Sunday, September 14, 2014

"Oriental" Jones, Philologist

REVIEW IN THE WASHINGTON POST: ‘Philology’ by James Turner explains what happened to a discipline that flourished.

The Forgotten Origins of the Modern Humanities

By James Turner

Princeton Univ. 550 pp. $35

What do such disparate fields as linguistics, archaeology, religion, anthropology, classics and English literature have in common? Each commands its own academic department; each abounds in specialties and sub-specialties, professional societies, conferences and journals. (Not to mention junior faculty straining for tenure.) If anything else unites these disciplines, it’s the tag “humanities” — and the frequent rumor that they’re in crisis.

That’s not all they share, Notre Dame professor James Turner reveals in his deft intellectual history. These disciplines, and many more, sprang from the same scholarly impulse: philology, defined broadly as a penchant for close reading of texts, for discerning patterns and relationships across languages and cultures and for illuminating the historical milieu that produces a work of art or literature.

What became of this zest? Philology literally means, after all, “love of words” or “love of learning.” How did it survive from antiquity to the mid-1800s, morph into the modern humanities, and why, according to Turner, has the practice of philology gone “underground” in our day?

"Underground" can be cool.

And yes, there really was a guy they called "Oriental" Jones and, according to this review, he was the first one to come up with the concept of Proto-Indo-European, which is quite important:
Bentley’s prophecy bore partial fruit in the work of Sir William Jones, known in his day as “Persian” Jones or “Oriental” Jones. When, in 1783, he arrived in India to take a Calcutta judgship, Jones commanded 11 ancient and modern languages, and had a smattering of “about fifteen others.” Jones hypothesized that there once existed a single, ancestral language, which scholars since have dubbed Proto-Indo-European. The daring of this concept had huge implications for philologists. Grammarians “no longer analyzed only the histories of individual languages or closely related ones, seen in isolation,” Turner explains. “They now also began to contrast grammatical and lexical change over time in quite diverse languages believed to be related over vast spans of time and space.” ...