Philology, etymologically, is the love of words. It is most accurately defined as an affinity toward the learning of the backgrounds as well as the current usages of spoken or written methods of human communication. The commonality of any studied languages is more important than the origin or age, though those factors are important as well. The term originally meant a love (Greek Φιλος or philos) of (a) word (Greek λογος or logos). In a sense, to understand a language, philology seeks to understand the origins of that language, and so it is often defined as the study of ancient texts and languages, although this is a rather narrow view and is not entirely accurate.
In the academic traditions of several nations, a wide sense of the term "philology" describes the study of a language together with its literature and the historical and cultural contexts which are indispensable for an understanding of the literary works and other culturally significant texts. Philology thus comprises the study of the grammar, rhetoric, history, interpretation of authors, and critical traditions associated with a given language.
In its more restricted sense of "historical linguistics", 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. In the United States, the American Journal of Philology was founded in 1880 by Basil Lanneau Gildersleeve, a professor of Classics at Johns Hopkins University.
Most importantly, philology commends the ability to recognize the words of one language from the roots of another, by recognition of common (shared) roots and grammar. It is for this reason that someone who is fluent in Portuguese can, naturally and without training in the Spanish language, read a Spanish newspaper and know what is going on in the world. Although each word is not available, the total meaning is clearly apparent.
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