Philology is the study of ancient texts and languages. The term
originally meant a love (Greek philo-) of learning and literature (Greek
-logia). In the academic traditions of several nations, a wide sense of the
term "philology" describes the study of a language together with its
literature and the historical and cultural contexts which are indispensable for
an understanding of the literary works and other culturally significant texts.
Philology thus comprises the study of the grammar, rhetoric, history,
interpretation of authors, and critical traditions associated with a given
language. Such a wide-ranging definition is becoming rare, and
"philology" tends to refer to a study of texts from the perspective
of historical linguistics.
more restricted sense of "historical linguistics", philology was one
of the 19th century's first scientific approaches to human language but gave
way to the modern science of linguistics in the early 20th century due to the
influence of Ferdinand de Saussure, who argued that the spoken language should
have primacy. In the United States, the American Journal of Philology was
founded in 1880 by Basil Lanneau Gildersleeve, a professor of Classics at Johns
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
Radical philology is a contemporary
re-appropriation of a centuries-old tradition of scholarly interaction with the
materiality of texts. In its main outlines, radical philology diverges from
mainstream philology in its understanding of the relationship between textual
scholarship and literary interpretation. While main-stream philology uses the
fruits of textual research as "evidence" for broader, more abstract
claims, radical philology sees textual research as an end in itself.
Philology also includes elements of textual criticism, trying to
reconstruct an ancient author's original text based on variant manuscript
copies. A related study method, known as higher criticism, which studies the
authorship, date, and provenance of texts, can prove invaluable in these
attempts, but also is informed by them.
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 the content of the text has a significant political
or religious influence (such as the reconstruction of early versions of
Christian gospels), it is difficult to find neutral or honest conclusions.
Another branch of philology is the decipherment of ancient writing
systems, which had spectacular successes in the 19th century involving Egyptian
and Assyrian. 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.
on the ancient languages of the Near East progressed rapidly. In the mid-19th
century, Henry Rawlinson and others deciphered the Behistun Inscription, 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.
the ancient Aegean, Linear B 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 decipherment, despite many attempts.
still continues on scripts such as Maya hieroglyphics (with great progress made
in the late 20th century), and on Etruscan.