Liberty or Freedom? Moral or Ethical? How the language influences our perception of the world.

in language •  3 months ago

It seems that, by chance of fate, the most important things for man are usually underestimated, and it is not for nothing, because while something is more important, it becomes more common, and when normalizing, the illusion is created that this essential thing does not have any value.

Something like this happens with language, which, because it is of such vital importance for our communication with our peers, therefore for our association, becomes so common that the delicacy and importance of this precious instrument is often forgotten.

The simple fact of speaking a common language already makes us largely share a vision with our peers, since such vision is necessary to create and maintain the language, however, the way in which we use such a magnificent instrument makes us in turn have a different personal perception from the rest, by conceptualizing the world in a unique way.

The language barrier, the regional dialect, and the grammar can be such determining factors that sometimes you can read the same words that I am writing, and give you a meaning that I would never have thought of. This has to do with the characteristic subjectivity of man, which is influenced by numerous ideal factors that interfere in his perception with the world, such as culture, beliefs, and of course, of which I will speak today; the language.

One of the things that I have noticed during my time in a multilingual, multicultural, and international community like Steemit, is about the great power that languages have in shaping the perception of people, it is not necessary to be very smart to notice this, but it is thanks to Steemit that I have been able to verify in a personal way the differences generated by language when it comes to perceiving, understanding, and expressing information.

I am a native Spanish speaker, therefore, I speak one of the so-called Romance or Latin languages, unlike the English in which I refer to you currently, which is a hybrid between Germanic and Latin languages, with an obviously Germanic preponderance. If you have communicated with people of other languages similar to yours, you will notice that among the languages of the same (sub)family, the communication is much more fluid, for example, it is easier for a German, Norwegian or Swedish to speak English than for a Russian, Chinese or Spanish. In the same way, it is easier for a Spaniard to speak Portuguese, Italian or French, than for a German, Croatian or Japanese.

This is because the roots of their words have the same origin; for example, the Latin word "lībertās", evolved to "libertad" (Spanish), "liberdade" (Portuguese) "liberté" (French), "libertà" (Italian), and its similar (though not equivalent) Germanic, from the root "frij-", evolved to "frihet" (Norwegian and Swedish) and "freiheit*" (German).

But English, which is a Germanic-Latin hybrid, took "liberty" from Latin and "freedom" from Old English. While this might seem redundant and nonsense, because they would be two words with the same meaning, the reality is that when a language adopts a foreign word, it adopts a new conception in turn, because these different languages don't have the same connotation for the word, they only maintain some similarities between them. Although today both words are misused as synonyms, making the action really nonsense, the meaning of both words is not the same.

Let me then explain the differences between the two words, without forgetting to mention that I am not a linguistic scholar at all, and my knowledge of English is not even high, and the differences that I mention below are simply works of my observation, taking into account the origin of both words, for which I endowed with a lot of information.

Freedom vs Liberty

The word "freedom" in the first instance, inherited from the Old English, has a quite political conception, and denotes the state of a man who has no restrictions on the part of external agents. Thus, a man has freedom when he can do what he wants without anyone else telling him what to do.

All it's derivations like "free trade", "free market", "freedom of speech" or "freedom of the press", imply that nobody is going to cover your mouth, you are free to say, think, buy, sell, etc., without anyone stopping you. Even the word "free" is used for something that does not cost you, which means that nothing or nobody prevents you from taking that, or to refer to something that does not belong to anyone or any place that is not occupied by another person, like the bathroom or a parking lot.

On the contrary, the word "liberty", adopted from the Old French, has a more moralistic conception, that is, more rooted in the customs and ideas of good and evil that a people or individual has. The liberty is only possessed when man has managed to control all the internal factors that influence his actions (fear, ignorance, need, vice, etc.), therefore, he can act on his own will.

If the concept of freedom is precisely about being able to choose between all the options, without being externally blocked, the concept of liberty is about the same, but adding that you yourself cannot block the options, that is, avoid that fear, vice, impulses or your own needs control you. Therefore, a man with liberty is one who does what his moral tells him to do, because it's the right thing.

La Liberté guidant le peuple

In fact, both concepts are very similar to those described by Isaiah Berlin or other authors as "negative liberty" and "positive liberty", being the first most similar to "freedom" and the second corresponding to "liberty", however, they are not exactly the same.

