Dr Christine Cuskley

Linguistics/Centre for Behaviour and Evolution

Newcastle University, Newcastle Upon Tyne, UK

About me

I am broadly interested in the evolution of social systems and cognition, with a particular focus on language. I have collaborated with linguists, psychologists, and complex systems scientists to study issues surrounding the emergence, evolution, and dynamics of human language.

I am currently a Reader in Language and Cognition at Newcastle University, working in the School of English Language, Literature and Linguistcs. I am a core member of the Language Evolution, Acquisition and Development (LEAD) group, and the Co-Director of the Centre for Behaviour and Evolution.

Prior to March 2019, I worked at the University of Edinburgh in the Centre for Language Evolution, where I also did my PhD. I was formerly a postdoctoral researcher in the Social Dynamics Group based at the Institute for Scientific Interchange in Turin, Italy from 2014-2015, and the University of Rome La Sapienza from 2013-2014.

I'm originally from New York, but have been in the UK since 2007 (and also spent a few years in Italy). I have two small humans and a human life-mate, with whom I spend most of my time. When I have spare time, I like to draw/paint, quilt, and do other crafty things.

Research Interests

How social cognition shapes information content in language
Emergence, evolution, and dynamics of conventional communcation systems
Population (social and demographic) structure and linguistic structure
Shared cross-sensory biases, sound symbolism, lexical structure
Crowdsourcing data online, experimental games online and in public engagement

Contact (christine.cuskley ncl.ac.uk)

I'm happy to talk with members of the press or other public interest organisations about my research.
I'm looking for keen students who want to study language evolution and cognitio, particularly at the postgraduate level.
I'm always up for interesting interdisciplinary collaborations and correspondence.
Current Interests

Language and the senses

We all make similar connections between the senses: e.g., most people think a high pitch is more light than dark. This capacity underlies linguistic iconicity, which likely played a crucial role in language evolution, and has important implications for everything from language acquisition to branding and marketing.

Online experiments

In the last decade, research in cognitive science has moved online, using platforms like Mechanical Turk and Prolific. This presents significant ethical and methodological challenges - how can we collect high quality data online?

Writing as a cognitive gadget

Much of how we use language in the modern world is through writing - but this is an evolutionarily recent phenomenon. What implications does this have for how we think about language, and how has it changed our relationship to it?

Rule dynamics

All languages have rules, but almost all rules have exceptions. How do exceptions to rules arise, or why do they survive? How is this affected by learner biases, interaction, and population structure?

Information Theory

While information theory has been a key tool for measurement in language and cognition, it is theoretically underutilized. This thread of research considers the potential of information theory as a conceptual and theoretical tool in understanding language evolution.


In addition to the courses below, I have supervised projects at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels. Topics included cross-linguistic and cross-sensory sound symbolism, teaching and learning in cultural transmission, and population based models of language evolution. If you're interested in supervision, please contact me.


Courses: Introductory linguistics, Empirical methods in sociolinguistics (Edinburgh)

Cognitive Science

Courses: Psychology of Language, Sensation and Perception, Evolution and Cognition (Edinburgh)


Courses: Origins and evolution of language (Edinburgh, Newcastle), Human Behaviour and Evolution (Newcastle), Foundations of Evolution (Edinburgh)


Courses: Experimental Methods in Linguistics (Newcastle)


I like to code, though I don't always know what I'm doing - I trained myself using the internet. I make experiments, visualisations, and other fun things. Browse below to see the latest

An online exhbition built in collaboration with Charis Saitis and Sebastian Löbbers at QMUL. Exhibition built using WebSlides, Seeing Music game developed mainly in React by Sebastian Löbbers.

Hub of current online experiments run via my research group focusing on Language Evolution, Acquisition and Development (LEAD).

An interactive visualisation of the data from Cuskley, Dingemanse, Kirby & van Leeuwen (2019). Explore the consistency and structure scores of a large sample of synaesthetes and non-synaesthetes, with acoustic and articulatory views. Written in p5js.

An interactive version of an agent-based model where agents bootstrap a vocabulary of labels for colors through interaction. Written in p5js.

A more structured version of a sequence learning experiment which was part of a language evolution exhibit at the Deutsches Heygiene-Museum in Dresden in 2017 (explainer here). Written mainly in p5js.

A visualisation of an idiosyncratic version of the voter model, where nodes are pixels that adapt (or not) to their neighbors. Written in p5js.

Vent your frustration, it's listening.

One of my first successful coding projects was a Python insult generator, in the vein of the late, great Burnmaker. Plain JavaScript, mainly just using the power of regular expressions.