“Philology is the art of reading slowly.”
– Calvert Watkins’ teacher’s teacher’s teacher[8, p.25]

Philology originally meant “love for language”. It’s a combination of philo- “loving” and logos “word, speech”.[2] Nowadays, philology is commonly defined as “the study of language, especially in an historical context”. That last definition is one I created based on the definition listed below. Philology seems to me to be difficult to define, as it’s distinct from linguistics, diplomatics, and paleography, but it incorporates bits and pieces of each of those studies, or perhaps you could say each of those studies incorporates bits and pieces of philology. This is where the difficulty in defining philology rests.

Despite the difficulties in determining what philology is, it has been held in the highest regards by many, Turner for example:

“Philology reigned as king of the sciences, the pride of the first great modern universities—those that grew up in Germany in the eighteenth and earlier nineteenth centuries. Philology inspired the most advanced humanistic studies in the United States and the United Kingdom in the decades before 1850 and sent its generative currents through the intellectual life of Europe and America. It meant far more than the study of old texts. Philology referred to all studies of language, of specific languages, and (to be sure) of texts. Its explorations ranged from the religion of ancient Israel through the lays of medieval troubadours to the tongues of American Indians—and to rampant theorizing about the origin of language itself.”
– James Turner (2014)[2]

Philology Definitions

“Philology might be defined as the knowledge of the language of the sources to be used; but nowadays it has a much wider sense. In its broadest sense it embraces the entire group of sciences which help to make known the life of a people, even before their entrance into the pages of history.”[1, p.360]
The Catholic Historical Review, Vol. 1, No. 3 (Oct., 1915)

Samuel Johnson’s 1755 Dictionary of the English Language does not include the word “philology”.[4]

Webster’s 1828 Dictionary does include philology and defines it as:[28]
1 – “Primarily, a love of words, or a desire to know the origin and construction of language. In a more general sense”
2 – “That branch of literature which comprehends a knowledge of the etymology or origin and combination of words; grammar, the construction of sentences or use of words in language; criticism, the interpretation of authors, the affinities of different languages, and whatever relates to the history or present state of languages. It sometimes includes rhetoric, poetry, history and antiquities.”

Lexico defines philology as “The branch of knowledge that deals with the structure, historical development, and relationships of a language or languages.”[3]

Merriam-Webster defines philology as:[5]
1 – the study of literature and of disciplines relevant to literature or to language as used in literature
2a – Linguistics, especially historical and comparative linguistics
2b – the study of human speech especially as the vehicle of literature and as a field of study that sheds light on cultural history defines philology as:[6]
1 – the study of literary texts and of written records, the establishment of their authenticity and their original form, and the determination of their meaning.
2 – (especially in older use) linguistics, especially historical and comparative linguistics.
3 – Obsolete. the love of learning and literature.

Collins Dictionary:[7]
“Philology is the study of words, especially the history and development of the words in a particular language or group of languages.”

Lexico defined it as:[29]
1 – “The branch of knowledge that deals with the structure, historical development, and relationships of a language or languages.”
1.1 – “Literary or classical scholarship.”

“In the work of Willebrord Snellius (Snel van Royen, 1580-1626) and Jacob Golius (Gool, 1596-1667) philology was at the core of mathematics.”
– Fokko Jan Dijksterhuis (2012)[11, p.73]

“Philology underpinned the metrological and astronomical empiricism of Eratosthenes Batavus as well as the geometrical analysis of Apollonius Batavus.”
– Fokko Jan Dijksterhuis (2012)[11, p.79]

“Then came philology. … Language is not the unique object of philology. The task of philology is above all to establish, interpret, and comment upon texts. This just concern leads philology to concern itself with literary history, customs, institutions, etc. … Everywhere it makes use of its own method, which is textual criticism. But philology is deficient in one point: it is too slavishly attached to the written word and forgets spoken language; and besides it is almost exclusively concerned with Greek and Latin antiquity.”
– Ferdinand de Saussure (1922)[8, pp.21-22]

Saussure’s quote above goes to show the change which occurred in philology in the 20th century. Philology opened up to include all languages instead of just ancient Greek and Latin.

