Dyce & Sons Ltd.

Helping IT since 1993


Sunday 15th September, 2013

My name is Richard, and I’m a Glossophilic.

Actually, there probably isn’t a self-help group for my condition, but maybe there should be. Like many of my friends and peers I’ve been drawn to languages, for the sheer pleasure of manipulating symbols. I think that there is such thing as symbolic pleasure - which goes beyond glossophilia - and explains why mathematicians love mathematics, but not arithmetic (and why at uni you would often find yourself standing behind a mathmo at the till in Sainsbury’s while they dealt with the mundanities of coinage.)

I’ve been very lucky in my career, having been taught programming (as a science) by the authors of two languages. Granted neither language is in common use nowadays, but both were significant in their time. Having a formal programming education is, on balance, a good thing. And like all programmers over a certain age, you start to ‘collect’ languages. It’s interesting though, to characterise them into two groups:

  1. Languages I have actually written code in ( 68000 assembler, 6809 assembler, AppleScript, bash shell, BASIC, C, C++, HyperTalk, Java ( & Groovy ), JavaScript ( & jQuery ), Lisp, Lua, ML, Modula2, MySQL, ObjectiveC, Pascal, PHP, PostScript, Python, Ruby, sed/awk, VB6, VBA, Z80 assembler), and, more importantly,

  2. Languages people have paid hard currency for me to code in (AppleScript, bash shell, BASIC, HyperTalk, Java ( & Groovy ), JavaScript ( & jQuery ), MySQL, ObjectiveC, PHP, PostScript, sed/awk, VB6, VBA.)

The second list is obviously a subset of the first, and to save you counting, it’s roughly half. Half of the time that I’ve spent learning a language, the churlish could therefore argue, I’ve gained no benefit from it. Of course this isn’t true.

If nothing else, exposure to other programming languages can provide you with alternative approaches to problem solving in the language you’re using, or indeed suggest that the language you’re using is in fact the wrong language for solving the problem altogether. For software publishers, a subtler effect, is to raise expectations. We’ve seen this in the way Editorial has raised the bar for text editors, and how development features in one language make it into other languages, in fact be sought out when designing new languages.

And knowledge of how ‘the other language’ works can lead to a more sympathetic understanding of another programmer’s world view.

We have a German student staying with us, and whilst the difference between using the modal verbs wollen and m‚àö‚àÇgen may seem like syntactic sugar to a German, to a Brit, there’s a big difference between “I will go to Inverness” and “I would like to go to Inverness”. Understanding the difference, from the English perspective, can prevent rather heated misunderstandings.

Do us all a favour - if you can find one, befriend a Haskell programmer today.