The New Student's Reference Work/Philology

Philology (fĭ-lŏl′ō̇-gy̆). This word is derived from two Greek words, philos, a friend, and logos, a word; and like many other words it has varied greatly in its meaning. In the time of Plato it meant the love of discussion, confined mainly to the moral and social questions in which Plato delighted; and the method of discussion was the Socratic one of asking questions. At Alexandria the philologer gave attention to all the knowledge of his day, brought together for the first time in its great library; but the scholars of Alexandria applied themselves especially to the study of the older Greek literature. It widened again at the revival of learning to include the study of grammar, rhetoric, literature, poetry, archæology — in a word, all the “humane” studies. Since the middle of the 19th century the word has been used in a more restricted sense. Whereas philology formerly meant the study of literature, it is now limited to the study of languages, apart from the literature embodied in them. It is the science which deals with the origin, development and general structure of languages and of language as a whole. In its progress not only has great light been thrown on the origin of different languages; but they have been classified and grouped, and many languages which seemed to have no points of similarity have been traced to a common origin. Sir William Jones, the great oriental linguist, declared that “no philologer could examine Sanskrit, Greek and Latin without believing them to have sprung from the same source, which, perhaps, no longer exists. There is a similar reason, though not quite so forcible, for believing that both the Gothic and the Celtic had the same origin with the Sanskrit.” There are two main classes of languages: Those which show no signs of inflection — for example, those in which the plural of man is not formed by a vowel-change (as our men) nor by an added suffix (as in Latin homin-es), but by a combination of two words (as our man-kind); and second, those which are inflected in greater or less degree. This class is divided into two great families: the Semitic, comprising Hebrew Aramaic, Arabic, Syriac; the Indo-Germanic or Aryan family, the chief languages of which are Sanskrit, Armenian, Albanian, Latin, Celtic, Teutonic or Germanic and Slavonic. See Isaac Taylor's Origin of the Aryans.