“To determine linguistic states of the past, the linguist must employ the most exact and the most precise philology. Every advance in philological precision permits new progress for the linguist. … But by itself philology cannot bring even a beginning of linguistic history.”
– Antoine Meillet (1925)[8, p.22]

Meillet’s quote somewhat highlights the way linguistics and philology compliment each other. Linguists use philological methods, but philology alone isn’t sufficient for determining the history of language.

“The term philology, in British and older American usage, is applied not only to the study of culture (especially through literary documents), but also to linguistics. It is important to distinguish between philology … and linguistics … since the two studies have little in common.”
– Leonard Bloomfield (1933)[8, p.23]

Philology had been, until the 18th century, an obsolete byword for well-read but useless erudition, while etymology was notorious for giving free-reign to speculative analogy-hunting between unrelated but superficially similar words from different languages.”
– Joep Leerssen (2012)[11, p.23]

In 1725, Giambattista Vico seriously impacted future philological studies. Although the people who developed these studies generally followed Vico’s vision, the majority of them were completely ignorant of anything about Vico. They didn’t know his name, when he lived, or what he did.[11, pp.23-24]

“By the 1820’s, the notion of philology was being enshrined as the very core of what the humanities were all about.”
– Joep Leerssen (2012)[11, p.24]

Philology Etymology

Lexico reports the origin of the word as being: “Late Middle English (in the Greek sense): current usage (late 17th century) from French philologie, via Latin from Greek philologia ‘love of learning’(see philo-, -logy).”[3] reports the origin of philology as: “1350–1400; Middle English philologie<Latin philologia<Greek philología love of learning and literature, equivalent to philólog(os) literary, studious, argumentative + -ia-y3. See philo-, -logy”[6]

Late 14th century – “philologie, “love of learning and literature; personification of linguistic and literary knowledge,” from Latin philologia “love of learning, love of letters, love of study, literary culture,” from Greek philologia “love of discussion, learning, and literature; studiousness,” in later use “learning” in a wider sense, from philo- “loving” (see philo-) + logos “word, speech” (see Logos).”[2]

1522 – The word philology is first used.[5]

1590’s – philologue, “linguist”[2]

1650’s – philologer, “linguistic scholar”[2]

By 1716 – “The meaning “science of language” is attested”.[2]

The Father of Philology

The words “father” and “founder” are interchangeable here. The point here is to identify those individuals who have been dubbed with the title of “father” or “founder” of philology.

Father of philology, Herodotus.[26, p.148]

Founder of philology, Khalīl ibn Aḥmad (d. 791 A.C.)[23]

Lorenzo Valla (1407-1457) has been called the father of philology.[18]

Gaston-Laurent Coeurdoux (1691-1779) has been called the father of comparative philology.[19]

Sir William Jones (1746-1794), father of philology.[27, p.240]

Friedrich August Wolf (1759-1824) has been called the father of modern philology[20], and the father of philology.[21]

Paulin Paris, “father of philology and medievalism”.[25, p.9] Is this Bruno Paulin Gaston Paris (9 August 1839 – 5 March 1903)?

“In a word, if Max Müller was not the founder of philology in England, he, more than any other scholar, contributed to make it a favorite, and we may almost say popular study.”
– Léon Delbos (1900)[22, p.102]

“Hervás y Panduro, “the father of philology,” … has been credited by Professor Max Müller with “one of the most brilliant discoveries in the history of the science of language.””
– Elizabeth Boyle O’Reilly (2012)[24]

Ctruth Philology Articles

List of Philologists Born Before 1900:

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[1] – “Part I: The Auxiliary Sciences.” The Catholic Historical Review, vol. 1, no. 3, 1915, pp. 359–363. JSTOR, Accessed 3 Oct. 2020.

