Computer Languages and Logic
Post something you find interesting in this second half by connecting it to something you know a lot about.
During the discussion of Loglan and Lojban I found myself continually thinking about logic and how important it is when programming.
The entire focus of Loglan was the create a language free of emotion, or rather based on logic. When working on a computer program, everything you do has to be done in a way that makes sense to a computer, and you learn to think in a very logical, specific kind of way. Furthermore, programming languages are universal (meaning a person in the US can understand a program written in C just as well as someone in Germany, or someone in China because the langage of C transcends the languages of English, Germans or Chinese). I would equate this way of thinking and “communicating” with the goals of Loglan as outlined in this book.
Okran mentions the power of mathematical notation, and how Brown tried to implement a clear syntax into his language, Loglan. The importance of syntax for clarity is exactly like the importance of syntax in programming for execution; miss one semicolon and you can forget about the computer “understanding” you!
Okran herself mentions the similarities between computer programming and Lojban:
Composing a sentence in Lojban is like writing a line of computer code. Choose the wrong function, drop a variable, forget to close a parenthesis, and it doesn’t work.
I found it fascinating to find that Lojban in fact has the language equivalent of a compiler online. Okran used it herself to check the syntax of her sentences when prepping for the conference. Interestingly enough, she finds when she gets there that while her syntax was correct, her meaning was a bit off. This is something computer programmers struggle with often; sure, your program compiles (meaning there are no syntax errors), but does it do what you want it to do, and if not, then where is your error?
When Okran described the vast amounts of discussion centered around how to properly say things in Lojban, I was reminded of a logic class I took many years ago for my degree. Because I had been programming for a while, I remember thinking that learning about truth tables, if statements and how to show that one thing yields another based on a certain set of rules was simple and fun. However, when speaking to non-programmers in my dorm about the class, I was shocked to find that the art history and English majors were really struggling with these concepts. To me, it all made perfect, logical sense, and for them stripping away the emotion left them confused and frustrated.
Based on this experience, I am not all surprised that the people who tend to be interested in Lojban are science or math types. People who are skilled in those fields tend to be trained to think in a certain way, consciously or otherwise; their job requires it, and at some point or another they picked up the skill. Lojban caters to expression through this sort of thinking, and while I don’t think it’s excessively convenient, I do understand why it would appeal to the aforementioned people.
One final bit of information on Lojban… on their main web site, the first bulleted feature of Lojban is:
Lojban is designed to be used by people in communication with each other, and possibly in the future with computers.
Perhaps the language won’t be Lojban that we use to communicate with computers, but it wouldn’t surprise me at all if at some point in the future humans were communicating with computers through a language based in logic. At a low level, we do this already. “Hey, computer. Draw me a rectangle.” “Ok, person, here you go.” As computer programs and technology become more and more sophisticated, I think it’s just a matter of time before people can talk to computers.
Oh, wait. The time is now. (I’m kidding… mostly.)