Sticky Notes of Thoughts

…because some thoughts are worth remembering

On Choice of Language Shaping Thoughts

2015-10-02 16.35.45

“A language that doesn’t affect the way you think about programming, is not worth knowing” ~Alan Perlis

Perlis was an accomplished computer scientist (first winner of the Turing Award, etc.). The above quote is from his Epigrams in Programming (click here for more) and it speaks specifically to computer languages, but I think about it in terms of natural languages as well as media we choose to express ourselves in/with.

Surely, the fact that Japanese has so many words to refer to oneself (我、自分、私、わたくし、俺、僕、わし、etc.) and yet the subject is routinely dropped in a sentence either says something about the culture or shapes the way you think. A researcher discovered that eyewitness testimonies are less reliable in countries where languages de-emphasizes the use of subjects in a sentence, presumably because who did the act is deprioritized in the brain than the act itself. Having more words for a particular object in a language helps you appreciate the nuance among varieties of the object.

Expressing “self” in a oil painting would look different from one portrayed using water colors, or as a statue. In the same way graphical media have their own syntax and vocabulary, or call them techniques and hues, the C note on the piano sounds different than playing C on a saxophone. Salty expressed with soy sauce, tastes different than saltiness that come from fish sauce. They aren’t just different but it makes one (at least me) think about portraying yourself differently in art, expressing a melody differently depending on an instrument, or preparing a meal differently depending on what salt substitute was available.

If I want to think, express myself, sound or flavor a certain way, the choice of “language” or medium is important, remembering that the choice, in turn will shape what you think.

Photo: installation at de Young Museum, San Francisco, California

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This entry was posted on December 30, 2015 by in language, Linguistics, Psychology, Quotes and tagged , , , , , .
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