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  • Published: 12 April 2022
  • ISBN: 9781787633490
  • Imprint: Bantam Press
  • Format: Trade Paperback
  • Pages: 304
  • RRP: $35.00

The Language Game

How improvisation created language and changed the world




The Language Game overturns established thought, showing how our language derives from the chaos of improvisation rather than from a built-in grammar or language instinct Drawing on wonderfully entertaining and persuasive examples from across the world it explains how culture has evolved, and what this means in a future of globalization, fake news and AI.

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) and challenging our common sense view of language and, by extension, thought itself, 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. Talking is verbal charades: an improvisational game of spinning intricate patterns of words to get the message across. Each improvisation builds on the last, creating the richly layered patterns that comprise a language. The patterns in language are not wired into our brains or our genes: the spontaneous emergence of linguistic order turns out to be a story as remarkable as the emergence of life itself.
Drawing on wonderfully entertaining and persuasive examples from across the world the book explains:
· How we can understand each other given the speed of speech, the deluge of sounds and how short-lived our memory is.
· Why it is that language is such a challenge for linguists but learnt effortlessly by toddlers.
· Why we don't all speak the same language and why language is so varied.
· What it is about our brains that makes language possible for us and why chimps don't talk.
· Which languages are most difficult and why.
· And how language has shaped thought, rather than the other way around.

  • Published: 12 April 2022
  • ISBN: 9781787633490
  • Imprint: Bantam Press
  • Format: Trade Paperback
  • Pages: 304
  • RRP: $35.00

About the authors

Morten H. Christiansen

One of the world’s leading language scientists, Morten is the William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor of Psychology and Co-Director of the Cognitive Science Program at Cornell University as well as Senior Scientist at the Haskins Labs and Professor in Cognitive Science of Language at the School of Communication and Culture, Aarhus University, Denmark. 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, and elected Fellow of the Cognitive Science Society in 2017.

Nick Chater

One of the world’s best known cognitive psychologists, Nick has held chairs in psychology at Warwick and at University College London. 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.

Praise for The Language Game

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

This book turned everything I thought I knew about language upside down. It's persuasive, full of fascinating details, and an absolute delight to read.

Tim Harford, author of How To Make The World Add Up

Language was the Promethean fire that ignited the human explosion. Its origin is one of the three great mysteries that still tantalise evolutionary biologists. Christiansen and Chater give a marvellously clear explanation of the problem and a generously fair treatment of rival theories, followed by a lively, even playfully persuasive advocacy of their own solution.

Richard Dawkins, author of The Selfish Gene

A joyful romp across species and cultures through the ways language is invented and reinvented, peppered with insightful stories you will feel compelled to tell anyone in earshot.

Barbara Tversky, author of Mind in Motion

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