Philology

 
 Google Ngram of  philology

Google Ngram of philology

What makes the graph take this shape?

And does the concept philology mean the same thing every year (or indeed, in all the mentions within each year)?

This is the basic question of my research.

 Tree diagram of 'Indo-Germanic' languages. August Schleicher, 1861.

Tree diagram of 'Indo-Germanic' languages. August Schleicher, 1861.

What was philology?

Philology is often taken to be a kind of proto-linguistics. Or it is understood as a synonym for textual criticism.

But this is only part of what philology was.

These definitions of philology are examples of the historian's fallacy. The historian's fallacy is when we over-emphasise those elements of the past which appear to foreshadow elements of the present, and ignore those elements which do not.

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philology as discourse on knowledge

Philology was foremost a way of talking about the organisation of knowledge. It should be as associated with the encyclopaedia as with the grammar book. The prominent encyclopaedist Benjamin Martin (1704-1782) was also a philologist.

Philology was interested in how knowledge of and from the different societies of the world might be reconciled. It was partially an attempt to cope with the vast amounts of information gathered by agents in the colonial sphere.

Philology has a built-in 'slipperiness' which has made it hard for us to know what it was.

 A page from one of Charles Darwin's notebooks.

A page from one of Charles Darwin's notebooks.

Philology and Science

In Origin of Species (1859) Darwin wrote that the best arrangement for representing the relationships between natural species was the same as that representing the relationships between languages. We know this as the Tree model.

Darwin's notebooks evince his keen interest in philology throughout his life. Part of my research involves investigating the relationships between philology and science during the nineteenth century. In what sense, if any, did philological study approach scientific status? How did models like the tree model cross-pollinate between the two discursive fields?