The Language Game

The Language Game

How improvisation created language and changed the world


'Marvellously clear... playfully persuasive' Richard Dawkins
'Full of Fascinating details. A delight to read.' Tim Harford
'Highly original and convincing ... a delight to read!' - Daniel Everett

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

Language is perhaps humanity's most astonishing accomplishment and one that remains poorly understood.

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 all we know about language should give us hope.

Christiansen and Chater's The Language Game draws on a fascinating range of examples to show the way language works, has shaped our evolution and is critical to our future.

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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