I’m currently reading a Taiwanese book about the story of Bill Gates, 《比爾●蓋茲：從頑童到電腦天才》, which translates as “Bill Gates: from mischievous child to computer genius”.The book is aimed at younger teens and so includes Zhuyin pronunciation, but it’s still a great read nonetheless. It follows Bill Gates through the important stages of his life, while at the same time intermingling chapters that cover in more detail the technical aspects or notable occurrences in the story. One chapter in particular details the open letter that Bill Gates wrote to hobbyists in 1976, who he claimed were stealing Altair BASIC, software that he had worked hard to develop.
I thought it would be interesting to compare the Chinese translation from this book, and the actual letter that was written by Bill Gates. I also plan to translate the letter more accurately, though to keep the size of this post down I’ll save that for another day.
There are a few things to note before jumping in – Firstly, as I mentioned above, the book is aimed at young teens and so the language used may have been tailored to a younger audience. And secondly, the writers of the book probably didn’t want to translate the whole letter word for word, but rather capture the essence of the letter. What I have done below is try to show the part of the letter from which each section of the Chinese translation is likely to have come, then translate it back into English while analysing the Chinese words used.
xŭduō rén dōu fàn le zuì, dàn lián zìjǐ yǐjīng fàn le zuì hái bú zhīdào.
A lot of people are breaking the law, and they don’t even know it.
The first sentence of the Chinese translation stands out right away, since if you read the original letter you’d know that Bill Gates stated that people did in fact know what they were doing – stealing software. The section from Bill Gates’s letter that comes closest to this is:
As the majority of hobbyists must be aware, most of you steal your software.
wǒmén wéile kāifā zhèxiē ruǎntǐ, měitiān dōu bùmiánbùxiū de nŭlìzhe, wǒmen de ruǎntǐ yě quèshí huòde hǎo de píngjià.
While developing this software we worked tirelessly, and indeed the software received positive feedback/assessment.
Quite straightforward and just a simplified version of the actual letter:
Though the initial work took only two months, the three of us have spent most of the last year documenting, improving and adding features to BASIC…The feedback we have gotten from the hundreds of people who say they are using BASIC has all been positive.
dànshì wǒmen pànsǐ nŭlì chūlái de xīnxiě jiéjīng, jīngcháng zài duǎnduǎn yīge xiǎoshí, jiù bèi biérén yǐ liǎngkuài měijīn de dàijià gěi qièqŭle. zhè quán shì yīnwèi nǐmen méiyǒu qŭdé zhèngshì shòuquán, jiù rènyì shǐyòng diànnǎo xìtǒng de jiéguǒ.
However, the fruits of our hard work are being stolen, everyday, for the equivalent of $2US. This is a result of you not acquiring an official licence, and just using the computer system as you wish.
In the Chinese here it’s unclear where the figure of $2 actually comes from, after reading it I almost thought that people were selling illegal copies for $2. A look at the actual letter below clears that up, though. Presumably, due to BASIC being stolen so much, when the royalties were calculated they amounted to less that $2 per hour for the work put in.
1) Most of these “users” never bought BASIC (less than 10% of all Altair owners have bought BASIC), and 2) The amount of royalties we have received from sales to hobbyists makes the time spent on Altair BASIC worth less than $2 an hour.
wǒ de mèngxiǎng shì gùyòng 10 míng de jiéchū chéngshì shèjìshī, lái shèjì chū shìjishàng yōuxiù de ruǎntǐ. dànshì zhào xiànzài zhèyàng kuīsŭn xiàqù, wǒmen de gōngsī chúle guānmén dàjí, yě méi biéde bànfǎ le.
Our dream is to hire 10 great programmers and design the world’s most outstanding software. Though if the current financial loss continues, We’d have no choice but to close the company.
This is keeping with the actual letter for the most part:
Nothing would please me more than being able to hire ten programmers and deluge the hobby market with good software.
While there is no mention int he actual letter of Microsoft closing, Bill does state:
Who can afford to do professional work for nothing?
Here’s a list of the highlighted words from above and their English definitions – if there are any other words you’re unclear about please post a comment.