Sunday, April 05, 2009

Hackers prefer it in English

Should every programmer understand English?

Eric Raymond notes that functional English is required for true hackers:

"As an American and native English-speaker myself, I have previously been reluctant to suggest this, lest it be taken as a sort of cultural imperialism. But several native speakers of other languages have urged me to point out that English is the working language of the hacker culture and the Internet, and that you will need to know it to function in the hacker community. Back around 1991 I learned that many hackers who have English as a second language use it in technical discussions even when they share a birth tongue; it was reported to me at the time that English has a richer technical vocabulary than any other language and is therefore simply a better tool for the job. For similar reasons, translations of technical books written in English are often unsatisfactory (when they get done at all).

Being a native English-speaker does not guarantee that you have language skills good enough to function as a hacker. If your writing is semi-literate, ungrammatical, and riddled with misspellings, many hackers (including myself) will tend to ignore you. While sloppy writing does not invariably mean sloppy thinking, we've generally found the correlation to be strong -- and we have no use for sloppy thinkers. If you can't yet write competently, learn to."

It is satisfying to find out a whole community - even if slightly notorious - that still equates sloppy writing (lack of grammar, misspellings, etc.) with sloppy thinking :-D Is there a Hacking Linguists Association? I would like to join.

Raymond continues to explain that it is not about linguistic imperialism, or Americanization:

"It's nothing more than great hackers collectively realizing that sticking to English for technical discussion makes it easier to get stuff done. It's a meritocracy of code, not language, and nobody (or at least nobody who is sane, anyway) localizes programming languages."

(Not among the hackers, but a lot among large software companies, who I assume are insane for the purpose of this discussion.)

"I know many developers in Poland who prefer to get English documentation rather than Polish translation and the reason for that is that translations were not always accurate. Even Microsoft developer documentation was translated partially or with errors, so reading original English document was easier than English-Polish soup."

Oh, shame! I said before that programmers should not be linguists because they talk gibberish, even if they do so in perfectly correct English :-D


USQ BEng(Civil) Student said...

It's not gibberish that hackers/software developers talk, but technical language. Programming entails the use of a large variety of programming terms and this can make it sound like gibberish to the outsider. Not too different to any other profession.

USQ BEng(Civil) Student said...

One more thing. If any aspiring hacker will need to learn to express themselves very well in English in order to get the assistance necessary from other hackers on the various forums.

Any young blood hacker will need to have sufficiently clear written English in order to have their question understood by hacker forumites. If nobody understands the question, or it is unclcear, well, you can imagine that it will be a case of garbage in garbage out. Or just no response at all, which does not assist with learning, does it?