Archive for March, 2009

Semantic Organization of Programming Language Memory

by on Mar.14, 2009, under Cognitive Science, Programming

I have long been interested in how the selection and use of a particular programming language by the programmer influences how they represent the problem internally. Ultimately, this would influence how, or even ‘if’, they solve the problem. As part of my studies at the University of Washington, I’ve finally had the opportunity to do some actual research in this area, albeit of very limited scope. The paper below examines the observed differences in the semantic networks of three programmers. An emphasis is placed on differences between users of languages in different paradigms, such as functional versus imperative.

This interest grew back when I was making heavy use of both the functional and interactive features of the Lua language. Over time, programming began to ‘feel’ different and I notices I was using different types of design patterns as compared to my C++ heavy days. These and many other subjective aspects encouraged me to explore other uniquely variant views of software development such as Smalltalk and Qi. I became further convinced the linguistic homogeny pervasive across industry is detrimental to innovation.

Unfortunately, on the topic of ‘what language is suited for what’ practitioners and researchers alike have little more than anecdotes. After all, most general purpose languages are all Turing complete and therefore computationally equivalent, so why does it matter? It matters when one considers the programmer and the machine as a composite unit. Then, the programmer is involved in a stimulus/response loop with the machine where the programming language and environment is the communication medium. At this level, the way the programmer perceives and responds to the machine state becomes important. I assert that language influences this interaction in an under-appreciated fashion regardless of underlying technical equivalencies.

Semantic Organization of Programming Language Constructs (postscript format)

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