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Philology

Philology is the study of ancient texts and languages. The term originally meant a love (Greek philo-) of learning and literature (Greek -logia). 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.

One branch of philology is historical linguistics. Similarities between Sanskrit and European languages were first noted in the early 18th century and led to the discovery of Proto-Indo-European. Philology's interest in ancient languages led to the study of what were in the 19th century "exotic" languages for the light they could cast on problems in understanding and deciphering the origins of older texts.

Philology also includes textual criticism, which tries to reconstruct an ancient author's original text based on manuscript copies. Higher criticism is the study of the authorship, date, and provenance of texts.

Another branch of philology is the decipherment of ancient writing systems, which had spectacular successes in the 19th century involving Egyptian and Assyrian. A list of decipherments:

Quotations

Philologists, who chase
A panting syllable through time and space,
Start it at home, and hunt it in the dark,
To Gaul, to Greece, and into Noah's ark.
William Cowper, 'Retirement' (1782)



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