Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Metaphor Alert: History of the Field

Cuts from the in-progress book on Lexomics:

The very best traditional philologists, people like Lapidge and Gretsch, can collect widely scattered shards of information and piece together enough to get a view of a little piece of lost culture. But scholars like this are rare, and their very brilliance shows how much the scholarly world has had to change because the great philologists of past generations have worked out the mine. 

Back in the Age of Grimm, scholars like Kemble and Grundtvig could casually pick the best nuggets right from the tunnel floor, the dust of diamonds on their shoes. And although the next generation might have needed picks and shovels, Thorpe, Müllenoff, Sweet and Köhler and still found riches. There was still high-grade ore for Sweet, Sarrazin, Sievers and Skeat, but the lode was beginning to be depleted, so Olrick, Panzer, Chambers and their contemporaries had to be miners rather than prospectors, following the dwindling veins deeper and deeper below the surface. In the post-war period scholars were reduced to panning for glistening flecks, and by the 1980s the field was reduced to mechanically processing vast piles of low-grade ore in hopes of eventually extracting a small amount of metal from the overburden.

To push the metaphor perhaps further than I should: The introduction of lexomic techniques allows us to find riches even in the tailings piles of previous generations. What was for them un-useable is for us, with new knowledge and technology, a new source of wealth.


Alfredo Deambrosi said...
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Alfredo Deambrosi said...

I say, if the metaphor holds up, go for it.

English teacher and fan of wacky Drout theories