The last forty years have witnessed what has been called the “second cognitive revolution” (see Introduction). A central focus in the study of mind (the “cognitive sciences”) is the study of language and its biological bases. Work on the biology of language, or biolinguistics, is directed at answering some traditional questions; viz., (1) What constitutes knowledge of language?, (2) How does knowledge of language develop in the individual?, and (3) How did knowledge of language evolve in the species?
There has been an explosion of knowledge about the first two questions from studies of languages and dialects that now number in the thousands. A small sampling includes: Basque, Bulgarian, Chinese, English, Dutch, Finnish, Flemish, French, German, Greek, Hindi, Hungarian, Icelandic, Irish, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Russian, Spanish, Swedish, Turkish, Warlpiri, and Welsh. Evidence bearing on the answers to these questions is now available from numerous areas; e.g., syntax, semantics, morphology, phonology, articulatory and acoustic phonetics, language acquisition, language change, specific language impairment, language perception, sign-language, neurology of language, language-isolated children, creole language, split-brain studies, linguistic savants, and electrical activity of the brain, among others. The past year marks the thirtieth anniversary of Eric Lenneberg's Biological Foundations of Language, which surveyed the work in many of these areas and therefore provides a useful benchmark for the significant progress that has been made in recent years.
Although the three central problem areas for biolinguistics listed above have been investigated in parallel, most progress has been made in the first two areas: language and development of language.