated the opposite: Deprivation.  How would a child’s brain grow outside the world of sound most of us take for granted? How would he communicate?  Would he learn to read and write—weren’t phonics a key to literacy? How long did they have until Alex’s brain changed irrevocably? In her drive to understand the choices—starting with the angry debate between supporters of American Sign Language and the controversial but revolutionary cochlear implant—Denworth soon found that every decision carried weighty scientific, social and even political implications.  As she grappled with the complex collisions between the emerging field of brain plasticity, the possibilities of modern technology, and the changing culture of the Deaf community, she gained a new appreciation of the exquisite relationship between sound, language and learning.  It became clear that Alex’s ears—and indeed everyone’s—were just the beginning.

An acclaimed science journalist as well as a mother, Denworth interviewed the world’s experts on language development, inventors of ground-breaking technology, Deaf leaders, and neuroscientists at the frontiers of research.  She presents insights from studies of everything from at-risk kids in Head Start to noisy cocktail party conversation, from songbirds to signal processing, and from the invention of the telephone to sign language.

Weaving together tales from the centuries-long quest to develop the cochlear implant and simultaneous leaps in neuroscientific knowledge against a tumultuous backdrop of identity politics, I Can Hear You Whisper shows how sound sculpts our children’s brains and the life changing consequences of that delicate process. 

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780525953791
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 04/17/2014
Pages: 400
Product dimensions: 6.20(w) x 9.20(h) x 1.30(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

About The Author

LYDIA DENWORTH is a former Newsweek reporter, London bureau chief at People, and professor of journalism at Fordham. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Child, Redbook, Good Housekeeping, and other publications. She lives with her family in Brooklyn, New York.

Table of Contents

Part 1 Quiet 1

1 The Cow and the Red Balloon 3

2 A New World 14

3 How Loud Is a Whisper? 24

4 A Stream of Sound 34

5 "Some Means of Instructing" 50

6 "Marvelous Mechanism" 68

7 Word by Word 78

8 The Hub 89

9 Pride 109

10 Language in the Brain 120

11 What if the Blind Could See? 130

12 Critical Bandwidths 140

13 Surgery 159

Part 2 Sound 163

14 Flipping the Switch 165

15 A Perfect Storm 173

16 A Cascade of Responses 190

17 Success! 209

18 The Search For Evidence 217

19 A Parts List of the Mind 236

20 A Road Map of Plasticity 247

21 "I Can't Talk!" 259

22 The Reading Brain 266

23 Deaf Like Me 283

24 The Cocktail Party Problem 296

25 Beethoven's Nightmare 307

26 Walk Beside Me 317

27 Frog in Hong Kong 335

Notes 341

Acknowledgments 369

Index 375

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

Praise for I Can Hear You Whisper

"Writing with clarity and style, Denworth serves as a capable guide to a world that few with full hearing are fully aware of...A skilled science translator, Denworth makes decibels, teslas and brain plasticity understandable to all." - Washington Post

"In this moving and informative book, former Newsweek reporter Denworth recounts her emotional and intellectual quest to help her deaf infant son hear. [...] This is a book that parents, particularly of deaf children, may find indispensable." - Publishers Weekly

"All parents will recognize the moments of both terror and pride that mark the journey; parents of deaf children will garner both information and insights." - Kirkus Reviews

"I Can Hear You Whisper is a triptych of reportage, popular science, and memoir. As reportage into the controversy surrounding cochlear implants it's both timely and rigorous, though Denworth admits her own pro-implant bias. As popular science, it's enthralling, offering a window into the latest research into perception, language, and the weaving of conscious awareness. As a memoir it is tender and involving; accompanying Denworth and her son on their journey, and imagining making the same journey with my own children, I was often deeply moved." -- The New York Review of Books

"Eloquently explains how hearing works...An excellent book for anyone with deafness in the family or with a desire to better understand how people hear, why hearing loss occurs, and how it is treated." - Booklist

“Lydia Denworth has written a beautiful book that combines superb scientific reporting with powerful and deeply enjoyable storytelling. Her quest to acquire every shred of knowledge she can to help her deaf son is an odyssey that all parents who worry about their children (i.e. all parents) can intimately relate to. Her discoveries about the workings of language and the intricacies of brain development will change the way you think about hearing, speaking, and selfhood. And her fascinating exploration of the politics of deaf identity is sure to spark a larger conversation about how we talk about, think about, and treat children with special needs in our time.” —Judith Warner, author of Perfect Madness: Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety

“Read this if you have ears or ever interact with humans. What a moving and brilliant tour of the scientific, emotional and political landscape of hearing impairment. As a reader, I'm grateful to Lydia Denworth. As a writer, I'm jealous.” —David Shenk, author of The Genius in All of Us and The Forgetting

“Denworth provides a lucid, engaging, and thoughtful description of the science of hearing. If you are interested in hearing, speech, and language —as a parent, educator, clinician, or scientist—this book fills an important gap and is a terrific read. Careful about the science and sensitive to the psychological complexities, Denworth provides a masterful account of the path from ear to the brain, from sounds to words.” —David Poeppel, Professor of Psychology and Neural Science, New York University

“Lydia Denworth’s beautiful personal account and thorough investigation connect the dots between her son’s hearing loss, the essential import of spoken language on the developing brain, and what parents, doctors, and teachers can gain from a deeper understanding of how the mind acquires language.” —Dana Suskind, MD, Professor of Surgery at the University of Chicago and Director of The Thirty Million Words Initiative

I Can Hear You Whisper is both an affecting and searching personal story and a fascinating job of science reporting, specifically the science of audiology—how we hear, why some of us don't, and how an amazing, but controversial, technology was invented. Lydia Denworth’s son Alex, the beautiful boy at the center of the personal story, is lucky to have a mother like her. The rest of us are lucky to have such a perceptive, lucid, and touching book.” —Richard Bernstein, author of A Girl Named Faithful Plum

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