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On anglocentrism in computer science

Short premise: what follows are badly elaborated, likely unoriginal thoughts that I decided to write down after reading this toot and a gemini post by nytpu (imagining a localized programming languagehttp mirror). Also, as it’s relevant to the matter at hand, I’m Italian, and I can read and listen to technical English without issue1.

Programming languages

Easy things first, does it make any sense to internationalize a programming language? I’d say these are the issues that could arise from a linguistic hegemony:

An elegant solution to the first problem is employing purely symbolic names: see APL and the λ-calculus. However I don’t think that memorising an handful of terms is a significant hurdle, especially if there’s a translated manual available (but more on this later).

The latter point is definitely more intriguing, but I’m still in the “not much of a problem” camp: even if we assume that natural languages influence the design of programming structures, as a matter of fact most people will think in their mother tongue when brainstorming, so they’re not impeded at this stage; after that, bending the rules of English is easy if necessary. As an example, if-then-else had to be invented.


It’s probably not controvertial to state that the crux of the matter isn’t the code itself. Language references, academic papers, textbooks and programming manuals: this is where, in my experience, most people struggle. For the more popular “static” (i.e. rarely updated) content, translation are sometimes available (although vary much in quality), while often changing documents are pretty much a lost cause. Keeping different versions in sync is hard work that must be carryed on by “reference translators”, as a programmer can’t be expected to be able to update documentation written in languages they don’t know; also, people capable of doing this kind of work may consider it a waste of time and effort.

The bigger picture

This begs the question: would all this really be worth it? If everyone writes in the same language, learning that single tongue gives you access to a collection of information far larger than what would otherwise be possible. As an example of this principle in action, I often use the Italian Wikipedia as an Italian-English dictionary for technical terms: once I find the page I’m interested in, I immediatly switch to the corresponding English version.

The truth is that I, like many others, am not willing to give up on this. In the end, linguistic monoculture enables the exchange of knowledge between parties with just one common trait, having learned the lingua franca2.

I so wish we ended up with a better international language, be it Esperanto or whatever, but sadly this isn’t the world we live in. Quite disappointing.

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