The Figure of the Postcolonial Intellectual

  • Saeed Ur Rehman


The English word ‘intellectual’ shares its origins with the English word ‘intelligence’ and is a noun and adjective based on the English noun ‘intellect.’ Horace G. Danner and Roger Noel, in their authoritative A Thesaurus of Word Roots of the English Language inform us that the word intellect is a combination of the prefix inter, which means ‘between’ or ‘among’ with the Latin verb legere, which covers the same semantic fields as the English verbs ‘to read’ and ‘to choose.’ For Danner and Noel, the Latin verb legere is related to Greek legein, which is associated with Greek logos. Legere, the Latin source of the root elements lect, leg, and lig, is found in English words related to the act of reading or making a choice: lecture, lectern, intellect, legible, college, and diligence. Danner and Noel believe that the word intellect has greater semantic proximity with the sense of choice found in the root element lect than with the sense of reading (380), whereas other etymologists do not distinguish between the two different semantic fields (Klein 803). A purely etymological definition of the ‘intellectual’ will, thus, be that an intellectual is someone who chooses between different options available. As far as the etymological definition is concerned, it is possible to posit that every human being is an intellectual because all human beings make choices and perceive the world. However, as Gramsci has remarked, “all men are intellectuals, but not all men perform the function of the intellectual” (9). By differentiating between generalised intellectual activity by human beings and the function of the intellectual, Gramsci underscores the importance of ideational intervention by the intellectual, especially in the public sphere.

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