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Philology considers both form and meaning in linguistic expression, combining linguistics and literary studies.

Classical philology is the philology of the Greek, Latin and Sanskrit languages. Classical philology is historically primary, originating in European Renaissance Humanism, but was soon joined by philologies of other languages both European (Germanic, Celtic, Slavistics, etc.) and non-European (Sanskrit, Oriental languages such as Persian or Arabic, Chinese etc.). Indo-European studies involves the philology of all Indo-European languages as comparative studies.

Any classical language can be studied philologically, and indeed describing a language as "classical" is to imply the existence of a philological tradition associated with it.

Because of its focus on historical development (diachronic analysis), philology came to be used as a term contrasting with linguistics. This is due to a 20th century development triggered by Ferdinand de Saussure's insistence on the importance of synchronic analysis, and the later emergence of structuralism and Chomskian linguistics with its heavy emphasis on syntax.

The term

The term philology is derived from the Greek (philologia), from the terms (philos), meaning "loved, beloved, dear, friend" and (logos), meaning "word, articulation, reason", describing a love of learning, of literature as well as of argument and reasoning, reflecting the range of activities included under the notion of . The term changed little with the Latin philologia, and later entered the English language in the 16th century, from the Middle French philologie, in the sense of "love of literature".

The adjective meant "fond of discussion or argument, talkative", in Hellenistic Greek also implying an excessive ("sophistic") preference of argument over the love of true wisdom,

As an allegory of literary erudition, Philologia appears in 5th century post-classical literature (Martianus Capella, De nuptiis Philologiae et Mercurii), an idea revived in Late Medieval literature (Chaucer, Lydgate).

The meaning of "love of learning and literature" was narrowed to "the study of the historical development of languages" (historical linguistics) in 19th century usage of the term due to the rapid progresses made in understanding sound laws and language change, the "golden age of philology", taken to last throughout the 19th century, or "from Friedrich Schlegel to Nietzsche". In British English usage, and in British academia, "philology" remains largely synonymous with "historical linguistics", while in US English, and US academia, the wider meaning of "study of a language's grammar, history and literary tradition" remains more widespread.. .

Branches of philology

Comparative philology

One branch of philology is comparative linguistics, which studies the relationship between languages. Similarities between Sanskrit and European languages were first noted in the early 16th century and led to the speculation of a common ancestor language from which all of these descended — now named Proto-Indo-European. Philology's interest in ancient languages led to the study of what were in the 18th century "exotic" languages for the light they could cast on problems in understanding and deciphering the origins of older texts.

Textual philology editing

Philology also includes the study of texts and their history. It includes elements of textual criticism, trying to reconstruct an author's original text based on variant copies of manuscripts. This branch of research arose in Biblical studies and has a long tradition, dating back to Reformation. Scholars have tried to reconstruct the original readings of the Bible from the manuscript variants. This method was then applied to Classical Studies and to medieval texts for the reconstruction of the author's original work. The method produced so-called "critical editions" which provided a reconstructed text accompanied by a "critical apparatus", i.e. footnotes listing the various manuscript variants available, thus enabling scholars to gain insight into the entire manuscript tradition and argue about the variants.

A related study method known as higher criticism studies the authorship, date, and provenance of text to place such text in historical context. These philological issues are often inseparable from issues of interpretation, and thus there is no clear-cut boundary between philology and hermeneutics. As such, when text has a significant political or religious influence (such as the reconstruction of Biblical texts), it is difficult to find objective conclusions.

As a result, some scholars avoid all critical methods of textual philology. Especially in historical linguistics where it is important to study the actually recorded materials. The movement known as New Philology has rejected textual criticism because it injects editorial interpretations into the text and destroys the integrity of the individual manuscript, hence damaging the reliability of the data. Supporters of New Philology insist on a strict "diplomatic" approach which is a faithful rendering of the text exactly as it is found in the manuscript without emendations.

Cognitive philology

Another branch of philology, cognitive philology studies written and oral texts, considering them as results of human mental processes. This science, therefore, compares the results of textual science with those results of experimental research of both psychology and artificial intelligence production systems.


In the case of Bronze Age literature, philology includes the prior decipherment of the language in question.This has notably been the case with the Egyptian, Sumerian and Assyrian, Hittite and Luwian languages. Beginning with the sensational decipherment and translation of the Rosetta Stone by Jean-François Champollion in 1822, a number of individuals attempted to decipher the writing systems of the Ancient Near East and Aegean. In the case of Old Persian and Mycenean Greek, decipherment of writing systems yielded records of languages already known from slightly younger traditions (Middle Persian, Alphabetic Greek).

Work on the ancient languages of the Near East progressed rapidly. In the mid-19th century, Henry Rawlinson and others deciphered the Behistun Inscriptionmarker, which records the same text in Old Persian, Elamite, and Akkadian, using a variation of cuneiform for each language. The understanding of cuneiform script led to the decipherment of Sumerian. Hittite was deciphered in 1915 by Bedřich Hrozný.

Linear B, a language used in the ancient Aegean, was deciphered in 1952 by Michael Ventris, who demonstrated that the script recorded an early form of Greek, now known as Mycenaean Greek. Linear A, the writing system which records the still unknown language of the Minoans, resists deciphering, despite many attempts.

Work still continues on scripts such as Maya script, with great progress made since the 1950s initial breakthroughs of the phonetic approach, championed by Yuri Knorozov and others.

See also


  1. Branches of Philology
  2. Philology
  3. University of Costa Rica (link in Spanish) has a career in Classical philology that includes Sanskrit, Latin and Greek.
  4. Philologia, Liddell and Scott, "A Greek-English Lexicon", at Perseus
  5. so Nikolaus Wegmann, Princeton University Department of German[1]
  6. A. Morpurgo Davies Hist. Linguistics (1998) 4 I. 22.
  7. M. M. Bravmann, Studies in Semitic Philology. (1977) p.457.
  8. This fact is noted in Juan Mascaro's introduction to his translation of the Bhagavad Gita, in which he dates the first Gita translation to 1785 (by Charles Williams). Mascaro claims Alexander Hamilton stopped in Paris in 1802 after returning from India, and taught Sanskrit to the German critic Friedrich von Schlegel. Mascaro says this is the beginning of modern study of the roots of the Indo-European languages.
  9. Textual Philology and Text Editing

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