Forced To Write English Syntax Code – Simplicity or Burden?Filed Under Code, Human Factors, Thought Stuff
This is a guest post by Jurgen Appelo. Jurgen is the CIO of the #1 fastest growing technology company in the Netherlands.
Did you know that only two countries, the United States and Canada, participate in what the Americans call the "World Series"? It’s as stupid as it is hilarious. The average American doesn’t know that the European Union has almost twice as many citizens as the United States. Americans only care about their own 50 states. And that’s fine with me. As a Dutch guy, when filling out (American-made) personalization forms on “international” web sites, I always chuckle when I see that half a million people in the state of Wyoming are apparently more interesting than the 86 million people in the Chinese province of Shandong.
Last year, when some guy in California noticed that I am from The Netherlands, he asked me if I knew a certain Johan Christiansen in Denmark. (For American readers I should explain why I thought this was funny: There is country, called Germany, with 80 million people in it, separating The Netherlands from Denmark. The chance of me knowing someone in Denmark is as small as the chance of Max being able to pronounce "een schip in Scheveningen" in Dutch.) So I said no, and I asked this guy if he knew a certain Carlos Gonzalez in Ecuador. For some reason he didn’t appreciate that reply.
Max asked me what I thought about Americans forcing programming languages, with English syntax, and frameworks with English API’s, upon non-English developers in the rest of the world. Well, here’s what I think:
Americans are stupid, and I love them for it. Because stupidity leads to simplicity, and simplicity is exactly what we need in software development.
We Europeans are different. We know where the United States are. (It’s that place where all that CO2 stuff is coming from.) And we distinguish ourselves from the Americans by making things as complicated as possible, particularly when the French are involved. If the .NET Framework was created by a European organization, it would have a core API in three languages (English, French and German), and there would be many dozens of adapter layers translating these core API’s to secondary API’s in any of the other twenty official languages. Europeans have a horrible tendency to compromize, not wanting to forget or offend anyone, which makes the outcome of our efforts completely incomprehensible, and utterly unworkable. (My partner works for the European Union, so I know first-hand how things are handled here.)
I think most software developers are now glad that the unique combination of American imperialism and stupidity has resulted in all computer languages and frameworks being presented in one simple language: English.
Microsoft has once made the error of trying to please the non-English users of Excel by offering versions of Visual Basic for Appliation (VBA) in non-English variants. I have to tell you, programming in that language, with Dutch syntax and keywords, was horrible. Our language is hard enough to speak, let alone to program in. Even the non-programmers that I was trying to teach Excel thought that this was weird. Since then, Microsoft has decided to ignore their European users. (A strategy that has resulted in a $2.57 billion fine imposed by the European Union.)
I think we should all be happy that Americans have imposed their language on software developers around the world.
Just imagine how awful it would be if everyone in the world had to program against French API’s on French frameworks. Anything written in French costs almost twice as many keystrokes as the English counterparts. And I really wouldn’t care for diacriticals and other typical French baroque embellishments in my programming languages. France, despite being the center of Western Europe (and feeling itself the center of Western civilization) cannot offer us the simplicity that the US can offer us.
And we can be just as glad that all the other old global empires have died long before they were able to impose their difficult character sets upon everybody.
The Arab empire has given us the decimal numeral system. But many of us still blame them for not having selected the octal numeral system, despite the fact that they did give us chess, which is octal by nature. This error has already cost the software development world billions of dollars in inefficiencies, so let’s be glad we’re not programming in the Arab language too. And if it had been the Turks we would now all be struggling with all the variants of the letter I.
Similarly, the Chinese empire has failed long before being able to trouble each one of us with Chinese characters. Of course, China is growing again. But, even though the Chinese can choose to ignore the rest of the world at times, the standard American qwerty keyboard is here to stay.
Good old American culture gave software development simplicity and no compromises. The typical American inability to grasp the nature of special characters has given us programming languages and frameworks with an easy syntax. It’s simply take-it-or-leave-it-English for everyone. And no funny British idiosyncrasies like the extra superfluous u, as in colour. That might have saved us another 0.x percent in size of various API’s. I can hardly think of a better example of the KISS-principle. Because, in this case the phrase "Keep It Simple, Stupid" actually refers to people having made things simple by being stupid.
In this respect it might be interesting to note that (British) NewScientist magazine has recently published an article on the rapid evolution of the English language. It now appears that stupid non-native English speaking people (like me) are making the English language even simpler and more consistent, because we often fail to recognize the last few exceptions that the English language still has. For example, many of us simply use "informations" as the plural form of "information". And why not? Let’s make it simple for everyone. We’re not all French, are we?
So, let’s stop attacking Americans for their simple-mindedness. Americans have saved me a lot of trouble. So I really don’t care if I have to explain to them that Copenhagen is not the capital city of The Netherlands. (It’s Amsterdam.)
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