When coding, a person is using something known as a programming “language.” It comes with its own keywords, syntax, and best practices for comprehension. However, having used Ruby and JavaScript, I started to think about how lucky it was that programming languages I was familiar with tended to look a lot like English. All the code was read top-to-bottom, left-to-right. The keywords and helper methods were all English so I could get a sense of what they did even if I’d never seen them before. That lead me to another question… Are there programming languages based in languages OTHER than languages? After a little bit of research, I discovered the answer is definitely yes, but as someone who can code with English-based languages, it’s unlikely I’ll encounter them.

According to the HOPL (an online database for programming languages), over 1/3 of all programming languages in the world were developed in countries that speak English as their primary language. And this is just where the languages were developed — languages like Python and Ruby were developed in largely non-English speaking countries (Netherlands and Japan, respectively) but use English anyway to make it more accessible.

Some languages, such as ALGOL 68, were published with different languages. For example, “In English, Algol68’s case statement reads case ~ in ~ out ~ esac. In Russian, this reads выб ~ в ~ либо ~ быв.” (Wikipedia) Similarly, there is a language called “Scheme” which is not published in other languages, but has open-source translations that can be downloaded in libraries, thus making it functionally multi-lingual.

There are also some languages published using symbols instead of keywords.

The above is an example of APL, an ArrayOriented language. It is an example of a symbol-based language.

There are also some languages that are built to make existing programming languages accessible to those who don’t speak English. Babylscript, for example, is a multi-lingual version of JavaScript.

Because of the prevalence of English-based programming languages, what an English-speaker is more likely to encounter is a project using familiar programming language which has variables and comment written in another language. This makes can make it difficult to work on the project as part of a non-English speaking team, despite the shared programming language.


Student at FlatIron School learning Software Engineering

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