In the Indo-European world there has never been a real consensus on this word (be it liberty or freedom). The Greeks were the first to give importance to these concepts, they did not use freedom or liberty evidently, they said "eleutheria" (ἐλευθερία), and they had multiple meanings for it, although the two most important are similar to those mentioned previously. The first (similar to freedom) was a purely political conception, the Athenians had this "freedom", although it was proclaimed by any polis indiscriminately, for example, the Spartans claimed to have given freedom to all Greece after having defeated Athens in the Peloponnesian War.

On the contrary, there was also a more moralistic conception of this, or more properly ethics, more similar to "liberty", which was described by many of the postsocratic philosophers of ancient Greece. Such liberty was mainly possessed by the Spartans, because they were virtuous men who did not succumb before impulses or fear, and always acted with morality, of course, a vision a little idealized, but that was the main factor that it propitiates the laconophilia existing in antiquity and that came to include philosophers as preponderant as Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Xenophon, etc.

The Stoics also had a vision of the "eleutheria" based on austerity, which had nothing to do with anyone oppressing you but on the contrary had to do with self-control, and that was based on the principles of reason and virtue, in the same way that "liberty" does it.

In Rome there was talk of "lībertās", and evidently had a conception closer to the word "liberty" that derives precisely from Latin. The same happened in the Middle Ages, in fact, in the Latin world, the concept of liberty was more linked to the theological-philosophical than to the political, which only changed until the period of the Enlightenment.

During this same period, the liberal revolutionaries begin to use the word "liberty", with the meaning already mentioned above, and used with this meaning either in the Romance languages such as French, as well as in English. I have no doubt that both the Founding Fathers of America, the French revolutionaries (especially the Girondins), and even the Liberators of Latin America, who had the same influence, fought for the concept of "liberty" and not "freedom".

However, soon both words began to be used as a synonym in English, and the dominance of the Germanic nations that has been latent in the last two centuries, caused its conception to influence all the other languages, so that a semantic calque occurs, that is, a copy of the meaning of a word from another language, and the words "libertad" (Spanish), "liberdade" (Portuguese) "liberté" (French), "libertà" (Italian), as well as "liberty", become synonymous of the English freedom. I believe that this last process has increased in recent decades, where the word "liberty" has practically no meaning in itself more than that of "freedom".

And although they are now mistakenly used as synonyms, it will be important to learn this differentiation of connotations when reading ancient writings, because what we read probably does not mean only what those words mean today, and ignorance of this can lead to confusion.

Moral vs Ethics

Another confusion that I have seen that exists, although this time not only in English, is that of morals and ethics, words that are also often misused as synonyms.

The use of ethics and morality as synonyms is quite similar to that of freedom and liberty, in fact, both words have also originated in different languages (moral from Latin and ethics from Ancient Greek), however, again the connotation for both words was different, so today its meaning is also different.

The word ethics has its origin in the Ancient Greek "êthos" (ἦθος), and it was about the way of making or acquiring things, the ethics were habits, customs.

The word moral has its origin in Latin "moralis", and its meaning is also related to customs, habits.

So, why do we keep two words that apparently have the same meaning?

And the answer is, again, in the connotation that these people gave to the word. The Greeks, who were more devoted to philosophy and the study of letters, began to question the foundations of their customs. Therefore they began to wonder if what was right with respect to their customs, was really what was right at the universal level, that is, they begin to study the foundation of their habits.

On the contrary, for the Romans it is very important to act in accordance with the mos maiorum, that is, the custom of the ancestors. The Romans did not doubt the moral, don't question it, for them it is a heritage of their ancestors and it is a pride to follow it, in fact, any Roman citizen who was immoral, who did not follow the principles and genres of life assumed by the ancestors, it was considered as a shame.

Such is the love of the Romans for their morality, which is from there where the basis of their law originates, and also, a branch of it; the customary law, which are those legal rules that are not necessarily written, but that are obeyed because they are customs. The follow-up of the "mores" (principles and genres of life assumed by the ancestors), generates "consuetudines" (customs), and the follow-up of the latter generates customary laws (also consuetudinary law).

In the same way it can be seen that the study of ethics by the Greeks is a primitive form of natural law, that is, the belief that there are human rights sanctioned by nature, and that they precede written rights. The natural law is a fundamental part for the creation of universal human rights, which are rights that humans have simply for the fact of being human, and that surpass the morality of the people.

When the Romans conquered Greece, the word ethics is adopted and translated quite accurately initially as "philosophia moralis" (moral philosophy), or later, simply as "moralis" (moral), and then finally adopted in Late Latin as "ethica".

