Natural vs Programming Languages

Sheldon Klein (sklein@CS.WISC.EDU)
Mon, 7 Oct 1996 00:50:15 -0500

Ron Kephart said,
>I don't know enough about programming "languages" to make a fully informed
>comment, except to say that I am suspicious at some sort of gut level of the
>use of the word "language" to describe them, which is why I put the word in
>quotes. I wish someone who knows more about both programming and natural
>language would respond.

The primary difference between natural languages and programming languages
is that natural languages are inherently ambiguous-- in phonology
morphology, syntax and meaning.

Programming languages are engineered not to be ambiguous.
In general, they are usually describable by context-free phrase
structure grammars--

The problems associated with the elaboration of higher-level programming
languages has resulted in a literature dealing with the 'semantics' of
programming languages, and occasional problems of ambiguity which may
enter, unavoidably, because of their complexity.

It worth noting that computer science students have no trouble
earning top A's in Linguistics Dept. courses in syntax, but that
most students in Linguistics have trouble earning A's (or even B's)
in middle-level Computer Science Dept. courses.
[I offer no interpretation.]

Prof. Sheldon Klein

Computer Sciences Dept. Linguistics Dept.
University of Wisconsin 1163 Van Hise
1210 W. Dayton St. University of Wisconsin
Madison, Wisconsin 53706 Madison, Wisconsin 53706