Traditional philology today is a shadow of what it once was. Can it survive?

Eric Ormsby in The New Criterion:

WordsWhat language did Adam and Eve speak in the Garden of Eden? Today the question might seem not only quaint, but daft. Thus, the philologist Andreas Kempe could speculate, in his “Die Sprache des Paradises” (“The Language of Paradise”) of 1688, that in the Garden God spoke Swedish to Adam and Adam replied in Danish while the serpent—wouldn’t you know it?—seduced Eve in French. Others suggested Flemish, Old Norse, Tuscan dialect, and, of course, Hebrew. But as James Turner makes clear in his magisterial and witty history, which ranges from the ludicrous to the sublime, philologists regarded the question not just as one addressing the origins of language, but rather as seeking out the origins of what makes us human; it was a question at once urgent and essential.1 After all, animals do express themselves: they chitter and squeak, they bay and roar and whinny. But none of them, so far as we know, wields grammar and syntax; none of them is capable of articulate and reasoned discourse. We have long prided ourselves, perhaps excessively, on this distinction. But on the evidence Turner so amply provides, we might also wonder whether the true distinction lies not simply in our ability to utter rational speech, but in the sheer obsessive love of language itself; that is, in philology, the “love of words.”

This abiding passion for words, cultivated fervently from antiquity into modern times—or at least until around 1800, in Turner’s view—encompassed a huge range of subjects as it developed: not only grammar and syntax, but rhetoric, textual editing and commentary, etymology and lexicography, as well as, eventually, anthropology, archeology, biblical exegesis, linguistics, literary criticism, and even law. It comprised three large areas: textual philology, theories about the origins of language, and, much later, comparative studies of different related languages.

More here.