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  • What Good Is a Rebellious Teenager?Classics and Linguistics in the Twentieth Century
  • Eleanor Dickey

In looking at traditional specialties within the APA, one cannot get any more traditional than linguistics.1 This is because, in the beginning, the American Philological Association was not an organization of classicists at all; it was an organization of scholars interested in language, any language. The justification for the founding of the association, as printed in the first issue of TAPA, was to provide a society for "the professors, friends, and patrons of linguistic science in America." The contents of the first volume of TAPA show what this meant: there were papers entitled "On the nature and theory of the Greek accent," "On the nature and designation of the accent in Sanskrit," "On the aorist subjunctive and future indicative with and ," "On the best method of studying the North American languages," "On the German vernacular of Pennsylvania," "On the present condition of the question as to the origin of language," "On certain forms of the English verb which were used in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries," "On some mistaken notions of Algonkin grammar, and on mistranslations of words from Eliot's Bible," and "Contributions to Creole Grammar." In other words, out of nine papers, two were on Greek, one was on Sanskrit, one was on the origin of language, and the remaining five were on various modern languages. None was on history, literature, or any other non-linguistic topic.

The fact that the American Philological Association was not originally an organization of classicists at all sheds some light on its name. If you look up the word "philology" in most American dictionaries, you will find a variety of different meanings, but none of them is "classics." Philology can mean linguistics, or it can mean the study of languages, literatures, and cultures in a general sense, [End Page 288] and it can often mean other things as well, but it normally does not mean "classics." People who know this sometimes wonder why the main American classics organization is called the American Philological Association, when in England, for example, the main organization of classicists is called the Classical Association, and the Philological Society, which also exists, is an organization of linguists, most of whom work on modern languages. But in order to solve that problem properly, you have to turn the question around and ask not why the main American classics organization is called the American Philological Association, but why the American Philological Association is an organization of classicists.

Back in 1869, when the APA was founded, American higher education was only beginning the process of professionalization that would eventually lead to the university system we know today. The humanities had not yet been broken down into subjects and departments, and "philology" in the broad sense of languages, literatures, and cultures was used in situations not radically different from those where we might now use "humanities." So the founders of the APA were establishing a professional organization for philology in the broad sense, that is for scholars interested in languages, literatures, and cultures, and it was simply understood that naturally language was the most prominent of these angles and culture the least prominent. But the founders were well aware that the new society covered a huge area, and so at the first meeting they drew up a list of seven subfields into which papers could be divided for separate sessions once the organization got big enough to hold more than one session at annual meetings.1 These seven subfields were:

  1. 1. The science of language, and history of philology

  2. 2. Oriental languages and literatures

  3. 3. Classical (Latin and Greek) languages and literatures

  4. 4. Modern European languages and literatures

  5. 5. English language and literature

  6. 6. American aboriginal languages

  7. 7. Linguistic pedagogy

Now these seven subfields did not all have equal status. The third, Latin and Greek languages and literatures, was acknowledged to be the largest and most important. It was also the oldest, since the systematic study of other languages and literatures, and the discipline of linguistics itself, had grown out of the study of Latin and Greek in the preceding century. Nevertheless all seven fields, and...


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