AskDefine | Define philologist

Dictionary Definition

philologist n : a humanist specializing in classical scholarship [syn: philologue]

User Contributed Dictionary



  1. One who engages in philology; a collector of words and their etymologies.


Extensive Definition

see comparative linguistics for the narrower field of "comparative philology".
Philology, derived from the Greek (philologia, from the terms philos meaning "loved, beloved, dear, friend" and logos "word, articulation, reason") is a branch of the human sciences dealing with language and literature, specifically a literary canon, combining aspects of grammar, rhetoric, historical linguistics (etymology and language change), interpretation of authors, textual criticism and the critical traditions associated with a given language.
Philology considers both form and meaning in linguistic expression, combining linguistics and literary studies.
Classical philology is the philology of the Greek and Latin and languages. Classical philology is historically primary, originating in European Renaissance Humanism, but was soon joined by philologies of other languages both European (Germanic, Celtic, Slavic 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 in comparison. 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 post-structuralism and Chomskian linguistics with its heavy emphasis on spoken language (performance) and syntax.

The term

The term philology itself enters the English language in the 16th century, from the Middle French philologie, in the sense of "love of literature". The Latin term philologia could mean "love of learning", like the original Greek term, , which described love of learning, of literature as well as of argument and reasoning, reflecting range of activities included under the notion of . 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 and text editing

Philology also includes the close study of texts and their history. It includes elements of textual criticism, trying to reconstruct an author's original text based on variant manuscript copies. This branch of research arose in Biblical studies and has a long tradition, dating back to the Reformation. Scholars have tried to reconstruct the original readings of the Bible from the manuscript variants that have come down to us. This method was then applied to Classical Studies and to medieval texts for the reconstruction of the author's original. This 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 variants.
A related study method, known as higher criticism, which studies the authorship, date, and provenance of texts, places a text in a 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 the content of the 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 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 readings, hence damaging the reliability of the data. Supporters of New Philology insist on a strict diplomatic, that is, faithful rendering of the text exactly as it is found in the manuscript, without emendations.


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 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.
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 hieroglyphics (with great progress made in the 20th century by the scholar Yuri Knorozov) and Etruscan (deciphered most completely by the scholar Svetislav Bilbija of the Institute of Etruscan Studies in Chicago).


philologist in Arabic: فيلولوجيا
philologist in Bengali: সাংস্কৃতিক ভাষাতত্ত্ব
philologist in Bosnian: Filologija
philologist in Bulgarian: Филология
philologist in Catalan: Filologia
philologist in Czech: Filologie
philologist in Welsh: Ieitheg
philologist in Danish: Filologi
philologist in German: Philologie
philologist in Estonian: Filoloogia
philologist in Modern Greek (1453-): Φιλολογία
philologist in Spanish: Filología
philologist in Esperanto: Filologio
philologist in Basque: Filologia
philologist in French: Philologie
philologist in Friulian: Filologjie
philologist in Galician: Filoloxía
philologist in Croatian: Filologija
philologist in Ido: Filologio
philologist in Indonesian: Filologi
philologist in Interlingua (International Auxiliary Language Association): Philologia
philologist in Ossetian: Филологи
philologist in Icelandic: Textafræði
philologist in Italian: Filologia
philologist in Hebrew: פילולוגיה
philologist in Georgian: ფილოლოგია
philologist in Latin: Philologia
philologist in Lithuanian: Filologija
philologist in Hungarian: Filológia
philologist in Macedonian: Филологија
philologist in Dutch: Filologie
philologist in Japanese: 文献学
philologist in Norwegian: Filologi
philologist in Occitan (post 1500): Filologia
philologist in Piemontese: Filologìa
philologist in Polish: Filologia
philologist in Portuguese: Filologia
philologist in Russian: Филология
philologist in Slovak: Filológia
philologist in Slovenian: Filologija
philologist in Serbian: Филологија
philologist in Serbo-Croatian: Filologija
philologist in Finnish: Filologia
philologist in Swedish: Filologi
philologist in Thai: นิรุกติศาสตร์
philologist in Vietnamese: Văn hiến học
philologist in Turkish: Filoloji
philologist in Ukrainian: Філологія
philologist in Chinese: 文字学

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

academician, bookman, classicist, clerk, colossus of knowledge, dialectician, etymologer, etymologist, genius, giant of learning, glossarist, glossographer, grammarian, grammaticaster, grammatist, humanist, learned clerk, learned man, lexicographer, lexicologist, linguist, linguistic scholar, linguistic scientist, linguistician, literary man, litterateur, lover of learning, man of learning, man of letters, mastermind, mine of information, orthoepist, paleographer, philologaster, philologer, philologian, philologue, philomath, philosophe, philosopher, phonemicist, phonetician, phoneticist, phonologist, polyhistor, polymath, pundit, savant, scholar, scholastic, schoolman, semanticist, semasiologist, student, walking encyclopedia
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