Etymological Thinking in the 19th and 20th Century

Etymology becomes a distinctive feature of intellectual and literary culture in the 19th century, remaining one throughout the 20th century. Interest in etymology characterises the development of linguistics, philology, and literature. Its powerful but also problematic status prompts writers and intellectuals of different backgrounds to explore etymology in relation to such essential notions as temporality, history, and memory, as well as to recast questions of kinship and diversity between languages. Indeed, etymology may well be said to represent a crucial gnoseological paradigm of modernity. Mérimée, Proust, Gadda, Celan, and Joyce are only the most prominent examples of this new “etymological thinking”. At the same time, etymologies have (also) played a significant role in shaping collective identities, ideologies, and psychologies. Although etymology is a widely established field in linguistics, it is still an understudied area of literary and cultural research.

Given the various ideas on the nature and value of etymology, this conference intended to provide an innovative platform for dialogue across scholarly approaches and beyond national boundaries within Modern Languages. The conference was especially interested in the political use of etymology; the relevance of etymologies to the construction of sense in fictional or autobiographical narratives and in poetry; etymology and language planning; writers’ and intellectuals’ involvement in lexicographic and etymological work; etymological dictionaries; folk etymology; learned/popular lexicon; etymology and theories of language and language change; the history of particular languages.