Dr Christine Cuskley

Linguistics/Centre for Behaviour and Evolution

Newcastle Unviersity, 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 lecturer in Language and Cognition at Newcastle University, working in the School of English Language, Literature and Linguistcs and 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
The use of experimental games online and in public engagement

Contact (ccuskley gmail.com)

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 cognition, particularly at the postgraduate level.
I'm always up for interesting interdisciplinary collaborations and correspondence.
Current Projects

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 may underlie linguistic iconicity, which likely played a crucial role in language evolution, and has important implications for everything from language acquisition to branding and marketing.

Collaborators: Mark Dingemanse, Charis Saitis, Tessa M. van Leeuwen, Jools Simner, Simon Kirby

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?

Collaborators: , Stella Frank, Kenny Smith, Vittorio Loreto, Claudio Castellano, Francesca Colaiori, Francesca Tria

Experimental games

In the last decade, research in cognitive science has moved online, using platforms like Mechanical Turk and CrowdFlower. Science can also be crowd sourced through play - we're working on a multi-player game framework to study the emergence of cultural conventions using novel symbolic forms.

Collaborators: Simon Kirby

Information Distributions

Despite the fact that information theory is fundamentally about communication, it has barely been integrated into theoretical work on language and cognition. This thread of research picks up on earlier work which studies the distribution of information in language, particularly as a socio-cognitive feature of language production. Read more here.

Collaborators: Rachael Bailes, Joel Wallenberg


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 (University of Edinburgh)

Cognitive Science

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


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


Courses: Experimental Methods in Linguistics (Newcastle University)


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 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.

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.

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

Vent your frustration, it's listening.

A map of summer family trip in 2018 (yes, we really drove all of that with two kids) - made mostly to play with d3js

One of my first successful coding projects was a Python insult generator, in the vein of the late, great Burnmaker. This is a modern take which, um, clarifies news stories about the 45th US president with (be warned!) colourful language. This is plain JavaScript, mainly just using the power of regular expressions.