Talking to machines: The political ascendance of the English language in computer programming

Date created: 
Computer Programming
English Language
Linguistic Imperialism
Media Archaeology
Communication Studies

This essay explores possible reasons why English has become the "default" natural language from which programming commands are borrowed. Programming languages like C, C++, Java and Python use English keywords exclusively. The essay explores the social factors that underlie this phenomenon and how traditional power hierarchies are perpetuated. The essay is a critical response to the emancipatory rhetoric that ushered in the creation and popularization of the digital computer. It uses the story of ALGOL project to illustrate how technical goals are shaped by social factors which inevitably reify inequality into technological artefacts. ALGOL, an attempt to create a standardized machine independent universal programming language, while answering a significant amount of technical questions, did not bridge the natural language gap. By way of historical exploration, I argue this result is an expression of American globalization of the computing industry.

Document type: 
Graduating extended essay / Research project
This thesis may be printed or downloaded for non-commercial research and scholarly purposes. Copyright remains with the author.
Senior supervisor: 
Yuezhi Zhao
Communication, Art & Technology: School of Communication
Thesis type: 
(Extended Essay) M.A.