From there to the creation of the two different concepts of words that were literally similar.

It is for all this that today the word moral refers to the set of customs and norms that are considered good for directing or judging the behavior of people in a community, a very Roman conception. On the other hand, the word ethics refers to the study of good and evil, and its relations with morality, a very Greek conception.

If we are honest, for example, we are being moral, because we take an attitude that in our society is sanctioned by the customs of human behavior as good. If we study what is honesty and what is its relationship to good and evil, we would be doing ethics.

As we use both words as synonyms, a semantic calque will be produced as it has already been doing, and as it did with "liberty", so that we will lose a word as precious as ethics from our vocabulary, although I honestly don't believe that we reach those extremes.

Now, to finish, I'm going to analyze the last word I've noticed generates a lot of confusion at the time of use, and it does in all languages except one; the Spanish.


Who has not heard the classic quality-quantity dichotomy? Or the least common, though not least, dichotomy of the qualitative and quantitative.

However, although everyone can answer what is a quantity (what can be counted), and everyone can also answer what is quantitative (what is related to quantity). How many can answer what is quality?

Certainly this last question is tricky, since the word quality encompasses several meanings, from which an accurate separation could be made between two different words; the first one, is the one used when we say things like "it's good quality", and the second one, would be the one we use when we say things like "it has good qualities".

In fact, due to such differentiation, in Spanish the word "quality" is translated as two different; "calidad" and "cualidad".

The word "calidad" is used to refer to the inherent characteristics of something that allows us to judge its value. For example, when we say that a telephone is of good quality ("calidad"). This type of quality is used more in daily life, as well as in the economic sciences.

On the other hand, the word "cualidad" is used to refer to the inherent characteristics of something or someone that makes it what it is, that is, the characteristics that describe its essence. When we speak of qualitative research or qualitative analysis, we speak precisely of this type of quality ("cualidad"). This type of quality is used in philosophy and in science.

The "calidad" is therefore quantifiable, but the "cualidad" is not, although both in English are "quality", making this latter quantifiable and not quantifiable at the same time.

A few days ago I had a discussion with @eskmcdonnell where there was precisely a confusion over this word. He said that the qualities were quantifiable, on the contrary I opposed, of course, we were both talking about different definitions of quality.

It is curious that only in Spanish is there such branching of the word "quality", and in all other languages there is no. I don't know the reason for this, however, it is evident that, excluding the language barrier, the bifurcation of the word facilitates the understanding of both meanings.

Plato with Aristotle in "The School of Athens" by Raphael. Both would be very important in shaping the concept of ethics that we currently have, with Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics being the most important work in this regard. Plato would contribute in turn to create the neologism "quality" of which we are just talking.

As a curiosity I will mention that, both in Germanic languages as in the Romances, the origin of this word is found in the Latin "quālitās", which is in turn a calque of the Classical Greek "poiótēs" (ποιότης), which is a neologism created by Plato to refer to the inherent characteristics of something or someone that makes it what it is.

These characteristics are accessed through the questions "what", "why", "for what", "which", "who", etc., which although they don't seem to have anything to do with "quality" in English, in the Romance languages and in the Latin they are strongly related since they all start from the same root. In fact, the word "quālitās" is composed as follows:

  • The interrogative: quae (what)
  • The suffix: alis (relative to)
  • The suffix: tat or tas (state or condition)

Therefore the word quality could be defined etymologically as; "that what is relative to the what".


My time at Steemit has given me the opportunity to speak with people from many countries around the globe, although everyone uses English as their usual language, the way they construct sentences and interpret the words says a lot about their perception, which is conditioned by the unconscious associations of their mother tongue.

As we learn different languages we can perceive wrong associations that bear fruit to the misuse of our language, or particular meanings given to words in our nations, but even more, people who learn other languages can open their minds to connotations of other languages, which totally changes their worldview.

But the aim of this publication was not to show what is gained by learning other languages, which never hurts, but rather what is gained by relearning our language. The only thing I did during the publication was to go to the etymological origins of the words to learn their true meaning, the one by which the words were created.

I think the vast majority of us never bother to think about how words were created in the first place. This is something that I have turned over in my head for some time, and I really don't have an answer, but if I have been able to notice something; words are only a symbolic representation of an ideal concept, if we pervert its use, and if we don't take care of knowing the ideal words and concepts that we use daily, then we will simply lose them. There is no real correlation between words (graphic signs and/or sound units) with the meaning of this (ideal concept), therefore, the only thing that unites them is our knowledge, which makes its use something more delicate than we usually think.

