Re: simple vs complex languages (Nick Maclaren)
14 May 2003 00:50:11 -0400

          From comp.compilers

Related articles
[10 earlier articles]
Re: simple vs complex languages (George Richard Russell) (2003-05-12)
Re: simple vs complex languages (2003-05-12)
Re: simple vs complex languages (David Spencer) (2003-05-12)
Re: simple vs complex languages (Thant Tessman) (2003-05-12)
Re: simple vs complex languages (2003-05-12)
Re: simple vs complex languages (2003-05-12)
Re: simple vs complex languages (2003-05-14)
Re: simple vs complex languages (Robert A Duff) (2003-05-15)
Re: simple vs complex languages (Lex Spoon) (2003-05-15)
Re: simple vs complex languages (2003-05-16)
Re: simple vs complex languages (Tony Finch) (2003-05-16)
Re: simple vs complex languages (Terrence Enger) (2003-05-16)
Re: simple vs complex languages (Alex Colvin) (2003-05-16)
[22 later articles]
| List of all articles for this month |

From: (Nick Maclaren)
Newsgroups: comp.compilers
Date: 14 May 2003 00:50:11 -0400
Organization: University of Cambridge, England
References: 03-04-095 03-05-023
Keywords: design
Posted-Date: 14 May 2003 00:50:11 EDT

Scott Moore <> writes:
|> wrote:
|> > If a language is designed with a simple, consistent syntax then it is
|> > not only easier for the compiler to parse, but (more importantly) it
|> > is easier for humans to understand and therefore easier to get
|> > right. Can you guess I like Pascal, which was designed from the outset
|> > for a single pass RDP?
|> In virtually any field of human speciality, a more precise language
|> becomes the norm, even if no machines are involved, from medical
|> professions, to legal, and science. Finally math, even though it was
|> originally only for human consumption, is very precise.

Hmm. Even ignoring politics and advertising, which show the converse
effect very strongly, computer science and information technology
provides several counter-examples.

Consider interface definitions (including language and library
standards), which are central to this newsgroup! Not merely have most
commercial products subsumed the traditional reference manuals into
the usage guides, many or most formal and semi-formal standards have
taken a similar path (e.g. replacing specifications by "APIs".) See
below for some clarification.

Heaven help us, this rot has hit even Fortran, though it is still one
of the better standards :-(

|> Computers WILL do a good job of understanding english, but computers
|> won't be programmed that way. If you had a computer that understood
|> english tomorrow, and was itself a good emulation of a human, you
|> would find a more precise language than english to tell it what to do.

Hmm, again. Your first statement sounds rather like an article of
faith, rather than a prediction. Are you sure?

However, your point that English is not good for giving precise
instructions is a very sound one - in fact, it is one of the worst of
the natural languages for this, and languages like French are much

|> The fact that Pascal has been repeatedly raped does not make it any less
|> virtuous.

Well, I remember when it was being developed and started to spread.
Its virtue was solely in the eye of its parents and admirers; most
other people regarded it as delinquent.

This is actually relevant to the previous points. It always did
have a fairly well-defined syntax (being an Algol-derived language),
but its limits, constraints, semantics and exception handling were
almost wholly unspecified. And those are precisely the areas where
modern specifications are even worse than they used to be.

Nick Maclaren.

Post a followup to this message

Return to the comp.compilers page.
Search the comp.compilers archives again.