Expressive Modes and Species of Language

R. E. Moe, 2006. Expressive Modes and Species of Language. In Proc. 23rd World Academy of Science, Engineering and Technology.

This paper is very relevant to my attempts to characterise what I call the Scott-Strachey school of computer science; cf. Right On!.

I am grateful to Ehud for bringing the following paper to my attention: White, G., 2004; The Philosophy of Computer Languages; In L. Floridi (ed.): Philosophy of Computing and Information; Blackwell, 2004.

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Expressive Modes?

The paper did a poor job defining the concept, followed by a poor job illustrating it. I was left with the impression of much hand-waving about expressive convenience but no means to identify it - or the lack thereof - other than 'gut' feeling and experience (may the best intestines win!).

The paper does offer one bit of useful advice for those language designers who didn't already know: increasing expressive power - i.e. by adding I/O, or non-determinism, or error, or divergence / non-termination - can be rather inconvenient for reasoning about code, even if it does allow a reduction in terms of syntactic costs. Thus attempts to improve expressive convenience within a language should be careful to avoid increasing expressive power. (They might also avoid decreasing expressive power if there is a large body of code that requires it.)

Surprisingly, my vague definitions support my vague conclusions

Thanks, dmbarbour—I was turned off from the first page, which felt very "I know it when I see it", but wasn't sure whether it was just me. It seems like a lot of non-hard-science writing—I read it and don't understand how anyone can judge the quality of the argument, or actually use it as a tool (in this case, for classification, which seems to be author's stated goal). To put it in the language that I was taught as a child, there doesn't seem to be any criterion for falsifiability.