The Only Universal Language In Software Is English

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In a recent post, I compared the expressiveness of the Ruby style of writing code to the current C# style of writing code. I then went on and demonstrated one approach to achieving something close to Ruby’s expressiveness using Extension Methods in C# 3.0.

The discussion focused on how well each code sample expresses the intent of the author. Let’s look at the comparison:

Ruby:

20.minutes.ago

C#:

DateTime.Now.Subtract(TimeSpan.FromMinutes(20));

C# 3.0 using Extension Methods:

20.Minutes().Ago();

It seems obvious to me that the C# 3.0 example is more expressive than the classic C# approach, but not everyone agrees. Several people have said something to the effect of:

Yeah, that’s great for those who speak English.

Another person mentioned that the Ruby style of code panders to English speakers? Really?! Really?!

Yet somehow, the classic C# example doesn’t pander to English speakers? In the Ruby example, I count 2 words in English, Minutes and Ago. In the classic C# example, I count 8 words in English-Date, Time, Now, Subtract, Time, Span, From, Minutes(decomposing the class names into their constituent words via Pascal Casing rules).

Not to mention that all of these code samples flow left-to-right, unlike languages such as Hebrew and Arabic which flow right to left.

Seems to me that if anything, the classic C# example panders just as much if not more to the English speaking world than the Ruby example.

One explanation given for this statement is the following:

DateTime.Now.Subtract(TimeSpan.FromMinutes(20)); follows a common convention across languages, a hierarchical OOP syntax that makes sense regardless of your native tongue

I don’t get it. How is 20.minutes.ago not hierarchical and object oriented yet we wouldn’t even take a second look at DateTime.Now.Dayor 20.ToString(), both of which are currently in C# and familiar to developers.

The key goal in object oriented software is to attempt to develop abstractions and work with in the domain of those abstractions. That’s the foundation of OO. Working with a Product object and a Customer object rather than a large set of procedural methods makes it even possible to understand a large system.

Let’s look at a typical object oriented code sample found in an OO tutorial:

Customer customer = Load<Customer>(id);
Order order = customer.GetLastOrder();
ShippingProvider shipper = Shipping.Create();
shipper.Ship(order);

I know I know! This code panders to English! Look at the way it’s written! GetLastOrder()? Shouldn’t that be ConseguirOrdenPasada()?

Keep in mind that this all stems from a discussion about Ruby, a language written by Yukihiro Matsumoto, a Japanese computer scientist.

Now why would a Japanese programmer write a programming language that “panders to English?”

Maybe because the only language in software that is universal is English. It’s just not possible to write a programming language that would be universally expressive in any human language. What might work for a Spanish speaker might be confusing to a Swahili speaker. Not to mention the difficulty in writing a programming language that would read left to right and right to left (Palindrome# anyone?).

Yet we must find common ground for a programming language, so choosing a human language we must. For historical reasons, English is that de-facto language. It’s the reason why all the major programming languages have English keywords and English words for its class libraries. It’s why you use the Color class in C# and not the Colour or 색깔 class.

Now I’m not some America-centrist who says this is the way it should be. I’m just saying this is the way it is. Feel free to create a programming language with all its major keywords in another language and see how widely it is adopted. It’s a fact of life. If you’re going to write software, you better learn some degree of English.

In conclusion, yes, 20.minutes.ago does pander to English, but only because all major programming languages pander to English. C# is no exception. In fact, pandering to English is our goal when trying to write readable software.

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