Language Barriers


  • Andreas Blume,

    1. Dept. of Economics, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ 85721, U.S.A.;
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  • Oliver Board

    1. New York University School of Law, 40 Washington Square South, New York, NY 10012, U.S.A.;
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    • We are grateful for conversations with and comments received from Ying Chen, Wouter Dessein, Christopher Gertz, Maria Goltsman, Sergiu Hart, Navin Kartik, Frederic Koessler, Jiwoong Lee, Wei Li, John Moore, Stephen Morris, Gregory Pavlov, Joel Sobel and from seminar audiences at the Harvard/MIT Theory seminar, the Trimester Program on Mechanism Design at the Hausdorff Institute for Research in Mathematics (Universität Bonn), the European University Institute, the Institute for Advanced Study, Lehigh University, Maastricht University, Princeton University, Rice University, the University of Bielefeld, Boston College, the Paris School of Economics, the University of Pittsburgh, Polytechnic—HEC, Rutgers University, the University of Texas–Austin, the University of Toronto, the University of Western Ontario, the Econometric Society World Congress (Shanghai), Workshop on Decentralized Mechanism Design, Distributed Computing, and Cryptography sponsored by the Institute for Advanced Study and DIMACS (Princeton) and the 2nd Brazilian Workshop of the Game Theory Society (São Paulo). Blume's stay at the Institute for Advanced Study was funded through a Roger W. Ferguson, Jr. and Annette L. Nazareth Membership.


Different people use language in different ways. We capture this by making language competence—the set of messages an agent can use and understand—private information. Our primary focus is on common-interest games. Communication generally remains possible; it may be severely impaired even with common knowledge that language competence is adequate; and, indeterminacy of meaning, the confounding of payoff-relevant information with information about language competence, is optimal.