2014-05-08

What's this all about?

I am not so special. I have just decided to write this since I see so many people getting it terribly wrong. Yes, I know a lot about Python, but what enables me to write authoritatively here is that I understand Python. Why? Mostly because I have read George Orwell. Language is important, because it shapes our thoughts. Language deeply affects the way we think.

Today, probably as a consequence of a proliferation of a great multitude of languages, too often people think that all languages are the same - we just have to learn the differences in vocabulary. printf in C, cout in C++, ? in BASIC, writeln in Pascal, System.out.println in Java, WRITE in FORTRAN, DISPLAY in COBOL, document.write in JavaScript, . in FORTH,  in APL, putStrLn in Haskell, write in Prolog, SELECT in SQL, content: in CSS, \write in LaTeX - they are all the same, right? Of course, there are syntactic differences - cout must be followed by that weird <<, WRITE has that strange (*,*) after it, and  is not found on a normal keyboard, for example - but that's all. Just superficial differences. No?

[Note: yes, I really did put SQL and CSS in there. On purpose. I hope you realize that CSS content: is not the same as FORTRAN WRITE. Well, guess what: neither is Python print. If you treat them the same, you're missing the point. And the fact that CSS "isn't a programming language" doesn't really matter. If you know that difference, and still fail to see the others, that's even sadder.]

If we want to learn a language, learning only the words and grammar is really missing the point. Words and grammar rules are just consequences of something much more fundamental, the culture from which the language emerges and which it feeds. And it really shows in a language. It cannot be hidden, and you shouldn't want to hide it, anyway. I'm sure you know at least some of very good reasons why you need to type 1 character in BASIC and 18 characters in Java to do similar things. Without them, BASIC wouldn't be BASIC, and Java certainly wouldn't be Java.

Here, I'll try to show you that the language matters. You shouldn't write C in Python, because it sounds just as bad as Chingrish. Native speakers will understand you, but will also - despite good manners - find what you speak really facepalm-worthy.

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