Tuesday, June 13, 2017
"Philology" by James Turner (Initial Comments)
James Turner has written a work that's informative, dense, comprehensive and sometimes pleasurable. It is Philology: The Forgotten Origins of the Modern Humanities (Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2014). A friend gifted me a copy: I will ever be indebted to him. Turner's book not only illuminates the work of philology and how the humanities developed, but it also contains material that should interest students of the Hebrew-Aramaic and Greek Bible.
What is philology? How should the term be defined? One philologist told me (quoting another source) that philology is the art of reading slowly. Turner says philology covers three distinct modes of research: 1) textual philology; 2) theories of the origin and nature of language; 3) comparative language studies and how they developed including their respective language families. Examples include classical and biblical studies, studies of Sanskrit literature, and etymological or dialectal analyses. By means of such investigations, Proto-Indo-European was discovered.
Turner emphasizes that philology is inherently historical and comparative: all philological approaches use historical methods and they compare texts in the light of other texts and contexts. So, for instance, philologists examine Greek literature through the prism of Sanskrit texts or other Indo-European languages. They believe that Greek texts can only be understood or illuminated by this kind of historical and comparative approach. A.T. Robertson insists: "there is no doubt about DIA being kin to DUO, DIS. (cf. Sanskrit DVIS, Greek DIS, b = v or U); German ZWEI; English two (fem. and neut.), twain (masc.), twi-ce, twi-light, be-tween, two-fold, etc." See A Grammar of the Greek New Testament in the Light of Historical Research, page 580. Similarly, for Hebrew-Aramaic, a number of Semitic languages are consulted in order to shed light on biblical texts. All such work is part of the philological task.
Since reading Turner's research, I have started wondering exactly what philology is. While the word itself (according to its components) means "love of words" or "love of learning," the term has come to signify something deeper. There is no one universal definition of philology, but a consensus seems to have developed that the object of knowledge in philological studies is language/languages--"the branch of knowledge that deals with the structure, historical development, and relationships of a language or languages" (Oxford dictionaries). Apparently, North Americans understand the task of philology to be the study of literary or classical texts while using the aforementioned historical or comparative methods. I notice that one can still earn a Ph.D. in classical philology from Harvard.
In the coming months, I want to discuss specific contents from Turner's study. For now, I will just say one thing that caught my attention while reading this book was the preoccupation with textual criticism that philologists have. In other words, they want to establish the original reading of a text. Furthermore, something distinguishes philologists from linguists. Exactly what are the criteria that make one a linguist rather than a philologist?