Centre for Behaviour and Evolution

Staff Profile

Dr Christine Cuskley

Reader in Language and Cognition


Role in the School

I'm one of the core faculty members in the Language Evolution, Acquisition and Development (LEAD) research group, and I am the Co-Director of the cross-faculty Centre for Behaviour and Evolution.


BA, Psychology (minor in Studio Art, American University)

MSc, Evolution of Language and Cognition (University of Edinburgh)

PhD Theoretical and Applied Linguisitics (University of Edinburgh)

Member of the ESRC review college

Permanent Scientific Committee Member for EvoLang


I am broadly interested in the evolution of social systems, cognition, and culture, 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.

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).



My research interests are broad and I am particularly keen on working across methods and discplines to address broad research questions about human language and culture. A short list of my interests includes:

  • The emergence and dynamics of shared conventions, and the role of interaction in grounding and establishing shared communication systems
  • The relationship between population (social and demographic) structure and linguistic structure, particularly influences of child and adult learners on langauge structure and change
  • The potential for shared sensory biases to underlie sound symbolism and contribute to lexical structure and bootstrap communication
  • The use of experimental games online and in public engagement
  • Ethical issues in behavioural experiments, particularly in the context of online data collection.


Learning and Teaching

I teach Origins and Evolution of Language, which is a joint stage 3 (SEL3005) and postgraduate course (SEL8033) alongside a teach a stage 2 course on Experimental Methods in Linguistics (SEL2229). I'm also involved in lecturing particularly focused on evolutionary theory and cutlural evolutino for the MRes in Evolution and Human Behaviour in the Institute for Neuroscience (Faculty of Medical Sciences).

Research Supervision

I research several undergraduate independent projects a year, and I am also open to postgraduate taught supervision at the masters level either within SELLL or for the MRes in Evolution and Human Behaviour. Given the interdisciplinary nature of my research, I would also be interested in joint supervision across other areas of the University - just get in touch and I would be happy to discuss it.

Previous Mentees

Dr James Brand, MSc thesis supervisor, The cultural emergence of structure and sound symbolism in an artificial sound-taste language (2012), University of Edinburgh, (now a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Canterbury, New Zealand, studying sociolingusitic factors in sound change)

Dr Martina Pugliese, PhD mentor for Rules and Exceptions in language dynamics: a quantitative investigation (2013), Sapienza University (now a lead data scientist at Mallzee)

Michael Chimento, MSc thesis supervisor Social network structure and morphological complexity: Evidence from an agent based model (2018), University of Edinburgh (now PhD canddiate at the MPI for Ornithology, Konstanz)

Oliver Reeves, BA Linguistics (2020), Newcastle, founder of Compiled

Previously Supervised Projects

Handedness and language evolution: Perspectives from co-speech gesture in narrative and technical genres (Jamie Mounsey, 2020, BA English Language)

Lexical Change in Urban Multilingual Contact Settings: An agent based model of Multicultural London English  (Sena Ekenel, 2020, BA, English Language)

Information density and reply-level in German microblog texts (Oliver Reeves, 2020, BA, Linguistics)

Evaluating the distribution of information in automatically generated text: Evidence from Twitter bots (Francesco Pili, 2020, BA Linguistics; Newcastle Nominee for best dissertation for LAGB)

A case study of Mauritian Creole: Investigating the impact of segregation on creole emergence using agent-based modeling (Mariette Voosllo, University of Edinburgh, MA Linguistic, 2018)

Cultural transmission in an iterated learning task: the effect of animated motion on language structure (Laura de Rooij, University of Amsterdam, MA Brain and Cognitive Sciences, 2018)

Non-arbitrarness in taste terms: a cross-lingustic phonetic symbolism experiment (Eliza Foster, University of Edinburgh MA Linguistics, 2015)

Current PhD Students

Nedal Karaim (secondary supervisor, with Prof. Martha Young-Scholten), studying communicative language teaching interventions in the Libyan EFL context.

Bethany Cowell (co-supervised with Dr Rebecca Woods), self-control, chronotype, and language comprehension in developmental context.