in reply to Perl for big projects
By Mr. Horsley's logic, English (or any other natural language) is a "write-only language" because there are so many ways of saying things. That's only true if you only learn one way of saying things, or a small sub-set of the vocabulary. Then you can't understand what someone else is saying, if s/he chooses to use a different phrase. It seems this is more an admission of an inadequate understanding of Perl, than a defect in the language. Perhaps it's better that Mr. Horsley *not* promote Perl, if this is true.
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Re^2: Perl for big projects
by strat (Canon) on Jul 11, 2006 at 08:08 UTC
/(English|German|.+?) language/... Terry Pratchet wrote in one of his books something like (translated back from german) "it's rather impossible to express yourself properly in a language that has its roots in insulting the monkey at the next tree". So I think Perl is a rather big advance into the right direction ;-)
BTW: I don't want to insult the /.+? language/ or anybody who's using it (maybe except myself); it just sometimes seems very difficult to understand what somebody wants to say (especially if this person is a SAP consultant...)
by Jenda (Abbot) on Jul 11, 2006 at 12:31 UTC
SAP consultant that can be understood is clearly an undertrained newbie. :-P
Re^2: Perl for big projects
by Anonymous Monk on Jul 11, 2006 at 20:03 UTC
If you don't believe me, construct a parser to correctly decipher the meaning of an English sentence, or to reject it if the sentence is not valid.
It's hard. Very, very hard. English is a mess. It's one of the hardest languages to learn for a reason: it's huge, and it's inconsistent, even compared to other natural languages.
We have a whole host of ways to write negation: "not hopeful", "atypical", "unrelated", "disproportional", "counterintutive", "antiestablishment". That's not an exhaustive list. "Up" opposes "down", but "to burn up" is not the opposite of "to burn down".
The language is ambiguous, even at it's most basic levels: In the sentence: "He finished his bow, and walked off briskly", the actor could be a bowyer or an actor, but we can't know without more contextual information. Languages that resolve ambiguity due to context are harder to understand: English does it a *lot*. And despite training, we can't really manage to learn it all.
Everyone in every English-speaking nation that I can think of is legally required to attend a *minimum* 11 years of schooling, where they learn spoken and written English, and formal rules of grammar and composition. Despite this, few native speakers understand even the most common English language idioms.
For example, I don't know how many times I've read people who should know better write: "to tow the line" (to tug on a rope!) rather than "to toe the line" (to step carefully along a pre-set path) as an idiom for obedience to authority. They should know better after 11 years: but they don't.
That's only true if you only learn one way of saying things, or a small sub-set of the vocabulary. Then you can't understand what someone else is saying, if s/he chooses to use a different phrase.
Name ten people who know every single word in the Oxford English Dictionary, every meaning in every context. I don't know any; and I know a lot of teacher and English majors. I doubt you know anyone who does, either. Everyone speaks a subset of English; and that's a problem. Try talking to someone straight from Jamaica: you won't understand him. You won't understand someone straight from old-world Scotland: as one of my friends was quite rudely told, "Yae dinnae ken hae tae tawk raeght!"
English is a mess. Worse, yet, literary English is confounded by a whole host of metaphor, much of which only makes sense only if you have a grounding in classical mythology. If you disagree, well, perchance we might stridently take discourse in the temple of Mars, good sir! Engarde! :-P
by spiritway (Vicar) on Jul 13, 2006 at 05:16 UTC
You raised some excellent points, and you're right about many of them. English is a mess, even by comparison to other natural languages. However, a couple of observations may be in order. First, I don't actually need to write a parser. I came equipped with one, and it does a reasonable enough job - and so do most peoples'. Overall, people do understand one another, more or less. There are always spectacular exceptions, the stuff of many comedies and tragedies. Second, while everyone knows a subset of English, we tend to limit our spoken vocabularies to an even smaller subset, possibly for this very reason. In ordinary conversation I use fewer different words, and much simpler ones than I would for a term paper, for example. Because of this, most people understand me when I talk to them. I think what I'm trying to say here is that within my particular group of English-speakers, we tend to use a subsets that have more members in common.
Unfortunately, another problem with English is that we often use expressions without having any good idea about what they mean (your "tow the line" was a perfect example). I've seen things like putting the "petal to the metal", "he's not all their", and so on. Makes me want to pound my head with a brick. Still, overall, people do seem to convey their meanings well enough most of the time. When they don't - well, that's what laywers are for. ;-)
Between the regional differences ("fossicking for wolfram" could be called "prospecting for tungsten"), variations in spelling, pronunciation, grammar, etc., the changes that occur over time, and slang, it's really confusing. If you have access to OED, check out the definitions for "pure". # 12 is "dog poop" (they use different words, but that's what they're talking about). Hey, that guy is real pure... Nice used to mean nasty, wantons once referred to innocents, and so on. Bad is good... war is peace...
*NO* one knows all the words in the OED, not even the guy who assembled it (he's dead, anyway). Somewhere I read that at best a highly literate person knows in the neighborhood of 50K words. The OED defines about ten times that number. I don't even know anyone who could reliably recognize whether a group of characters was even a word in the OED, much less always say what it means. So, no - no one knows all the words in English.
As for taking discourse in the temple of Mars - ah, well, I am a devotee of Venus... or Dionysus... I'll pass.
by swampyankee (Parson) on Jul 13, 2006 at 16:09 UTC
Spiritway hit most of my points, so I'll try not step on his toes (although it's "toe the line" and "pedal to the metal").
I've no idea what your native language is nor do I have a good grasp of your fluency in English. However, most of your criticisms of English apply to other natural languages. Spelling? French spelling, while more regular than English, has very little to do with the phonetics, and is also irregular. It's also chock full of idioms. Modern Italian has quite regular spelling: it should, it was made up in the 19th century from the dialect used in Florence. In reality, Italian has numerous dialects, many of which are mutually incomprehensible (my grandparents were Piemontese; my mother in law is Neapolitan; they couldn't have spoken to each other in "Italian;" Piemontese and Neapolitan are mutually incomprehensible. These native Italian speakers would have to talk to each other in English.).
Once upon a time, English spelling was phonetic. English changed. Yes, cough, hiccough, and through once rhymed. The "k" in knee was pronounced, "thou" was the 2d person familar (like "tu" in French), and all was right in the world (and "right" and "rite" were pronounced differently). French has also changed with time; so has Spanish. Norwegian has two official forms and several unofficial forms.(see Norwegian_language).
Yes, English may be a mess, but as a natural language it's in good company: even the worst specified computer language is orders of magnitude less messy than the least messy of the natural languages.
by Aristotle (Chancellor) on Jul 16, 2006 at 12:48 UTC
Youíre uttering lots of anglocentric criticisms as if they were true only of English. Try to parse Japanese someday.
The fact is that all natural languages disambiguate extremely heavily on context. When I say ďAlbert was not happy about the Bomb,Ē you know exactly which Albert and which bomb I mean. This sentence would be nearly the same in every single language; there is almost no language in which this sentence would be inexpressible without the inclusion of more context, and yet it will be equally comprehensible in all of them.
Every single claim you make applies in one form or other to every single natural language. Some throw up hurdles you possibly havenít even imagined because they work completely differently from English.
I donít know if thatís a problem. Despite the fact that I might not understand someone from Jamaica, I can certainly talk to roughly a few hundred million people without any significant difficulty in communication. If that counts as failure for a language, I want to know what success is.
The contrast is a language like Esperanto, which is constructed, is extremely regular, has very few rules, can be picked up in about 2 hours other than memorising vocabulary Ė and has no speakers.
Makeshifts last the longest.