One of the most important developments of the last fifty years has been the explosive increase in our knowledge about human language. This has been most obvious in linguistics and neuroscience. However, the expansion of language science has encompassed such fields as anthropology, sociology, and literature as well. Speech acquisition, reception, and production are arguably the most complex and distinctive operations of the human mind. A half-century ago, they were barely understood. Now, our knowledge is extensive.
The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the Language Sciences (CELS) will provide a one-volume reference resource for this knowledge. It will introduce the main areas of language science through seven overview essays. These will be followed by an alphabetized series of entries. The entries will cover the main concepts, theories, and movements of the language sciences. The entries, constituting over ninety percent of the volume, will vary in length, depending on the complexity and importance of the topic. They will treat theoretically consequential ideas, rather than distinctive features of particular languages, which are treated in other reference volumes on language and languages. This focus will make the volume more valuable to a broad range of researchers in different disciplines. Such researchers are often unfamiliar with the movements, hypotheses, and concepts of language study outside their own narrowly defined field. A volume of this sort will provide ready access to the crucial information, from overviews of general tendencies to the definitions of key theoretical terms.
The volume will also contribute to the advancement of knowledge—for example, by bringing together diverse lines of research in synthetic entries, by drawing tentative conclusions from this research, or by suggesting problems with current work and paths for future study.