I’ve spent a few days indulging my creative side (which is probably one reason I’m about a day and a half behind in writing for the site). Many props to “Esta” for graciously allowing me to make her story the front page on Friday.
I spent the weekend hanging out with our good friend Shel in Portland, Oregon. She’s been there off and on since 1998, but we haven’t had the chance to visit her in her new element. It’s an appropriate word–she’s like a fish in water there. Portland is gorgeous, even more so than Seattle (albeit less dramatically situated), and feels … holistic somehow. It’s a city, but with lots of funkiness about it, one of the best bookstores I’ve ever been in, and huge greenbelts around and through it. Plus if you drive west about twenty minutes (and probably other directions too) you hit farm country!
We did some wine tasting in the Willamette Valley (some nice Pinot Noir), funked out at an outstanding little jazz club (Jimmy Mak’s), and hiked a bit along the coast. The last was quite dramatic. The winds were high and cold and the coast drops into the water precipitously, offering overlook views that look into lush forest and out to monadic rocks jutting up from the water like (Shel’s words) “sea creatures.” It was an excellent visit and kind of recentered me a bit.
One great thing I learned about Shel while I was down there. She’s growing her skill base beyond circuit and chip design and into software. So what computer language works for a seriously right-brained electrical engineer with a playful imagination and a highly developed artistic sense? Why, the only one with an Artistic License: Perl!
I’ve often considered computer languages as being equally valid for linguistic and cultural study as other languages. Computer languages are expressive and have their own semantic quirks. As I learn new languages I frequently find myself asking “How do you say this in Language X?”, where this is something I learned how to say in Language Y. And, just like real languages, I frequently find that the culture and usage of Language X, its creators, and its community, dictate how a particular thought and instruction are expressed.
Also parallel is the way that languages learn new ways to express ideas as they get exposed to new cultural artifacts. Perl has syntax to support object-oriented programming, something that’s about as far from its roots in sed and awk and other Unix command line arcana as you can get. I’m not a very good Perl programmer, and certainly don’t have a good grasp of the context of Perl language, but I think that programming object-oriented in Perl must be like speaking Pennsylvania Dutch to an “Englishman.”
The other thing I like about languages is that they support creative reuse. I’m sure that the Quechya people of the Andean regions of South America have no idea that a green skinned alien bounty hunter would be speaking their language to Han Solo (though I don’t know if “Boda, boda, Solo?” is Quechyan). Likewise, I’m sure that the Haya speakers of Kenya don’t know that they could have conversed with the pilot of the Millennium Falcon in Return of the Jedi (though his grasp of the language, judging from the one line translated, seems lacking: “One thousand herds of elephants are standing on my foot” indeed!)