Philology is the study of ancient languages and written texts, with a focus on their history and development. A person who specializes in the study of ancient texts and tries to understand their meaning while establishing their authenticity is called a philologist. The word philology is defined literally as the love of words.
Philology is similar in some ways to linguistics. Philology concerns itself with the study of the literary and historical source of the written text, and is a combination of historical, linguistic and literary analysis. In contrast, linguistics is concerned with the study of the form and meaning of the actual language in context. Philologists examine the humanistic aspects of language and literature, while linguists are concerned with the scientific aspects of language. Simply put, a philologist analyzes the entire text as a unit, whereas a linguist breaks down the form and anatomy of language.
Today, philology does not emphasize literary understanding and interpretation, but rather is involved in trying to figure out, understand and analyze texts and comprehend language through their written texts. A philologist may be studying texts in languages that are barely understood and not spoken anymore. The only thing about the language that is known is the textual record. An example of philological analysis was the deciphering of the Rosetta Stone in 1822, which ushered in the translation of Egyptian hieroglyphics. The job of the philologist can be rather difficult due to the poor quality of the records and to the difficult writing styles and spelling of ancient scribes and authors.
There are various branches of philology. Comparative philology concerns itself with the relationship and comparison of different languages. Similarities in ancient languages were first discovered in the early 16th century with the discovery of texts of ancient European and Sanskrit languages. This led to the identification of Proto-Indo-European as a common philological ancestry, and the deciphering of many older and exotic languages and texts. Philologists and linguists can use the comparative method to determine the roots of words in closely related languages.
Another branch of philology is called textual philology editing or textual criticism, which concerns itself with the analysis of texts and their history. It tries to rebuild or reconstruct original texts by comparing other copies or texts by the same author. This branch of philology has its origins in Biblical studies and dates back to the Reformation, when scholars used different manuscripts to reconstruct the original Bible. This method was adapted to the restoration of medieval texts.
The system led to the creation of what is called "critical apparatus" or footnotes, which listed all the available documents to help scholars obtain insights into the manuscript. Related to textual criticism is the field of higher criticism, which concentrates on determining the author, date and origin of an historical text. As these fields of study are so closely related, it is often difficult to differentiate between them.
Another branch of philology, cognitive philology, concerns itself with studying oral and written texts, viewing them as a consequence of the human thinking process. In cognitive philology, the effects brought about by textual science are compared with the effects brought about by experimental research into artificial intelligence and psychology.
Etymology is also a branch of philology, as it concerns itself with the history of words, specifically the source of a particular word, changes in the word's meaning and form, and the time and place of its entry into a language. Many words are known as "loanwords," because the speakers of one language adopted them from another language. This could occur through phono-semantic-matching, in which words in two languages have the same sound. Finally, the branch of philology called decipherment concerns itself with decoding and understanding ancient and historical texts.