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It is not easy to tell people about freedom

From: Akira Urushibata
Subject: It is not easy to tell people about freedom
Date: Sat, 7 Nov 2020 06:33:45 +0900 (added by address@hidden)

In 1999 (if I recall correctly) Richard Stallman visited Japan to
promote the GNU project and free software.  At that time there was an
urgent issue: everywhere the term "open source" was gaining popularity 
and replacing "free software."   It was so in Japan as it was in the
rest of the world.

Proponents of this change of terminology argued that "free" is often
mistaken for "free of charge."  Richard Stallman did not approve this.
He ordered his supporters to stress that "the free of free software is
the free as in freedom."

We had a unique situation in Japan.  In the Japanese language distinct
terms are used for the "free" in "free beer" and the "free" in "free
speech."  In Japanese, the former is "muryou" while the latter in
"jiyuu."  So to comply to Stallman's will, one only had to say
"jiyuu" software and encourage others to do likewise.  Stallman
instructed people to do exactly this on every occasion during the

Matters were not so simple.  The primary translator of FSF/GNU
documents (whose name I shall not disclose here) was not complying to
Stallman's order.  Most people in Japan at that time were using the
term "furii sofutouea," a phonetic rendering of the original English.
The term was spelled in a special set of Japanese characters called
katakana, which is for foreign loan-words such as "piano" "toast" and
"radio."  The phonetic term was better recognized and the chief
translator did not want to change it.  Overall the FSF/GNU documents
were translated into Japanese of a casual tone.  Using "jiyuu" would
have made them sound less friendly.

At the time the term "furii sofutouea" was being used widely, in
various contexts.  The adjective "furii" itself was well recognized
through its usage in sports, commerce and popular culture.  Japanese
supporters of GNU software used "furii", and so did hobbyists who were
giving away games and trinkets for free.  Some companies used the term
when strategically distributing programs for free.  As such the
term did not distinguish between "liberty" and "free of charge."

The principal translator also preferred to used "furii" rather than
"jiyuu" in other contexts, for example when putting "GNU is a truly
free operating system" into Japanese.

There was at least one document that made clear that "jiyuu" should be
the proper Japanese term when discussing free software.  The glaring
contradiction made the Japanese translation of the document look strange
if not outright stupid.

I tried to tell Stallman what was going on, but he did not understand.
He had trusted the volunteer translator and could not believe that his
friend could be totally unfaithful on a matter so dear to him.  There
were several more Japanese supporters near him.  They knew well what
was going on but turned a blind eye to the practice and did not bother
to bring the truth to their leader.  That left me as the only one
trying get him to understand what was going on, and it was an uphill
struggle.  Unable to realize what was going on, Stallman did not
clearly understand either my objections or my intentions behind them.

Naturally Stallman wanted people to read GNU/FSF literature.
Supporters in Japan led newbies to the official sites and told them to
read the translated documents and spread the word.  Sadly these
documents did not stress that free software was about "jiyuu."  This
situation stood for a decade or so.  Come to think of it, the casual
translation caused us to waste many precious years.


To be continued.

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