Computers are Systems, not Languages – Ian Bogost

January 28, 2011 at 8:44 am 2 comments

I find this whole idea bizarre — that degree-granting programs would really believe that learning a programming language as being at all comparable to learning a natural language.  Ian does a good job addressing the issues.  I wonder if we in CS made a mistake when we called our notations “languages.”  They’re notations.  They are not used for the same purposes as natural languages.  They describe different things.  Maybe we led people astray by calling them languages.

Last year I learned about a rumor swirling around the comparative literature department at UCLA, where I did my PhD. Supposedly I had managed to get C++ to count as one of the three languages required for the degree. It’s not true, for the record, but it is a topic that comes up from time to time—substituting programming languages for natural languages. Many of us who work in computing and the humanities claim that knowledge of computation is essential background for all discussions that hope to bridge the two, not just for those who intend to make things for computers.

via Ian Bogost – Computers are Systems, not Languages.

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2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Ian Bogost  |  January 28, 2011 at 1:27 pm

    Maybe we led people astray by calling them languages

    I was wondering that too. Do you know the history of the use of the term in computing?

    • 2. Rob St. Amant  |  January 28, 2011 at 11:00 pm

      I don’t know, but I’d guess that it grew out of “the language of mathematics”, a phrase that Galileo made famous (in translation, at least :-).


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