[2] – Accessed 5 Oct. 2020.

[3] – Accessed 5 Oct. 2020.

[4] – Accessed 5 Oct. 2020.

[5] – Accessed 5 Oct. 2020.

[6] – Accessed 5 Oct. 2020.

[7] – Accessed 5 Oct. 2020.

[8] – Watkins, Calvert. “What Is Philology?” Comparative Literature Studies, vol. 27, no. 1, 1990, pp. 21–25. JSTOR, Accessed 5 Oct. 2020.

[9] – Restall, Matthew. “A History of the New Philology and the New Philology in History.” Latin American Research Review, vol. 38, no. 1, 2003, pp. 113–134. JSTOR, Accessed 5 Oct. 2020.

[10] – Ziolkowski, Jan. “‘What Is Philology’: Introduction.” Comparative Literature Studies, vol. 27, no. 1, 1990, pp. 1–12. JSTOR, Accessed 5 Oct. 2020.

[11] – Bod, Rens, et al., editors. The Making of the Humanities: Volume II: From Early Modern to Modern Disciplines. Amsterdam University Press, 2012. JSTOR, Accessed 5 Oct. 2020.

[12] – Kelley, Donald R. “Philology and the Mirror of History.” The Journal of Interdisciplinary History, vol. 1, no. 1, 1970, pp. 125–136. JSTOR, Accessed 5 Oct. 2020.

[13] – Richardson, Peter. “The Consolation of Philology.” Modern Philology, vol. 92, no. 1, 1994, pp. 1–13. JSTOR, Accessed 5 Oct. 2020.

[14] – Leventhal, Robert S. “The Emergence of Philological Discourse in the German States, 1770-1810.” Isis, vol. 77, no. 2, 1986, pp. 243–260. JSTOR, Accessed 5 Oct. 2020.

[15] – Buck, Carl Darling. “Comparative Philology and the Classics.” Transactions and Proceedings of the American Philological Association, vol. 47, 1916, pp. 65–83. JSTOR, Accessed 5 Oct. 2020.

[16] – McMillan, James B. “Summary of Nineteenth Century Historical and Comparative Linguistics.” College Composition and Communication, vol. 5, no. 4, 1954, pp. 145–149. JSTOR, Accessed 5 Oct. 2020.

[17] – Pollock, Sheldon. “Future Philology? The Fate of a Soft Science in a Hard World.” Critical Inquiry, vol. 35, no. 4, 2009, pp. 931–961. JSTOR, Accessed 5 Oct. 2020.

[18] – Accessed 5 Oct. 2020.

[19] – Accessed 5 Oct. 2020.

[20] – Accessed 5 Oct. 2020.

[21] – Accessed 5 Oct. 2020.

[22] – Delbos, Léon. “PROFESSOR MAX MÜLLER.” The Modern Language Quarterly (1900-1904), vol. 3, no. 2, 1900, pp. 101–103. JSTOR, Accessed 5 Oct. 2020.


[24] – Elizabeth Boyle O’Reilly. “Heroic Spain.” 2012. Accessed 5 Oct. 2020.

[25] – Charles D. Bernholz. “Comparing Texts of the Okmulgee Constitution: Fourteen Instrument V Instrument Versions and Le ersions and Levenshtein enshtein’s Edit Distance Metric.” 2011. Accessed 5 Oct. 2020.

[26] – Andrew Ford. “The Origins of Criticism: Literary Culture and Poetic Theory in Classical Greece”. 2002. Accessed 5 Oct. 2020.

[27] – Majid AbdulHameed Abed. “British Orientalism and Classical Arabic Literature:
A Study in Reception, According to Jauss’s Theory.” 2016. Accessed 5 Oct. 2020.

[28] – Accessed 8 Oct. 2020.

[29] – Accessed 8 Oct. 2020.

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