[SIGCIS-Members] Origin of 'language'?

Alberts, Gerard G.Alberts at uva.nl
Thu Nov 6 08:41:46 PST 2014

Dear Mary,
In the Project Software for Europe (2007-2011) we kept returning to the issue of the language metaphor in computer science. Take out this metaphor and the whole fabric of this (non-)discipline collapses. I say non-discipline because to my impression computer science is not growing into a traditional discipline like sciences used to be in modern times. 

The expression of language was present in many realms, in particular also with respect to mathematics, logic, algebra, also among the computer pioneers in the late 1940s. Yet something new occurred in the work of John Carr, John Perlis and others in 1954-55 (for details see the article by Edgar Daylight and myself in the next issue of the Annals).
These programmers started calling their automatic programming systems no longer translators but languages. Here a clearly technical device becomes a "language".

I consider it one of the achievements of the Software for Europe project to have pinpointed the emergence of this novel conception of programming language. With many in the Software for Europe team and building upon much earlier work by colleagues on this Edgar Daylight, David Nofre and I have rephrased these findings on several occasions. One of these occasions was the workshop you staged in Namur, 2009, together with Sandra Mols. Thanks you again for the occasion.

With a thank you to Nathan for pointing at out T&C article

Moreover the next issue of the Annals (36-4) offers a set of articles resulting from the Software for Europe project and detailing further history of the language metaphor.

Van: members-bounces at sigcis.org [members-bounces at sigcis.org] namens Nathan Ensmenger [nathan.ensmenger at gmail.com]
Verzonden: woensdag 5 november 2014 15:51
Aan: sigcis
Onderwerp: Re: [SIGCIS-Members] Origin of  'language'?

> On Nov 5, 2014, at 4:13 AM, Marie Gevers <marie.gevers at unamur.be> wrote:
> I wonder by whom and when the word 'language' was used for the first time in the framework of computer sciences.

Marie — a great place to start would be

David Nofre, Mark Priestley, and Gerard Alberts, "When Technology Became Language: The Origins of the Linguistic Conception of Computer Programming, 1950–1960” Technology and Culture, Volume 55, Number 1, January 2014 pp. 40-75


Nathan Ensmenger
Associate Professor of Informatics
School of Informatics and Computing
Indiana University, Bloomington

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