[Haskell-cafe] off-topic question: how well do you think linguistic relativity applies to PLs and programming?

Mikael Brockman mbrock at goula.sh
Thu Jan 23 14:50:34 UTC 2014

Simon Yarde <simonyarde at me.com> writes:

>> programming ... languages, and in particular the way that programmers
>> use them, afford a capacity for essentially limitless amounts of
>> abstraction, unlike human language and human communication.
> Au contraire! Humans use just such powerful abstractions in language,
> arts and sciences — what we call humanity is built on no less.
> They're called *memes*.
> The only difference is that humans communicate on a foundation of
> shared experience that is a little more fuzzy and infinitely richer
> than the result of a data-base lookup.

Humanities people sometimes talk about "namedropping," like on a
philosophy podcast[1] where one of the ground rules is

  No namedropping!  Don't make arguments that hinge on something other
  than what we've agreed to read.  Don't say, "You'd understand me if
  you'd only read *Capitalism is Fine, Now Shut Up*, by The Man."

So just introducing a name (or even an ISBN number) isn't enough to
establish an abstraction in the humanities -- you need to work for it,
and new abstractions will probably remain fringey and unloved for a few
years until they're accepted as part of normal discourse.

There are similar issues in programming, like when introducing brand new
abstract typeclasses, combinators, concepts, and so on.  Even
introducing a dependency on a 3rd party library can sometimes resemble a
kind of "namedropping."  But it's easier to get away with it in

Mikael Brockman (@mbrock)

[1]: The Partially Examined Life, http://www.partiallyexaminedlife.com/,
     have this rule, with a new bogus example at the start of each
     episode; the quoted one is from the episode on *The Gay Science*.

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