What is Philology Historical background and Fields of application


Philology, Science that deals with the study of written texts , through which it tries to reconstruct, as faithfully as possible, the original texts with the support of the culture that underlies them. The philologist uses, therefore, the study of language , literature and other written manifestations, insofar as they constitute the expression of a specific cultural community. From the Latin philologĭa and this from the Greek φιλολογία , “ love or interest in words”. Alternatively, philology may be a term used before the 20th century for what is now understood as the linguistics .

It is the scientific study of the manifestations of the peoples, through language and literary works . Philology is a specialization that allows knowing a language. This includes its writing, development, grammar , history , varieties, and peculiarities. It’s not an exact science… since the rules of a language are created and changed over time, what is a correct text today would not have been correct 200 years ago. It is the science that studies the language , literature and all the cultural phenomena of a town or group of towns through the written texts that it has produced. It is the technique of reconstructing, fixing or interpreting ancient texts.

What does philology study?

Philology studies written texts. Through these written texts, the philologist can shed light to better understand and learn about a culture. Therefore philology is a tool for historians, sociologists, linguists.

Example. Historians need to consult archives, ancient texts. Many of these texts would be incomprehensible without philology. Perhaps the text is written in a language that is no longer spoken, or an ancient variant of a modern language. Philology helps to reconstruct the text and interpret it.

He is the person who studies this science and therefore has devoted his time and effort to specialize in a language. He is someone who must write and speakin the language in which he is an expert better than the average speaker, since it is his field of study. Once he has completed his studies, a person who speaks and writes perfectly, in addition to having a wide cultural background due to all the books he has read, has many doors open. It is up to each one to make a difference in a world where too many people who should be dedicating themselves to what would have really made them happy get into university without having clear ideas about the goals they plan to achieve… simply by continuing to study. .. which is what has to be done according to the rules set by an environment full of complexes and false expectations.

A philologist has related fields where he can develop. Of these the closest is journalism . Writing articles is something for which a philologist is even more qualified than a journalist, since writing is his specialty Politics is another professional path where knowing how to use the right words and expressing our ideas becomes vital, although most do not perceive it that way and law has always been the career that politicians had… in an environment where they prevail speeches, eloquent words and the ability to debate, a philologist is more in his element than a lawyer.

The business world, depending on which fields, demands more studies of letters than of business… for example, in Advertising, where slogans are created, advertising messages that reach the client are developed, where words are worked to attract the public, to provoke favorable reactions.

Historical background

In Greek culture the term philology had several meanings, although the one that conceived the philologist as someone dedicated to the explanation of texts from all possible points of view was gaining ground, an activity that began as a noble hobby cultivated with more or less success. but always in an unprofessional way. The first philologists in the modern sense were the Alexandrians (3rd century BC), disciples of the sophists, whose most outstanding representative is Aristophanes of Byzantium (3rd century BC), founder of a method that his disciple Aristarchus of Samothrace, director of the Library of Alexandria , applied, later, to the study of Homer ‘s poems

These first philologists developed, in the Library of Alexandria, an important editorial activity, focused on copying the manuscripts of the most important and representative authors of the past, whose texts were cleaned of errors and interpreted in accordance with certain rules.

In the hands of the Alexandrians, philology thus became a set of systematic and ordered knowledge, although broad and shallow, since the philologist had to possess not only linguistic and literary knowledge, but also historical, geographical, artistic, rhetorical knowledge. , etc. That is why he was considered the ideal person both to explain the texts and to rebuild, modernize and restore them. Thus, philology begins by dealing, on the one hand, with the correct reading of the texts and, on the other, with the fixation, purification and exegesis of the same. 

The experiences acquired and the materials used in this activity are collected in lexicons, repertoires, inventories, etc. Philology becomes, thus, in the Alexandrian age,grammar , rhetoric, history , epigraphy , numismatics , bibliography , metrics, etc. The philologists trained in this way are, par excellence, cultured men who bring together, even superficially, the knowledge of their time.

Philology in the classical Latin period

Rome assimilated the methods of the Caesarians and continued the work undertaken by them; It was the case of Varro (1st century BC), for example. In imperial times, those who study, criticize and comment on the masterpieces of Latin culture proliferate, calling themselves philologists or grammarians, a voice that will gradually supplant the first until it disappears.

 In effect, the term philology was rarely used in the Late Empire, coinciding with the decline of studies of this type, which almost completely disappeared from this moment on and throughout the Middle Ages . Despite this, the figures of the Latin Servius Macrobius ( 4th century ) and, much later, the Byzantine Photius ( 9th century) can still be highlighted.); The edition of the Byzantine Suidas ( X century ) following Alexandrian methods can also be highlighted.

Philology in Humanism

With the advent of the Renaissance and, above all, of Humanism , philological activity was reborn with new vigor, spurred, above all, by the appearance of the printing press and the publication of classic texts in this new medium. Thus, during the fifteenth century , Italians such as Aldo Manuzio or Angelo Poliziano dedicated themselves to the study of the classics, whose style they imitated and whose texts they edited. In the 16th century, VICTOR can be highlighted as Jules César Scaliger or Henri Estienne, who made critical editions of classic texts, pointing out the different critical variants, or the Dutch Erasmus of Rotterdam , among others.

Fields of application

Philology has had and has various tasks:

  • Language comparison. Since the 19th century , comparative philology has been concerned with studying the relationship between different languages. In this way, the similarities between Sanskrit and the European languages ​​observed for the first time at the beginning of the 16th century led to speculation about the possibility of the existence of a common earlier language from which they all came, Proto-Indo-European.
  • Reconstruction of texts. Philological science also deals with the reconstruction of the original texts of an author, based on the study of the different copies of manuscripts that are preserved. Likewise, it deals with determining the authorship of a text, its date of composition, its origin, etc. This is the case, for example, of the reconstruction of the first versions of the Christian gospels.
  • Ecdotics or textual edition, and literary interpretation. The philological activity has also focused on the edition of texts by classical and modern authors, accompanying these with the corresponding critical apparatus, which seeks to explain to the reader the cultural and vital background that underlies the text.

classical philology

Classical or ancient philology is considered a branch of philosophy and studies literary elements from classical antiquity. This branch incorporates Greek and Latin philology.

Classical philology had its origins as a science in the Renaissance, and arose thanks to an affinity with Greco-Latin culture.

Romance philology

The object of study of Romance philology is the transformations that occurred from Vulgar Latin in Romance languages, such as Portuguese and Spanish.

In the 19th century, the methodology used by classical philology was applied to other languages, and as a consequence, Romance, Germanic, Hispanic philology, etc.

Philology and Linguistics

Philology and linguistics have the same data studying phenomena such as wind, temperature, pressure and humidity, among others. It is also its object of study: language. However, these two sciences also have differences, because while linguistics focuses more on language in its practical aspect, philology focuses on the reconstruction of ancient literary texts.

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