Free software

Discussion in 'All Languages' started by learnerr, Sep 4, 2013.

  1. learnerr Senior Member


    In English, 'free software' is a term that refers to the programmer's freedom: the programmer is free to do whatever to the program. The word 'free' also bears the meaning 'priceless', that the advocates of the concept fight against. They claim, among other things, that the problems of using the term are about limited to English. I doubt their claim, because I think they did not investigate the issue. For example, in Russian, using this term, calqued as "свободное программное обеспечение", is yet more problematic, because the adjective "свободный" simply cannot have the English meaning at all, when applied to the programs.

    It can have either of the two meanings: 1) nobody is currently using the program, or any other object (for example, "ящик от пива свободен" ("beer package is free") means nobody is currently sitting on top of the wooden package); 2) the program (not the programmer) is free to do whatever, but generally things that the programmer has not expected (like buggy, but yet, on the other hand, programs can't have will). Neither of these meanings fits, so the expression sounds really meaningless and weird.

    I have a question to the community here. Does your language have some kind of problem with the term 'free software'? What kind of problem, if the answer is 'yes'? Thanks to everybody!
    Last edited: Sep 4, 2013
  2. Gavril Senior Member

    English, USA
    Hi learnerr,

    I looked at different languages' Wikipedia articles on "Free Software", and if Wikipedia is reliable on this, it seems common to use the word meaning "free" in the sense of "independent" or "unobstructed" in translating this term. I don't think that many European languages have the double-meaning that English does in its word for "free": e.g., Finnish vapaa ohjelmisto means "free software" but not "free-of-charge software". The phrase may sound a bit awkward in Finnish, but the adjective vapaa "free" is compatible with objects like software as far as I know.

    Slovenian appears to use the terms prosto programje and prosta progamska oprema for "Free Software". The word prost can mean "free" in the sense of "unobstructed" or "available, not taken", but I think it can also mean "free" in the sense of "free of charge", so that may cause some confusion when talking about Free Software. However, prost is not the most common Slovenian word for "free of charge": zastonj and brezplačen are less ambiguous terms.
  3. learnerr Senior Member

    Thank you for your input.

    Actually the expression strikes me as weird exactly because of these two meanings: 'unobstructed' and 'available, not taken'. I reckon, these meanings cannot be applied to software; what it means when a program or a library is 'unobstructed'? :confused: In fact, when I first heard the term, it told nothing to me. So, I assumed that in English the meaning of the word 'free' can be translated from the thing in the world (the software) to the subject that does something to the thing (the programmer), and thus the expression sounds natural and descriptive: it is the programmer who is unobstructed. In Russian, this translation is not authomatically understood; it does not feel natural (to me), even when explained. Now I am starting to wonder whether the term sounded in English just as unfit...
  4. Gavril Senior Member

    English, USA
    I think that "free software" is unobstructed in the sense that the person using it can do whatever s/he chooses with it -- at least, as long as that person acquired the software legally in the first place.

    I'm no expert on this topic, but the phrase "free software" is a bit confusing to me as an English speaker -- when I hear it, my first thought is that the software is free of charge (but that doesn't seem to be part of the definition), since software is just an object and can't be "free" or "enslaved" as people can.

    We can't normally do this kind of trick with an adjective in English: e.g., if we say that a cookie is sweet, we're talking about the cookie, not the people who eat it -- but this kind of switch seems to be happening with the word free in the free software.
  5. learnerr Senior Member

    Ah... And my first feeling, when I do hear things like "это свободная программа" ("this program is free software"), is that the program is somehow freely available (like downloadable without obstruction), though this does not even sound to be a good way to express that concept, it feels clumsy... Actually, I think, the meaning 'free-of-charge' makes the same switch for the action by the human, not by the software; the Russian (and possibly Slovenian) meaning 'available, not taken' makes this switch, too, but in these languages the switch is more saturated: the unobstructed action is less active and more condivided between the human and the thing (it is the software that expects you to take it). ;)
    Last edited: Sep 12, 2013
  6. apmoy70

    apmoy70 Senior Member

    Hi learnerr,

    In Greek when referring to 'free software' we mean a computer program/software that's,
    a/ free of charge,
    b/ freely available to anyone,
    c/ freely and unobstructively downloadable.

    We call it «ελεύθερο λογισμικό» [e'lefθero loʝizmi'ko] (both neuter words). For the etymology of «ελεύθερος» [e'lefθeros] check HERE.
    «Λογισμικό» [loʝizmi'ko] (neuter) < modern construction in order to render the Eng. software < Classical Gr. masc. noun «λογισμός» lŏgīsmós --> ac/counting, calculation < Classical Gr. deponent v. «λογίζομαι» lŏgízŏmai --> to calculate, audit the accounts, consider (PIE *leǵ-, to collect cf Hit. lešš-/lišš-, to pick, gather; Lat. legere; Proto-Germanic *lesaną > Ger. lesen, Dt. lezen, Eng. license).
  7. learnerr Senior Member

    Thank you for sharing and for etymologies! So, the term is not very truth-telling in Greek either, like in English or in Russian...
  8. SuperXW

    SuperXW Senior Member

    The English word "free" often confuse our Chinese students too.
    It's free. It's for free. You're free to go. It's free to go. :confused:
    We want it free. We want it to be free. We want it to be freed. :confused:
    freeman. freestyle. free show. :confused:

    So, it's a confusing word.

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