English-centric programming language
December 11, 2003 3:12 PM   Subscribe

It occurs to me that much of the computer programming syntax I've learned is in the English tongue. HTML's "IMG SRC," for example, comes from "image source," no? Goto, end, top, etc. To what extent do programmers who speak other tongues use English in computer programming languages? Is there a Dutch version of html? Hewbrew localization of Perl? Or are computer languages yet another vehicle of the rapidly-becoming-ubiquitos English tongue?
posted by scarabic to Computers & Internet (11 answers total)
It's pretty much all english. While there's some joke languages out there that poke fun at dialects, all the serious stuff happens in english. Not that most computer languages contain that much of the english language, it's mostly just a few borrowed words and a lot of symbols.
Same goes for programming library APIs, I don't think I've ever seen a library interface in any other language either, apart from in very small-scale academic settings.

If anyone were to do this it would probably happen in china, considering the size of the target group. So perhaps they do have localised languages, but I've never heard of it.
posted by fvw at 3:30 PM on December 11, 2003

For one thing, keeping everything in (already-garbled) English-ish form makes it simple to stick with the low-ASCII character set. Good for portability.
posted by cortex at 3:37 PM on December 11, 2003

You can't be a good programmer without understanding English, not so much for the syntax as for the documentation and other programming resources on the Web. I've met lots of European software engineers who had good reading comprehension in English, but could barely speak the language.
posted by fuzz at 4:36 PM on December 11, 2003

Yep, I've thought about this too; specifically the unfair hurdle this presents for non-english speakers.

Although, I think of this as a one-time sort of problem. Once you learn the symbols of a (computer) language, you should be fine, but I can only imagine what computer literature written in other languages looks like.

For that matter, does anyone have any idea what keyboards for other languages, specifically, ideographic languages, look like? How do you type in Chinese, for example?
posted by bshort at 5:05 PM on December 11, 2003

You can code Perl in Latin, in multiple declensions too. So.. go there and read some Latin source code, very entertaining :-) You can also code straight into Chinese. Admittedly, these are limited examples, that are more a demonstration of Perl's source filtering capabilities than anything else.

Typing in Chinese, by the way, involves multiple keypresses per symbol. I've seen Japanese people type (simpler alphabet though) and the first keypress brings up the roman letter, the second keypress then changes this into a simple symbol, and sometimes a third keypress makes it even more complex. I have no real understanding of the language(s), so can't say much more than that.
posted by wackybrit at 5:56 PM on December 11, 2003

The way that you type in Japanese and Chinese is phonetic. I can really only speak for Japanese, so I will go with that. Essentially, to type something in Japanese, you enter the established romanized approximation of its pronunciation. So if I want to type tamago, I type in ta•ma•go. After each pair is entered, it changes into the hiragana character that represents that syllable, i.e. ???. At any point you can press down or the space bar to change these characters to a kanji or group of kanji with the same pronunciation, or see a list of all the kanji that have that pronunciation. So you would get ?. (Sorry if you can't see these.) The keyboards here are mostly the same, although there are a few keys extra for switching languages which always seem to be in the way. And some of the common punctuation marks are in different places. But its mostly the same. But you still need to know all the english letters and pronunciations to type here, so it is another example of English's pervasiveness. In Japan it is extremely pervasive. Pretty much every street sign is in English and Japanese together, and every student is taught English in school from elementary school.

Damn, Ask MetaFilter rocks! I don't feel bad at all about being almost completely off-topic. It's all about information.
posted by donkeymon at 11:06 PM on December 11, 2003

wackybrit: with Japanese, you type a romaji, or roman letter, and then the second romaji turns the both of them into one hiragana (it's a syllabic character set consisting of consonant/vowel pairs (plus n, which can stand alone). This is why it takes 2 presses to type one.) Once you have enough hiragana to make a word (say the hiragana "i" and "nu" to spell "inu", dog) you hit space, and it'll display the kanji, or Chinese character, for dog. If there are more than one kanji for the word you've spelled (pretty common, since Japanese has lots of homophones) you can keep hitting space to choose the correct one from an onscreen list. There are also Japanese keyboards out there that allow you to skip the roman character step - they have hiragana on the keys, as well as roman letters. According to a native speaker friend of mine, though, hardly anybody types that way, even if they have the keyboard for it. Makes sense, because you can type very quickly using the romaji entry system.

I think that one method for typing Chinese is similar - you enter the pinyin (roman character) pronunciation, and select from there. There are also a few typing systems for Chinese based on the radical system... which, just to bring this full-circle, is the way you look up kanji in a Japanese dictionary.

heh, I wonder if all the variable names in Japanese programs are just Japanese words written in romaji, or if people take the English so far as to use English words for all the variables?
posted by vorfeed at 11:11 PM on December 11, 2003

wow, donkeymon, good timing on both our parts. Jinx, you owe me a coke! ^___^
posted by vorfeed at 11:12 PM on December 11, 2003

Centred text used to drive me crazy - I'd always type and could not for the life of me work out what was going wrong. I knew about Color, to make things worse.
posted by bonaldi at 3:39 AM on December 12, 2003

FWIW, Apple did produce localized versions of Hypertalk, the scripting language of Hypercard. As a translator, this fascinated me, because Hypertalk was a very natural-seeming scripting language, and the localization process must have presented the localizers with interesting decisions.

Others have already given a good synopsis of the Japanese/Chinese typing method. It's interesting that English now has something similar to that system on our mobile phones--T9 input--basically a way to represent more characters than you have keys for. I've heard of a Chinese system where every character was assigned a more-or-less arbitrary two-key "chord" on a standard keyboard. Obviously, this would be a bitch to learn, but would be very fast once learned.
posted by adamrice at 7:23 AM on December 12, 2003

This has been an interesting learning experience. It seems Ask MetaFilter could do with a really good search engine. Y'know, I've always thought a wiki would be better for this kinda idea?
posted by wackybrit at 4:07 PM on December 13, 2003

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