The Hidden Fire in a Programming Office

I am making an assumption that you, reading this, can at least speak one language. I know that it is a dumb assumption but bear with me for a moment. Most programmers can speak at least one other language as well. Now if I were to attack your language, I might be attacking who you are, your culture (Kramsch, 2008). It is the same for programmers.

I am always amused to be involved in a discussion between programmers, of different backgrounds, when they start getting into the topic of programming languages. They work predominantly in one language all day and have bought into that culture. So when discussions like this come up, they are almost always heated. What amazes me however, is how that emotion clouds their judgment. They will argue for their language against languages they do not even understand. I suppose this would be true for anyone who has their language criticised. I am sure that if I had to say that English is not the best language to do business in, I would offend many people who believe this to be true.

It is easy to dismiss that which we do not know, but take the case of someone who speaks many languages. How is he/she to convince someone as to the perceived benefits of a different language? It is inherent that the person that needs convincing will take offense to this and relate it back to what they know… their language and generally take a defensive stance. We all like to believe that we are logical when it comes to discussions of this nature, but the emotion does cloud our ability to see opportunity.

We could approach this from a different angle, but we would get the same results. We could propose that some languages are better at conveying certain messages than others; they might do it more efficiently or descriptively.

That argument is pretty neutral and it is easy to get people to accept it. Now when we dig into the specifics, it gets personal again. If I were to say that Afrikaans is a fantastic language for describing how I feel and that French is a more colourful language for expressing anger, whereas English is great for causing confusion. I might be correct, but if you only spoke English, you would more than likely take offense; get defensive; and miss out on an opportunity to learn more about another culture (language).

It is the same for programming languages. Most programmers acknowledge that certain languages are better for accomplishing different goals. Very few agree which ones are the right ones for the job. If we could find a way to better communicate with each other, maybe we could progress into the future at a faster pace.

I was originally going to make this post about different languages that I use and when. Somehow I got side-tracked and lost the plot. For that discussion you can look at my opinion on internet presentation languages.


Kramsch, C. J. (2008). Language and culture (p. 134)

  • Shantelle

    Brilliant! I know someone who will benefit from reading this …