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The study of changes over time in a particular language or language family. (A person who conducted such studies was known as a philologist.) Now more commonly known as historical linguistics.


From the Greek, "fond of learning or of words"


  • "Hardly any academic research was taking place into grammar in the early decades of the [twentieth] century in Britain. And the academic work which was being done--the historical study of the language, or philology--was considered to be irrelevant to children whose primary need was literacy. Philology was particularly repugnant to teachers of English literature, who found it a dry and dusty subject."
    (David Crystal, The Fight for English. Oxford University Press, 2006)

  • "If the nineteenth was the century in which language was 'discovered,' the twentieth is the century in which language was enthroned. The nineteenth century took language apart in several senses: it learned how to look at language as an amalgam of sounds and hence how to study sounds; it came to understand the significance of variety in language; and it established language as a separate study, not part of history or of literature. Philology was called 'the nourishing parent of other studies' at best.

    "It was when the other studies, notably new ones like anthropology, began in their turn to nourish philology that linguistics emerged. The new study became unlike its origins: as the century wore on, linguistics began to put language back together again. It became interested in the way sounds amalgamate to form words and words combine into sentences; it came to understand the universals beyond the apparent variety in language; and it reintegrated language with other studies, notably philosophy and psychology."
    (W.F. Bolton, A Living Language: The History and Structure of English. Random House, 1982)
Pronunciation: fi-LOL-eh-gee
Also Known As: historical linguistics
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