Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Short history of etymology of the word liberal: of Liber and Alis!

by M. Ulric Killion 

This masterpiece painting by Eugène Delacroix is called Liberty Leading the People, and portrays the July Revolution using the stylistic views of Romanticism. Since Liberty is part of the motto “Liberté égalité fraternité”, as the French put it, this painting became the primary symbol of the French Republic. 

The word liberal directly derives from its Latin source, which is the Latin word—liberalis, which means freedom or “relating to freedom.”  Its etymology is deduced by separating the Latin lexicon of liberalis, thus, there are two separable words of liber and alis. The derivatives are liber, libera, and liberum. More specifically, as for Liber, it has a Latin-adjective meaning of free, unrestricted, unrestrained, etc. As such, as an adjective, liber probably derives from the Latin verbs of libero, liberare, liberavi, or even liberatus, which also means to set free. 

Alternatively, Liber could be used as a substantive adjective within the context of the Latin language, thereby, essentially, meaning a freeman or freedom.  Consequently, in modern society, there are various word forms that we, at least English-speaking and perhaps even the Romance languages in general, employ with the word liber in them, and count as examples, lexicons such as liberty, liberation, and liberator.

In comparison, the original Latin expression of Alis, as an older Latin form of verbs, such as alius. Alius, alia, and aliud, is another adjective that generally means another, other, etc.  A linguistic evolution follows and, actually, transforms alius into the suffix “-al.”  Subsequently, “-al” employs as an attachment to the end of words, thus, changing other words into adjective forms; for example, economical, political. economical or political.  Another example of how the suffix “-al ” employs in modern society are those instances of alis as an abbreviation for “et al” or its equivalent “et alii”, both of which literally mean “and others.” 

In this print, published March 6, 1818, they are sneering at Napoleon Bonaparte following his retreat from Moscow and for betraying the ideals of the French Revolution. 

In other words, or more colloquially speaking, the early Romans would combine the two adjectives of liber and alis for forming one singular word and meaning, which is liberalis. With the passage of time, and the processes of both social and linguistic evolutions, there was a subsequent fusion of the Latin language into first, the domain of the Old French language (ancien français), and then later, what hails as Middle English, which, eventually, resulted in the last two letters of the lexicon, being “-is”, now being dumped from the lexicon of liberalis, and resulting in the word liberal. Moreover, liberalis in its original Latin context, literally, means another matter of freedom.

Moreover, and serving as a reminder of the powers of the spoken and written word, or simply, the language or linguistics of the social sciences, including law and political economy, and their respective lexicons, there are also the critical social and linguistic revolutions of the eighteenth century. The early eighteenth century, the Enlightenment, the French Enlightenment, France in the Age of Enlightenment (Siècle des Lumières, 1715-1792), or the controversial German equivalent of Aufklärung (Illuminism) (Schmidt, 2003), generally characterize developments in the sciences, especially the social sciences or the new sciences of society, or la science sociale (the social sciences) and sociologie (sociology). 

Both of these nomenclatures,  la science sociale and sociologie, are attributable to the contributions of the French utopian socialist Saint-Simon and Comte in founding the new social sciences, though a controversy as to who is actually due credit for naming the new science of society (F. A. v. Hayek, The Counter-Revolution of Science, 1941).

However, for the purposes of this short history, Siècle des Lumières also serves to represent a critical revolution, both social and linguistic, in the usage of the lexicon of liberal (French: liberté). This is because the lexicon of  liberal became a mainstay in the rhetoric and fervor of France in the Age of Enlightenment. In terms of the rules of nomenclature for pre-revolutionary France, the lexicon of liberal (liberté), whether in the context of the political, political economy or legal environment, would change the rhetoric of the revolution.

The “then” neologism of liberty or, perhaps more accurately, liberté, ultimately, served as a force of influence on both the French Revolution (1789-1799) and American Revolution (1763-1776), which, as a reflection of the new ideas, rhetoric, and language of the revolution employed by the new ideologues, eventually, shook the world (Kirby et al., 2000). 
Copyright © Protected - All Rights Reserved M. Ulric Killion, 2009.

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