Philology is the study of ancient texts and languages. The term originally meant a love (Greek philo-) of learning and literature (Greek -logia). Philology was one of the 19th century's first scientific approaches to human language but gave way to the modern science of linguistics in the early 20th century due to the influence of Ferdinand de Saussure, who argued that the spoken language should have primacy.
One branch of philology is historical linguistics. Similarities between Sanskrit and European languages were first noted in the early 18th century and led to the discovery of Proto-Indo-European. Philology's interest in ancient languages led to the study of what were in the 19th century "exotic" languages for the light they could cast on problems in understanding and deciphering the origins of older texts.
Philology also includes textual criticism, which tries to reconstruct an ancient author's original text based on manuscript copies. Higher criticism is the study of the authorship, date, and provenance of texts.
- Jean-François Champollion published his decipherment of the Rosetta Stone in 1822.
- Michael Ventris deciphered Linear B in the 1950s and confirmed that the Mycenaean language was early Greek.
- sir Henry Rawlinson deciphered the three cuneiform languages of the Behistun Inscription; Old Persian, Elamite and Akkadian.
- Bedrich Hroznı deciphered Hittite in 1915.
- Decipherment of Maya language hieroglyphics has been a gradual process beginning at the end of the 19th century, with great progress made in the late 20th century and continuing today.
- Work continues on Minoan Linear A and Etruscan.