Augenphilologie was used in the Scripps National Spelling Bee last night, and it seems like a fantastic word to use in writing. But I’m not sure how to use it in a sentence, or what its definition is really getting at. The definition given by Webster’s Third is:

linguistics that misrepresents the realities of speech because of overemphasis on writing.

Is it saying something like “writing tends to be much more florid than regular speech, thus misrepresenting it”? What are some other examples? Or does it mean something different?

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    "Augenphilologie" was used in the Scripps National Spelling Bee last night. – Edwin Ashworth May 30 '14 at 17:50
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    The Scripps National Spelling Bee is itself a swamp of Augenphilologie, both for using the word at all, and for assuming that no one can know it without knowing one and only one way to spell it. – Brian Donovan May 30 '14 at 18:00
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    I just scrolled through all 136 Google results for Augenphilologie. Apart from this actual ELU question (already there after only 17 minutes!), nearly every other result was either about spelling bees, or a web page written in cyrillic. I admit did see a couple of dictionary definitions, but I didn't notice any contexts where the word was actually being used with its intended meaning, rather than mentioned (mainly for its spelling, obviously). – FumbleFingers May 30 '14 at 18:08
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    This question appears to be off-topic because it is about the meaning of Augenphilologie, which neither I nor OED recognise as a word, and which I have been unable to find any credible actual uses of. – FumbleFingers May 30 '14 at 18:15
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    It's a transparent noun compound in German, though the particular meaning is not deducible. However, when using this word with the meaning of 'linguistics that misrepresents the realities of speech because of overemphasis on writing', one MUST pronounce it as a German word: /auɡənfiloloɡi/. Anything smacking of English spelling, like /dʒi/ at the end, is right out -- it would constitute a self-contradicting case of Skitt's law. Which raises the question: How did they pronounce the word when they announced it at the Bee? – John Lawler May 30 '14 at 19:42

Here is an extract from The Writer in Petrograd and the House of Arts by Martha Weitzel Hickey. (A really interesting book!)

The interest of OPOIAZ members looking to define what was specific to poetic language as verbal material overlapped with those of the Institute of the Living Word. Boris Eikhenbaum's often-quoted introductory remarks to his seminal essay on narrative, "The Illusion of Skaz," were consonant with the view of literature and the word that the institute embraced.

We always speak of literature, of the book, of the writer. The culture of writing and the press have accustomed us to the letter ... We often forgot entirely that the word itself has nothing in common with the letter --- that it is a living, mobile activity, created by the voice, articulation, intonation, to which are joined gesture and mimesis. We think that the writer writes. But it is not always so, and in the realm of the artistic word it is more often just the opposite. The German philology of the "eye" (Augenphilologie) must be replaced by its oral counterpart (Ohrenphilologie).

There are, of course, special written forms, but literature (or rather more precisely, literariness) is not exhausted by them, and even in them one can find traces of the living word.

My understanding of the word Augenphilologie is that it is referring to the branch of knowledge that deals with the structure, historical development, and relationships of languages unconcerned of how the language "sounds" (the voice, pronunciation, articulation, intonation, etc), in another words, philology of the eyes.

To me this is an extremely uncommon word and I doubt anyone would actually use it in non-academic writing/conversation unless she or he is unconcerned of whether the readers/listeners would understand what it means.

  • Thank you, that makes sense. Augenphilologie is leaving out a huge part of the story then... not something I'd like to use! – rosstex May 30 '14 at 18:38
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    I have actually used this word in normal conversation only a few weeks ago, though I admit it was in an academic context, and I used it in a slightly twisted way to refer to philology that focuses too much on deduced regularity in languages, rather than the attested variation (even if that too is only written). In my case, it was a discussion about best practices for Avestan philology. (Also, Ms. Witzel Hickey seems to mistranslating Ohrenphilologie: it means ‘philology of the ear’, not ‘oral philology’.) – Janus Bahs Jacquet May 30 '14 at 20:07

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