"Measuring Instruments" for Language History: Rhetoric and Reality of a Nineteenth-Century Latinist

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Abstract Summary
Crowning the career of the Munich Latinist Eduard Wölfflin (1831-1908) was his role in founding the Thesaurus linguae Latinae, a massive lexicon that aimed to deliver an unprecedently complete history of the words it treated. The work, begun in the 1890s and still in progress today, is a standard research tool for philologists. For Wölfflin it represented a breakthrough after decades developing and promoting his historical-lexicographical agenda, often by analogy with the work of investigators in other arenas. Philologists, Wölfflin said at various times, were to use a kind of "microscope," were to observe like foresters, were to develop "their own measuring methods and instruments" like the researcher of nature. He invoked meteorology, statistics, biology. Rhetoric only? Perhaps not. A close look at Wölfflin's practices helps to clarify his comparanda and suggests that he did indeed see himself engaged, in some cases, in a parallel enterprise to those studying natural phenomena. At a certain level, philologists really did work like forestry researchers. This paper shows how.
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Submission Type
Contributed Paper
Abstract Topic
Thematic Approaches to the Study of Science