In most simple terms, philology is a study of words. Words that get to be spoken, words that get to be written, words as they happen to become human thinking matter. Words in texts old and words in texts new: if you think about this profession, you need to be fond of words, and this is what the name means — the Greek philos and logos together have been to convey one who is fond of words.

Humanity has complicated the philological matter. History, philosophy, and politics thrown into the same goblet, here comes Friedrich Nietzsche, even without an energetic stir. In another cup, politics, fable, and war amalgamated into the bubbly tales by J.R.R. Tolkien. It would have been a tumbler, where politics brimmed into the Proto-Indo-European theory by William Jones, without foot or stem.


The mixtures did not make an agreeable entity, as the idea was for the American melting pot, and well, philology got more than adulterated. It is not a philological study at all, to propose an Übermensch. An honest lexicographer might shrug to a theory there is a universal instinct. A reliable etymologist might frown to an “ancestor” language, if words for men, women, children, and houses do not sound even similar (feel welcome to READ).


Particular philological curricula may vary, but there is nothing Nietzschean about library training, history and theory of literature, or British and American literary scopes. Tolkien’s “universal instinct” may look faint, if we take the history of English language, along with descriptive or contrastive grammars. History of England or USA would not support the idea, either. Finally, one ancestor language will have little hold in the light of practical, modern English: phonetics, grammar, study and translation of written and spoken language, as it is today.


Outside the box or cup, people are people, and ideas by persons should not make for judgment on philology overall. Just as we do not ask another baker for a refund, if the local bread is too salty, our assessment on philological works should be individual as well.


J. R. R. Tolkien wrote “the philological instinct” was “universal as is the use of language”. Wikipedia, Tolkien, J. R. R. (1923). “Philology: General Works”. The Year’s Work of English Studies. 4 (1): 36–37. doi:10.1093/ywes/IV.1.20.


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