The Language Game

The Language Game

How improvisation created language and changed the world


Brought to you by Penguin.

What is language? Why do we have it? Where does it come from? Why does that matter?

Upending centuries of scholarship (including, most recently, Chomsky and Pinker) The Language Game shows how people learn to talk not by acquiring fixed meanings and rules, but by picking up, reusing, and recombining countless linguistic fragments in novel ways.

Drawing on entertaining and persuasive examples from across the world the book explains:
· How our short-lived memory copes with the on-rushing deluge of sound that is everyday speech.
· Why it is that language is such a challenge for language scientists but learnt effortlessly by toddlers.
· Why the languages of the world are so spectacularly varied---and why no two people speak quite the same language.
· Why humans have language, but chimps don't.
· How language gave us a big brain and changed the course of evolution
· How language doesn't limit, but does shape, how we think.
·And ultimately, why what we have come to understand about how language works, gives us greater hope for our future.

'Highly original and convincing ... a delight to read!' - Daniel Everett

© Morten H.Christiansen, Nick Chater 2022 (P) Penguin Audio 2022


  • The Language Game is a highly original, convincing story of how humans developed their greatest invention, language. A delight to read, it deserves careful study by anyone interested in the nature, function, and origins of human communication.

    Daniel Everett, author of Don’t Sleep, There Are Snakes and How Language Began

About the authors

Morten H. Christiansen

Morten H. Christiansen is the William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor of Psychology at Cornell University, Professor in Cognitive Science of Language at the School of Communication and Culture, Aarhus University, Denmark, and Senior Scientist at the Haskins Labs. He was awarded the Cognitive Psychology Section Award from the British Psychological Society in 2013 and a Charles A. Ryskamp Research Fellowship from the American Council of Learned Societies in 2006. He was elected Fellow of the Association for Psychological Science in 2009, made Fellow of the Psychonomic Society in 2013, elected Fellow of the Cognitive Science Society in 2017 and elected as a foreign member of the Royal Danish Academy of Sciences and Letters in 2021 and a foreign member of the Royal Norwegian Academy of Sciences and Letters in 2022. He lives with his family in New York.
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Nick Chater

Nick Chater is Professor of Behavioural Science at Warwick Business School. He has won four national awards for psychological research, and has served as Associate Editor for the journals Cognitive Science, Psychological Review, and Psychological Science. He was elected Fellow of the Cognitive Science Society in 2010, Fellow of the British Academy in 2012, and Fellow of the Association for Psychological Science in 2014. Nick advises the UK Government, and co-founded Decision Technology, a consultancy applying psychology to business. Nick was resident scientist and co-creator of Radio 4's, The Human Zoo. He is recipient of the 2023 Rumelhart Prize from the Cognitive Science Society. He lives in Oxford
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