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 Originally Posted By: morphememedley
I've been wondering, does the learning of a computer programming language feel like it is intensively using the brain region(s) intensively used in learning linguistics?

It's interesting. This is an empirical question that we clearly have the technology to answer. Whether anyone has actually done it, I could not tell you - but it's very clear that this could be done - at least in a physical-structural sense.

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I've been wondering, does the learning of a computer programming language feel like it is intensively using the brain region(s) intensively used in learning linguistics?

Do you mean learning a language or learning linguistics? They are two different things. I know that some universities in the States have allowed a programming language to be substituted for one of the two languages required in many PhD programs. The evolution of computer science has benefited from some linguistics, and there is a branch of computational linguistics, but programming languages, while superficially resembling natural languages, are really quite different from them. You could say (using modern (object-oriented programming) terminology that objects (instances of classes) are like nouns, they have properties (state) which can predicated (kind of like adjectives), and they have methods (functions, subroutines) which are like verbs. Two big differences between programming languages and natural ones is that there is no ambiguity in the former (i.e., there is only one way to parse a statement (sentence)) and the verbal systems only has one mood (imperative) and one person (the second). There are some programming languages that are not procedural (imperative) such as Lisp and Haskell (functional) and Prolog (declarative), but these higher level languages all get translated into machine language which is imperative. I'd say the similarities are superficial and that programming languages are like some animal systems of communication, that is not really language except in a metaphoric way. (For the record, I have studied both linguistics and computer science and have taught both natural and programming languages (Latin, Pascal, Java, C, and C++.)


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I think I'd agree with all that, however, I'd say the likelihood of whether the same parts of the brain are used as in learning language would probably increase the higher the level of the computer 'language'. (Was that a sentence, I can't tell anymore it's so late. Who cares?) With low level languages nearer to the machine code end of the spectrum, I imagine it would be mostly the same parts that are used in engaging with mathematical things, rather than with verbal things. With higher level languages such as some recent gaming languages, etc, they are much more like human speech.

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i knit.. and knitting, is the closest thing i know to computer (code)

in knitting there is 1 stitch, (viewed one way, its called a knit,(0) but the same stitch, viewed from the other side is called a purl (1)

all stitch patterns are based on how the stitch is viewed.

(and like a computer, when i knit, i process each stitch..when i design, i plan the code, and then work the code.

some processes in knitting closely resemble computer actions..

like multiplication. in a computer (assembly language)
the contents of a register are saved, (2, 4, 8, 16 bits) then the next set of 'bits' are worked,
then the contents of saved bits are worked.

in knitting, some stitches are placed on a cable needle,
then some stitches are worked
then the stitches from the cable needle are worked

there are lots of other commonalities.. See Hex and Bin meet my friends Knit and Purl, for example

Knitting and computer science (and math) all work together..

also see the home of mathematical knitting..
i could post a dozen other links.. a lot of knitters are also computer (and math, and science) nerds.

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Interestingly, knitting can be done one of two ways, American (?) or European style. I can do both, but at the time I was most interested in knitting, someone taught me in European and that is what I prefer. I find it more efficient, and less taxing, with condensed movement. They do not produce knitting which is exactly the same, but close enough that most people cannot tell the difference.

The first computer thing I did was my first year of college and we used a stack of punch cards. Is there a particular language associated with this? How horribly did I just date myself? Can anyone correctly guess what year was my first in college?

I don't care what you say, Pook, to me "tamal" is the only singular form of "tamales", no matter the language. nyeh nyeh... ;0)

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You're right to point out that learning a language and learning linguistics aren't one and the same.

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I used RPG (Report Program Generator) on punch cards in about 1978.

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@ twosleepy: Punch cards were just an input medium. One can no more tell what language you were using then one could if you had said you used a USB keyboard. My favorite punch card story is of the time I was filling in for the operators in the computer room and I fed a stack of punch cards into the reader without putting the weight in the output bin. My reaction times have always been pretty good so there were only about 100 or so cards spewed all over the floor after I hit the stop button. Fortunately the programmer had been smart enough to use sequential numbers in the first columns of the punch cards so all he had to do was read them in as pure data, sort by the first columns, and re-punch the resulting file.

@ ledasdottir: If knits are zeroes and purls are ones why is it called knitting? It should be called purling. Or either that or knits are ones, one.

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we used a stack of punch cards.

I never used punch cards. On the first computers I used, the HP-3000 and the PDP-8/e, though the latter did have a card reader attached, were time-sharing and had multiple ASR-33 teletypes (image) for I/O. I also saved my programs on paper tape.

While punched cards (to control looms) date from around the early 19th century, punch card readers date from the late 19th century, pre-dating modern, digital computers by about 50 years. Herman Hollerith, who founded the company now known as IBM, sold the first readers to the US government to help tabulate data from the 1890 census. (You can see some great pictures here and read more about it.) IBM sold tabulating equipment to a lot of different governments including the Third Reich in Germany (link).


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I started with paper tape in HS. I may still have a piece. In college, we started with punch cards. I still have my first JCL card I used to submit jobs with. I keep it at work. I've considered several times getting it framed.

BTW, I have also taught computer languages: Pascal, BASIC, Advanced Fortran, PL/I, and assembler. I never knew any human languages well enough to teach them. I think learning other languages has helped me understand English better. I can say that learning programming languages has help my English, but I think it has helped me develop analytic abilities - and I suspect some kinds of writing use similar analytic capabilities. They really should do some brain scans of people performing these tasks - novices, as well as experts.

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