Re: A Plain English Compiler

Hans-Peter Diettrich <>
Wed, 29 Oct 2014 01:28:23 +0100

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From: Hans-Peter Diettrich <>
Newsgroups: comp.compilers
Date: Wed, 29 Oct 2014 01:28:23 +0100
Organization: Compilers Central
References: 06-02-122 06-02-125 14-10-005 14-10-008 14-10-009 14-10-010
Keywords: design, comment
Posted-Date: 28 Oct 2014 22:24:23 EDT

> [Man, there's a programming language I'd like to use.
> Re COBOL, I am fairly sure that the point of making it look like stilted
> English was not that they'd thought it'd make it easier to program, but
> that it'd be possible for non-programmers, e.g. auditors, to look at the
> code and figure out what it did. -John]

Right, and this leads me to the question, *who* is the intended writer
of a program in that English language?

Is it the customer, needing a program? Have a look at (such) program
specifications, and you'll find most of them unusable until rewritten by
an IT expert.

So could it be the IT expert, in an attempt to make the program
specifications readable by the customer? This was the COBOL idea, but I
doubt that anybody but the coder ever had a *closer* look at such code.
More probably BASIC was the language to bridge the gap between newbies
and their home computers, with the famous Rocky Mountain Basic (HP) and
Visual Basic (MS) for more powerful machines and ambitious programs.

I also doubt that it could be some mathematician, who has little use for
English in writing down his formulas; he were better off with a FORTRAN
descendant, enriched by mathematical glyphs (operators...). OTOH
algorithms are frequently given in verbose form, so that many people
would be happy with an according compiler. SQL is another example of a
widely used language close to spoken English.

Last not least I'm not sure about the many non-native English speakers,
which have problems in finding the right English terms for what they
want to do. Here APL was an attempt to eliminate language barriers, but
with little success - probably due to expensive equipment (keyboards and
screens) in the early age of computing. Nowadays Chinese machines were
much better equipped for a programming language based on
language-independent glyphs.

All in all I'd think that it's a good idea when *everybody* has to learn
an universal (programming...) language, with texts written in that
language being understandable to everybody else, and in the context of
this thread *including computers* :-)

Apart from Esperanto and Volap|k the Indonesian language IMO is a good
example for a simple artificial language, that already allows the native
speakers of many hundred different languages to communicate in everydays
life. As I don't speak Indonesian myself, I'm not sure about its
possible use as a programming language, but as a non-native English
speaker I'd assume that it is less ambiguous than other spoken
languages, and easier to spell than English :-]

[APL's character set wasn't a big problem -- IBM terminals had APL
type elements, and in the mid 1970s we had APL fonts for our bitmap
terminals. The problem was mostly that it was hard to teach people
how to write and read it (you needed to recognize a lot of idioms), if
you wanted a data structure other than rectangular arrays you were out
of luck, and it never had very good interfaces to external files.

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