Twofish's Blog

August 5, 2006

Translating freedom

Filed under: china, wikipedia — twofish @ 8:30 am

Just a note on the difficulties and subtlities of translation. How do you translate the term and concept “free software” in Chinese?  The standard translation of the term “freedom” is “zi-you” 自由, which means that you can do with it what you want, but I don’t think that adequately translates the idea of a movement.

I think a better possible translation for “free software” is 解放的然件 (liberated software).  The term 解放  is literally translated as “liberation” (as in People’s Liberation Army) and I think that 解放 much better translates the “feeling” of free software than 自由.

The problem with the term liberation in English is that it has the connotation of a Communist mass movement, which is precisely why it may be a good term in mainland China where it invokes the ideals of setting the world free.  On the other hand, it might be the wrong term on Taiwan.  Then again, maybe not.  The interesting thing about freedom (自由) is that it really doesn’t invoke very strong feelings in Chinese, unlike the terms democracy (民主) or human rights (人权) which do
(This is one thing that deeply concerns me about US policy in the Middle East.  I know enough Chinese to realize that translating terms like freedom and democracy is actually quite difficult, since the Chinese terms have vastly different connotations than in English.  When you translate those terms, you are basically trying to evoke a feeling, and that is difficult across languages.  I *strongly suspect* that there are such translation issues in Arabic.)

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