Why are all programming languages in English?

Jenny Mandl
Jul 16, 2016 · 3 min read

Are there other programming languages based on other languages? If there are, what are they used for?

While interning at Microsoft this summer, I had the opportunity to meet lots of developers from other countries. Knowing English was their second language, I imagined myself trying to learn to code in a programming language based that wasn’t English based. The idea seemed like an impossible feat, but clearly people around me had learned to code in a language other than their native tongue.

First things first, not all programming languages are in English, however the keywords used, for almost all languages, are in English. Comments, variables, user written classes and methods though are frequently in a programmer’s own language. How confusing might that be? Especially in terms of maintaining the code, or having other developers work on it. On this list of non-English based programming languages it says:

“out of 8500+ programming languages recorded, around 2400 of them were developed in the United States, 600 in the United Kingdom, 160 in Canada, and 75 in Australia. In other words, over a third of all programming languages were developed in a country that primarily speaks English.”

This doesn’t even account for languages developed in non-English speaking countries done in English to appeal to an international audience. Developed in Switzerland, PASCAL was the primary language used to develop the first Macintosh computers. Niklaus Wirth, the Swiss computer scientist who developed PASCAL, could have used any of Switzerland’s four national languages. Why did he choose English?

At the same time PASCAL was being developed in the early 1970’s the French ministry of education oversaw the design and distribution of a language called LSE, Langage symbolique d’enseignement — Symbolic Language for Teaching which was a based on French dialect and has French key words. It quickly died in the 1980s, and became jokingly referred to as Langage Sans Espoir — Language Without Hope. What would have happened if PASCAL had been designed in French?

Among other success stories similar to the story of PASCAL are Python, which was created in the Netherlands, Lua which came from Brazil, and Ruby which originated in Japan. Even PHP was created by a Danish man who lived in French Canada!

The reason for this could be similar to why the majority of musical terms are in Italian, because a large portion of the most important early composers from the Renaissance to the Baroque period were Italian, and that period is when many of these terms were used to describe brand new ideas for the first time.

According to Forbes list of the worlds largest tech companies in 2016, which is based on a composite score from equally weighted measures of revenue, profits, assets, and market:

“Fourteen of the 25 largest tech companies in the world hail from the U.S., including seven of the top 10: Apple, Microsoft, Alphabet, Intel, IBM, Cisco Systems and Oracle.”

However, it also says that:

“The Asia-Pacific region is well represented in the rest of the list with eight companies– three from China, two each from Taiwan and South Korea and one from India. Germany, Sweden and Finland round out the top 25 in tech.”

Why do you think most important programming languages are English based?

Jenny Mandl

Written by

Intern at Microsoft, Artist, Professional Weirdo

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade