Spring 201760 / 63

The Program in World Philology (PWP) aims to unite Columbia scholars across departments and schools around the discipline-based study of texts. Philology, defined over the course of its history as everything from text criticism to “slow reading” to “all erudition in language,” is at base the discipline of making sense of texts. Under this description philology is almost as old as the production of written texts themselves. Over time it has proven to be as central to knowledge as mathematics or philosophy, and its methods, like theirs, have similarly been adopted in other disciplines.


A perennial preoccupation in the study of early writing systems is the degree to which these earliest forms of written communication reflect speech.  Nowhere is this concern more keenly present than in study of the earliest writing from Mesopotamia, known as proto-cuneiform, for which the vast gulf that separates speech from writing raises questions about the very language that underlies the script.  

  • Stephen Chrisomalis, Associate Professor, Wayne State University

In his 1935 book The psycho-biology of language, the linguist George Kingsley Zipf introduced the concept of dynamic philology, which he hoped would integrate the formal and quantifiable aspects of the psychological sciences with the philologist's concern with the social and cultural contexts of speakers, writers, and their linguistic productions. Yet Zipf's modern impact has largely been in large-scale statistical analyses of word frequencies in corpus linguistics and psycholinguistics, while many humanists are rightly skeptical of anything calling itself philology that is divorced from social context. The present paper uses material from the study of numeral systems - a core subject of traditional philology - to propose a different configuration of "dynamic philology".  

View the full history of lectures for The Program in World Philology.


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