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date: 20 April 2024



  • Harry LönnrothHarry LönnrothDepartment of Language and Communication Studies, University of Jyväskylä


Philology—from the Greek words philologi’ā < philos “friend” and logos “word”—is a multi-faceted field of scholarship within the humanities which in its widest sense focuses on questions of time, history, and literature—with language as the common denominator. Philology is both an academic discipline—there is classical philology, Romance philology, Scandinavian philology, etc.—and a scholarly perspective on language, literature, and culture. The roots of philology go back all the way to the Library of Alexandria, Egypt, where philology began to evolve into a field of scholarship around 300 bce. In Alexandria, the foundations of philology were laid for centuries to come, for example as regards one of its major branches, textual criticism. A characteristic feature of philology past and present is that it focuses on texts in time from an interdisciplinary point of view, which is why philology as an umbrella term is relevant for many fields of scholarship in the 21st century. According to a traditional definition, a philologist is interested in the relationship between language and culture, and by means of language, he or she aims to understand the characteristics of the culture the language reflects. From this point of view, language is mainly a medium. In the analysis of (mostly very old) texts, a philologist often crosses disciplinary borders of different kinds—anthropology, archaeology, ethnology, folkloristics, history, etc.—and makes use of other special fields within manuscript studies, such as codicology (the archaeology of the book), diplomatics (the analysis of documents), paleography (the study of handwriting), philigranology (watermarks), and sphragistics (seals). For a philologist, texts and their languages and contents bear witness to past times, and the philologist’s perspective is often a wide one. The expertise of a philologist is the ability to analyze texts in their cultural-historical contexts, not only from a linguistic perspective (which is a prerequisite for a deep understanding of a text), but also from a cultural and historical perspective, and to explain the role of a text in its cultural-historical setting. In the course of history, philologists have made several contributions to our knowledge of ancient and medieval texts and writing, for example. In the 2010s, the focus in philology is for example on the so-called New Philology or Material Philology and digital philology, but the core of philology remains the same: philology is the art of reading slowly.


  • Literary Theory

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