Why Major Programming Languages are Written in English?

Why is English the most dominant language that is used for programming? Take a look at all the major programming languages and you will discover that all of them are based on English. Even in non-English speaking countries, you will discover that most programmers still consider English as their second language. The main reason for this is they depend on it for programming.

So, why is English the most widely used language? In this article, we are going to look at the main reasons why all major programming languages are in English.

1. English as a Lingua Franca

This term simply means that English is a bridge language. It is a common language of trade that is used worldwide. It is learned and spoken internationally by many people. For many years, scientists from different parts of the world have been using English as the main language of communication.

When it comes to programming, English is preferred because it breaks the communication barriers that may be existing between different programmers. This is important especially when we consider that programming is a global thing and not a localized subject. In other words, English is the most unifying language.

2. The USA was the first biggest market for computers

When the computers were being invented, the US was the biggest market for these devices before other countries joined in. This means that all the programming languages that were developed had to suit the US audience. Failure to put this factor into consideration can make the programming language to fail to gain any meaningful traction. This explains why major all the major programming languages are in English.

3. Most early programming languages originated in English-speaking countries

It is imperative to note that most English-speaking countries were the homes of computer science. During the early days, computer science was taught in the US, UK, and Canada. Other countries started focusing on this subject years later.

Programming languages developed from these early theoretical computer science teachings which were done in the English language. For instance, let’s take a look at the US. Massive resources were set aside just for the research and development of computer science. It is from such activities that some programming languages such as C programming came into existence. As you would have expected, most of these first languages were in English. The same applies to other developed English speaking countries.

The impact that the US had in the computer arena is being felt up to date. Just take a look at some of the world’s biggest and most successful tech startups. Most of them are based in the US. According to statistics from Forbes, 14 out of the 25 largest tech startups come from the US. This just shows the level of attention that was given to programming languages in this country. Being a pioneer in most early programming languages, You should expect English to be used as the main language for programming.

4. Compatibility with ASCII

Another key reason why all major programming languages are in English is the compatibility with ASCII (American Standard Code for Information Interchange) ASCII codes are used in most electronic devices to represent texts.

Until recently ASCII was the main character encoding that worked on the computer and other electronic devices without requiring the support of other software or hardware. Other character encoding codes had to be supported by specially-modified keyboards and terminals. Programmers also had to use custom text editors and environments.

To avoid all these constraints, programmers preferred using English. It was ‘light’ and more portable. Even the non-English programmers had all the reasons to stick to the English language.

5. English is compatible with Six-bit character code

The English language is made of Roman character set which is very simple and devoid of any accent marks. This feature makes English a perfect language for Six-bit character code representations which were used in major programming languages.

The identifiers in old programming languages such as COBOL, FORTRAN and SQL are very case-insensitive. They pay more attention to the punctuation and characters instead of the uppercase and lowercase. These are things that can be easily manipulated in English.

From these five reasons, you can see why all major programming languages are in English. However, these do not mean that other languages have not been used.

2 thoughts on “Why Major Programming Languages are Written in English?”

  1. NO. This is wrong.
    Most languages are Right to left, contrary to English because this is how we write assignments in Calculus: “f(x) = a(x) + b” – and there are even exceptions to this, Norsk Data used a programming language that made assignments the way you read them, left to right and the reason was that “this was easier” (and I admit, could not be cross-compiled to C or C++).
    The core of modern programming languages is founded on Algol: this is where you get the block structuring and strong typing. C was around at the time, but was changed to allowing this “block” structure. The same with Pascal. Now observe: Look at FORTRAN, COBOL and PL/1, the main programming languages at the time, none of these have “blocks” – only C. COBOL was modified to allow linking in of FORTRAN routine libraries! COBOL had no library, all had to be contained in the stack of cards, thousands of them. In BASIC and FORTRAN all routine calls had just one scope: Global. All variables were Global. Parameter passed were always passed as “reference” – you could not pass a number. Meaning that if you modified a parameter, you modified the variable in the main source.
    The programming languages were developed in Europe, and allowed the European companies to pave the way for Unix and C. But first, the US had to accept Linux as a standard so we could work together.
    But sorry Vicky, the US as a market for computers collapsed in 1989 to 1992. The market that collapsed was the IBM mainframe architecture, the pidestall of US technology came all stumbling down. European companies made bigger, faster and more reliable technology – by miles. Ten times faster to 10% of the price. US hardware were developed and Linux was ported to MK68000 and Intel 386 and ran like a wind compared to IBM mainframes. Never mind that European hardware did not make it through the battle with Intel and Motorola, we gave them a fair fight all the way. Just do not leave it out who brought you C/C++ and Linux.
    Your mobile phone does not use US ASCII – but ITU t.56 character set developed in Europe for the CCITT and GSM network. This is the international character set that the UTF8 is based on – not ASCII. And this is not a 6, 7 or 8 bit code, visit China and learn! – This is the biggest market now!


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