Lambda the Ultimate

inactiveTopic Language and Syntax
started 8/17/2000; 12:02:23 AM - last post 8/18/2000; 5:41:27 AM
andrew cooke - Language and Syntax  blueArrow
8/17/2000; 12:02:23 AM (reads: 536, responses: 5)
Language and Syntax
There's just been a curious discussion on Slashdot about whether the english language has affected syntax in programming languages. It contains a couple of interesting ideas, but I suggest you set the thread threshold to 2 to delete some of the junk...
Posted to "" by andrew cooke on 8/17/00; 12:11:32 AM

Dominic Tey - Mother-tongue, Language and Syntax  blueArrow
8/17/2000; 7:07:27 AM (reads: 542, responses: 4)
Well, over here in the Asia, speaking English as your primary language helps in one's ability to pick up the programming language.

I speak English as my primary language, I think in English, not in my mother-tongue. So it really helps me in picking up programming languages up or at least attempt to. I have seen my classmates struggle with programming languages because first they have to translate the programming language to English and then to their mother-tongue.

However, this is not to say that others whose primary language is NOT English can't programme well (which I don't think I do). That's because I also have classmates who sure are better programmers that me whose mother-tongue is not English.

Perhaps, instead its more a relationship between how close the syntax is to how the programmer can think the problem through that makes a good or bad programmer.

andrew cooke - Re: Mother-tongue, Language and Syntax  blueArrow
8/17/2000; 9:25:38 AM (reads: 581, responses: 3)
Did you see one comment that suggested we don't think in language, but in ideas, and that programming languages are more like the "language of ideas" rather than the language we speak? How does that compare to your experience? Is there a point when you forget that the programming language is "english" and just start thinking about ideas?

Obviously, you need to understand the words, too, as you say...

I speak Spanish quite well, and when I am in a Spanish speaking country for a while it is the language I use "automatically". But I still haven't been able to work out if I start *thinking* in Spanish.

On a related note, I think the Algol68 language was defined so that it could be written in different natural languages (but that is just a random memory - I may be wrong).

Chris Rathman - Re: Mother-tongue, Language and Syntax  blueArrow
8/17/2000; 7:03:44 PM (reads: 610, responses: 2)
First off, I think there are many different types of programming activities. A person programming in a high level language like Haskell really thinks and acts on different impulses than say a person doing C. In the same comparison, the Haskell programmer thinks about such things as tail-recursion, currying, etc... that have no correlary in the world of C. The C programmer, OTOH, thinks above things closer to the metal of the machine.

The difference in how one thinks about programming can go well beyond the particular programming language that one uses, and really goes to the heart of the types of problems being solved. A user that is doing almost pure math functions (ffts, monte carlos, etc), has very little in common with someone who is just putting out data reports.

In my experience, programming is more akin to mathematical symbol manipulation and model construction. The particular symbols used as reserved words in a language become invisible to me after a certain period of time. They become more like symbols than they do english words to be spoken. Even a language like APL which has over 500 symbols is quite useable once you get comfortable with the symbols, because after a while the exact words or symbols used are not as important as the actual processing that is occuring within the model.

As for which language would be most amenable to being foreign language friendly, I'd have to throw Smalltalk into the ring since it only has about 5 or 6 reserved words. Don't know if anyone has tried, but it certainly wouldn't be too hard to accomplish.

andrew cooke - Re: Mother-tongue, Language and Syntax  blueArrow
8/18/2000; 1:18:21 AM (reads: 655, responses: 1)
Do you have any interesting links connected with the "Array processing" (is there a better name?) languages like APL, J or whatever? I've never used or really looked at these, so it's difficult for me to post any news items about them.

(I guess by "interesting" I mean pages that either give a good introduction to the language or particular features, or compares them with other languages - anything, really, except stuff useful only if you use the language (like libraries). I have no idea how wide or narrow the discussion should be here, so I'm just posting anything I think is interesting, even if it's not particularly "academic"...)

If you have (or anyone else wants to suggest other good links) please either post them here, post your own news items (if you're a contributing editor) or email me them ( Thanks!

Chris Rathman - Re: Mother-tongue, Language and Syntax  blueArrow
8/18/2000; 5:41:27 AM (reads: 817, responses: 0)
Not a beginner site, but if you want to see some nifty APL stuff, there's the APL Idiom Page. To someone not familiar with APL or J, it can look like chicken scratch - much like english words might look like gibberish to a non-english speaker. The reason I mention it was that it represents an extreme in programming using symbols instead of words. Since APL is mostly just a bunch of symbols and numbers, the native language of the speaker won't make a whole lot of difference - kind of like calculators look the same wherever one goes.