Philology, derived from the Greek φιλολογία (philologia, from the terms φίλος philos meaning "loved, beloved, dear, friend" and λόγος logos "word, articulation, reason") is a branch of the human sciences dealing with language and literature, specifically a literary canon, combining aspects of grammar, rhetoric, historical linguistics (etymology and language change), interpretation of authors, textual criticism and the critical traditions associated with a given language.
Classical philology is the philology of the Greek, Latin and Sanskrit languages. Classical philology is historically primary, originating in European Renaissance Humanism, but was soon joined by philologies of other languages both European (Germanic, Celtic, Slavic etc.) and non-European (Sanskrit, Oriental languages such as Persian or Arabic, Chinese etc.). Indo-European studies involves the philology of all Indo-European languages as comparative studies. Any classical language can be studied philologically, and indeed describing a language as "classical" is to imply the existence of a philological tradition associated with it.
Because of its focus on historical development (diachronic analysis), philology came to be used as a term contrasting with linguistics. This is due to a 20th century development triggered by Ferdinand de Saussure's insistence on the importance of synchronic analysis, and the later emergence of structuralism and Chomskian linguistics with its heavy emphasis on spoken language (performance) and syntax.
As an allegory of literary erudition, Philologia appears in 5th century post-classical literature (Martianus Capella, De nuptiis Philologiae et Mercurii), an idea revived in Late Medieval literature (Chaucer, Lydgate).
The meaning of "love of learning and literature" was narrowed to "the study of the historical development of languages" (historical linguistics) in 19th century usage of the term due to the rapid progresses made in understanding sound laws and language change, the "golden age of philology", taken to last throughout the 19th century, or "from Friedrich Schlegel to Nietzsche". In British English usage, and in British academia, "philology" remains largely synonymous with "historical linguistics", while in US English, and US academia, the wider meaning of "study of a language's grammar, history and literary tradition" remains more widespread.
A related study method, known as higher criticism, which studies the authorship, date, and provenance of texts, places a text in a historical context. These philological issues are often inseparable from issues of interpretation, and thus there is no clear-cut boundary between philology and hermeneutics. As such, when the content of the text has a significant political or religious influence (such as the reconstruction of Biblical texts), it is difficult to find 'objective' conclusions.
As a result, some scholars avoid all critical methods of textual philology. Especially in historical linguistics it is important to study the actually recorded materials. The movement known as New Philology has rejected textual criticism because it injects editorial interpretations into the text and destroys the integrity of the individual manuscript readings, hence damaging the reliability of the data. Supporters of New Philology insist on a strict diplomatic, that is, faithful rendering of the text exactly as it is found in the manuscript, without emendations.
Work on the ancient languages of the Near East progressed rapidly. In the mid-19th century, Henry Rawlinson and others deciphered the Behistun Inscription, which records the same text in Old Persian, Elamite, and Akkadian, using a variation of cuneiform for each language. The understanding of cuneiform script led to the decipherment of Sumerian. Hittite was deciphered in 1915 by Bedřich Hrozný.
Linear B, a language used in the ancient Aegean, was deciphered in 1952 by Michael Ventris, who demonstrated that the script recorded an early form of Greek, now known as Mycenaean Greek. Linear A, the writing system which records the still unknown language of the Minoans, resists deciphering, despite many attempts.