I see that it is impossible for us today to know how many ideas, how many meanings, and how many concepts we have lost because of the perversion of language, although we know that it is a high number, and this is inevitable, because a people can not keep very deep concepts in their dialect for a long time, and for as much as they remain written, the signs are incapable of transmitting ideas in their pure form for a long time, for this very reason Socrates left nothing written, and Plato, who did, complained that the essence of his ideas could not be conveyed in this way.

I begin to notice here a certain human curse, the one that forces our specie to know, lose, and rediscover constantly the same ideas. It is said that those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it, but the human is not omniscient and his memory is short, as over the years he becomes skeptical of his ancestors, and attacks his wisdom in an ignorance disguised as skepticism. And I do not criticize the skepticism per se, in fact, some days ago I made a publication supporting it to a certain extent, I criticize the skepticism that is based on our ignorance of the why of things.

At this point, I feel I could extend much more and duplicate what I have done so far, but it would be in vain, I think my points have been more than clear. So I say goodbye, hoping that the hieroglyphs I've made can convey what I think.

Image Source: 1, 2, 3, 4

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@vieira You are very right when you explain the (sub)family of the native language we speak. Yes, it's amazing how you can communicate more fluently and understand some languages better because of the similarity of some words. It is a great article and very important because good and perfect communication is fundamental in all spheres of life. An easy understanding by everyone makes all our work easier. Thank you very much for this wonderful activity. A big hello.


I'm glad it was useful to you. Thanks to you for passing and greetings!

This is a very good discussion, particularly the points about calque and the signification of loan words, and how Spanish distinguishes "calidad" versus "cualidad."


Yeah. Thanks for the resteem buddy!

Expansion of language brings out invaluable nuance by increasing the perspectival apprehension of the world. When we ignorantly or heedlessly use words, we don't speak new understanding or enable greater understanding.

Those three pairs of words are common examples where nuance is confused and goes unappreciated b/c the words are thoughtlessly used. After closely examining their significations, readers I hope will conduct themselves more carefully when choosing their words.

Arguments are more fruitful and more civil when we speak carefully and clearly and the same language. The differences that show themselves then are sharper (though not fundamental) and more interesting (b/c they can be bridged).


So is. With written language there will always be a degree of uncertainty, although if we try to use words with their correct meaning, or with the meaning most attached to it, perhaps we can reduce such uncertainty to a very low level.

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Great article!
Language is really fascinating.

I begin to notice here a certain human curse, the one that forces our specie to know, lose, and rediscover constantly the same ideas.

True. I would call it an insight which reflects reality.
Just as every child has to learn language anew, every human child has to deal with world understanding anew over and over again. All errors repeat themselves exactly as the sublime repeats itself. The speed of this repetition depends on the methods and possibilities.

At some point someone develops a new habitus and gives a term new relevance. For example, in Germany we say: "This is totally acid" and do not mean a corrosive liquid but evaluate a behaviour or a statement of another in a negative way. Just a little silly example :)


Yeah. There are some Germanisms that are common in other languages, such as Dasein, Leitmotiv, Weltanschauung, Zeitgeist, and many others.

Thanks for passing, and for the little silly example...

Hi vieira,

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Hello curie!

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Thanks, and have a great day too!

hello this is an interesting subject. It is true that our mother tongue influences the way we are talking in another language. i think our culture is a big factor as well. What is interesting as well is a child who will be bilingual with languages with different roots like French and Japanese won't be influenced by the language in the way he is talking. While if an adult is learning another language it will be different.


That's true. There are a large number of ideal factors that influence the way we see the world, language and culture are two of them, which are well linked. A bilingual child will change his perspective from an early age, and this will also influence his entire worldview.


It is true it will influence his worldview and that is quite fascinating i think.

words are only a symbolic representation of an ideal concept, if we pervert its use, and if we don't take care of knowing the ideal words and concepts that we use daily, then we will simply lose them. There is no real correlation between words (graphic signs and/or sound units) with the meaning of this (ideal concept), therefore, the only thing that unites them is our knowledge, which makes its use something more delicate than we usually think.

Well said. Fortunately nothing is truly lost forever. If something is lost, it just take more time for another person to discover it. BTW have you heard about Metal Gear Solid or The Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis?

