Language Matters

Kathleen Stein Smith, Ph.D

A Forgotten Field Could Save the Humanities

“Until roughly yesterday, when genetics rose to its current position as a sort of ur-text of human nature and origins, it was linguistic diversity, and the vestiges of languages left to us from the past, that held the greatest promise of telling us who we are and where we come from. The science that dealt with languages and their textual traces was known as philology, and it was long the very soul and backbone of whatever it is we do when we study literature, history, and perhaps also philosophy.

The humanities are today mere slivers of a once unified project, crystallized from the Renaissance through the 19th century only to shatter spectacularly over the course of the 20th. Humanities programs are rapidly being killed off by financially minded administrators and a broader societal mentality that values only what can turn a quick profit. Humanists realize the urgency of radically rethinking what the humanities might be — indeed, might once have been and could be again. And while this might come as a surprise, it is philology that offers the best hope for ensuring a central place for the humanities in the university of the 21st century. But even that does not go far enough. For philology also holds the promise of re-establishing the lost unity of the human sciences with the sciences of nature, or, as we say these days, of the humanities with STEM.”

Read more @ (Chronicle of Higher Education, subscription only) March 13, 2016.

Languages do matter!



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