Language Unlimited: The Science Behind Our Most Creative Power

ISBN : 9780198828099

David Adger
288 ページ
156 x 234 mm
  • Unlocks some of the deep mysteries of the human capacity for language
  • Examples are drawn from the worlds of AI, the animal kingdom, emojis, and Harry Potter
  • Based on research in neuro and cognitive science, psychology, linguistics, and sociology

All humans, but no other species, have the capacity to create and understand language. It provides structure to our thoughts, allowing us to plan, communicate, and create new ideas, without limit. Yet we have only finite experiences, and our languages have finite stores of words. Where does our linguistic creativity come from? How does the endless scope of language emerge from our limited selves?
Drawing on research from neuroscience, psychology, and linguistics, David Adger takes the reader on a journey to the hidden structure behind all we say (or sign) and understand. Along the way you'll meet children who created language out of almost nothing, and find out how new languages emerge using structures found in languages spoken continents away. David Adger will show you how the more than 7000 languages in the world appear to obey the same deep scientific laws, how to invent a language that breaks these, and how our brains go crazy when we try to learn languages that just aren't possible. You'll discover why rats are better than we are at picking up certain language patterns, why apes are far worse at others, and how artificial intelligences, such as those behind Alexa and Siri, understand language in a very un-human way. 
Language Unlimited explores the many mysteries about our capacity for language and reveals the source of its endless creativity.


1: Creating language
2: Beyond symbols and signals
3: A sense of structure
4: The question of Psammetichus
5: Impossible patterns
6: All in the mind
7: A law of language
8: Botlang
9: Merge
10: Grammar and culture


David Adger is Professor of Linguistics at Queen Mary University of London, current President of the Linguistics Association of Great Britain, and inventor of the monsters' language for the ITV series Beowulf. His research has been reported on in New Scientistand The Conversation, and he has appeared on Sky News, BBC Radio 4, and Australia's DriveTime. His 25 years of teaching have taken him all over the world, including to the foothills of the Himalayas.

"[Adger's] tour of Chomskyan linguistics is entertaining and accessible - in contrast to Chomsky's own notoriously baffling prose. The book is a handy introduction to a vexed debate on the infinite power of the finite mortal mind." - The Economist

"Adger's highly-referenced 250-pager explores with vigour and thoroughness I've rarely seen in a book ... a book to [the] bookshelf." - Jane Denny, Chemistry World

"[I]n my opinion the best attempt ever made to explain the linguistic framework within which Adger works - that of Noam Chomsky. The book is very readable without ever being childish, light in tone without being annoyingly funny, and clear about the author's point of view without being polemical." - Marc Van Oostendorp, Neerlandistiek

"I wish there were more linguistics professors bringing their A-game to a larger audience like this." - Superlinguo

"Adger [...] describes the situation carefully, clearly, and engagingly, using copious examples and analogies to communicate some really subtle points ... I definitely recommend the book for people who are interested in the scientific approach to language ... I congratulate Adger on this strong work that makes extraordinarily abstract concepts clear." - Separated by a Common Language

"A delightful journey through the many fascinating aspects of language, its nature and use, its richness and variety and its deep commonalities, beginning with the simplest observations and reaching to the borders of inquiry, interleaved with striking illustrations from a wide variety of languages and illuminating the way with results from experimental, animal, and computational research. A wonderful experience." - Noam Chomsky

"A highly readable introduction to some of the big questions in linguistics. I'd recommend this lucid and engaging book to both the amateur language enthusiast and the beginning linguistics student. Adger writes with true depth of understanding and generosity towards the broader field of linguistics." - Gretchen McCulloch, co-host of the Lingthusiasm podcast and author of Because Internet: Understanding the New Rules of Language

"Captivating. Adger makes the simple but profound observation that language is more than communication." - Kevin Berger, Nautilus