I subscribe to the weak version of it. You can read more at

Another experience I can add is watching so many anime with subtitles to a point that now I can read between the lines of English translations and understand things that are structurally impossible to understand from the translation itself as long as I know that the text is translated from Japanese. It doesn't happen always.

I understand many things that most English speakers are incapable of understanding about the above video. I've had almost no real education when it comes to the Japanese language. 99% of it is watching anime with subtitles. But I've picked up on the culture and memetics and I almost exactly knnow what they mean when any translation of a word is inaccurate.

I just figured out while writing this that the nature of Japanese swearing could also have contributed to them creating the best psychological villains in entertainment. For an anime fan (if they are fans of certain sub-genres) someone like Hannibal Lecter is no big deal.

Western swear words are aggressive and sexual and some might even call a little over the top. But in Japanese calling someone "dog " could be harsher than "Cunt". Why? They are much more likely to mean in a death by thousand cuts fashion. It's not just offensive. It means the person in question is literally compared to an actual dog that is less than a human being. Of course people can say it in a more casual sense like how some black people call their friends niggers.

Also try:

There are other instances where certain psychological and spiritual terms in Sanskrit and Pali that are almost impossible to be translated to English.

You'd also love to hear about the Tau Meta Language:


BTW have you heard about Metal Gear Solid or The Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis?

It is interesting all that you attach. I had not heard of that hypothesis as such, although if I share that idea, like you to the weak version, in fact, thinking about that was one of the causes of the post.

I also thought about adding something to the terms in Sanskrit. It seems interesting to me that when a society progresses in philosophical fields, it begins to create new terms to represent the new conceptions that they have created (discovered). Such is the case of the northeastern Indians of the Vedic period, or of the ancient Greeks of the classical period.

Fortunately nothing is truly lost forever. If something is lost, it just take more time for another person to discover it.

I think the same, although losing a word means a huge delay, because not only does it mean that society is in decline, but it must also take a long time after having passed its decline to recover that word again. If a word represents a true concept, however much it is lost, it will always be recovered, since it is not a human creation, like false concepts, but rather a human discovery, therefore it exists independently of these.

Language is certainly a very interesting topic to reflect on.


Linguistic relativity
The hypothesis of linguistic relativity holds that the structure of a language affects its speakers' world view or cognition. Also known as the Sapir–Whorf hypothesis, or Whorfianism, the principle is often defined to include two versions: the strong hypothesis and the weak hypothesis:

The strong version says that language determines thought and that linguistic categories limit and determine cognitive categories.
The weak version says that linguistic categories and usage only influence thought and decisions.The term "Sapir–Whorf hypothesis" is considered a misnomer by linguists for several reasons: Edward Sapir and Benjamin Lee Whorf never co-authored any works, and never stated their ideas in terms of a hypothesis. The distinction between a weak and a strong version of this hypothesis is also a later invention; Sapir and Whorf never set up such a dichotomy, although often in their writings their views of this relativity principle are phrased in stronger or weaker terms.The idea was first clearly expressed by 19th-century thinkers, such as Wilhelm von Humboldt, who saw language as the expression of the spirit of a nation.

Very interesting post, I find it to be very useful. I've been trying to dive into stuff about language myself for my comedy posts. On one side it's just the 1984 book by Orwell effect on how crimes are impossible to happen without us having the word and definition for them, on the other is how Mandarin or Finnish language have weaker future tenses and that being related to more productivity (As far as my researched places go). Overall, great subject and allow to me say that your work inspired to adjust my style of posts and got me into a better place on steemit.


I was thinking, in fact, about Orwell's Newspeak when I made the publication. Interesting data on the Finnish and Mandarin, who sincerely did not know.

Greetings, and thanks to you for passing.

Unfortunately too late for a vote, but you got a lot of friendly readers. This is truly an interesting topic. As my two kids have acquired 3 languages at the same time I came to observe their language development. And as I am interested in Esperanto I know about the language problem. But even if we all use a common language we still have misunderstanding due to our different upbringing. You may be interested in TAU meta language, which promised to solve this problem by using human-mashine-human communication.
By the way I am amazed not only by your elaborated thinking but also by the way you use your not native English!


Thank you! Its true that, even with Esperanto, or with any universal language, people from different regions and/or circles would create their own dialect, which sooner or later would give another language apart, today we study and believe that all languages spoken from India to Europe they have a common origin, the "proto-Indo-European", which would have been divided into a lot of other languages.

I'll take a look at the TML, and thanks for passing and commenting, in Steemit there is a time limit for the votes, but not for the comments.