[SIGCIS-Members] Origin of 'language'?

David Golumbia dgolumbia at gmail.com
Wed Nov 5 08:59:39 PST 2014

t has two sources.

first, the use of "formal language" in logic and philosophy of language in
the work of Gottlob Frege in the late 19c/early 20c. Frege was clear that
the "formal languages" he developed were not like human languages, but they
have nevertheless sometimes been construed this way (although not usually
by philosophers and logicians).

second, from work in the late 1940s and early 1950s by Grace Hopper, others
at the Navy, and some in academia (particularly Harvard and MIT) to make
what were then called "computer codes" and basically required high-level
knowledge of mathematics, easier to use, and also compilers to
automatically turn these new forms (including well-known PLs like COBOL and
FORTRAN) into machine code. They called these "programming languages" in
part to distinguish them from "computer codes" and because they used
elements of natural language in their construction. almost immediately,
people started construing these constructions as some artificial
meta-category called "language," despite this being an incredibly
contentious (and basically entirely inaccurate) way of construing things.
Chomsky's 1950s papers on context-free grammars did not help things.

Have some work-in-progress on this topic as it's a particular pet peeve of
mine, but at this point pretty far back on the backburner (if anyone wants
to contribute please drop me a line, as I'm very interested in making it a
group project).


2014-11-05 4:13 GMT-05:00 Marie Gevers <marie.gevers at unamur.be>:

>  I wonder by whom and when the word 'language' was used for the first time
> in the framework of computer sciences.
> Can anybody enlighten me?
> Thanks in advance.
> Marie
> --
> Prof. Marie d'UDEKEM-GEVERS
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David Golumbia
dgolumbia at gmail.com
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