Are There Any Non-English Programming Languages?

Programming syntax has been dominated by the English language but there are some exceptions.

July 22nd, 2021

Are There Any Non-English Programming Languages?

Programming languages have been around since nearly the beginning of the information age. Since most advancements and early tech companies were in western English-speaking countries, it's no surprise that the English language has been embedded into the syntax of the more popular coding languages. This inclusion of English words in programming languages has been something that has always interested me. If English is not a developers first language then surely it becomes much harder to grasp the fundamentals when they first learn it. This also made me wonder if there were any programming languages that are popular in the non-English speaking world.

Programming Languages Created in Other Countries

The list of programming languages that weren't developed in the west is actually quite long. In fact some of them are even industry standards. Python is the most popular programming language according to the PYPL ranking index. However, what most people don't know is that it was developed in the Netherlands. Similarly, Ruby which is gained popularity for its extremely simple syntax and has a PYPL ranking of 16, was developed in Japan. If you're in the game development industry then you're probably familiar with the Lua programming language which was originally developed in Brazil. What each of these programming languages have in common though is that all of them use English Words in their syntax. There are many reasons for doing this such as the tech industry having a quite distinct english-speaking base. Even in foreign countries that have large tech industries, English is used as a lingua franca for communicating with developers across the world. For these reasons it makes sense if the goal is to gain large-scale adoption.

Programming Languages With Many Language Options

One solution to the issue of the language barrier has been to offer programming languages in many different syntax options known as "localized programming languages". This means that the language changes depending on where the user is from and their native tongue. One notable example of this is Citrine that allows user to program in their native language in an effort to try and improve software.

The issue with languages like these (besides not being widely used which can be said about most mentioned below) is that it makes it much harder for people to debug your code if they don't speak your language. This is especially an issue in an organisation with many nationalities all using the same code base.

Programing Languages With Pure Non-English Syntax

Although the tech industry is dominated by English-speaking countries, some regions have a large enough amount of native speakers to warrant someone creating a programming language based on their syntax.

A notable examples of this are Qalb which means "Heart" and only uses the arabic script. This is fairly significant because of the additional encoding schemes for a non-latin alphabet that needed to be accounted for. Like many of these programming languages it's primarily used for education. An even more difficult programming language to phathom is The Easy Programming Language which is written in Mandarin Chinese. Mandarin is a language with a notoriously difficult alphabet system where nearly every word is represented by its own symbol.

Both of these languages have billions of native speakers so it's no wonder that they came to be. But what if I told you there was a dark horse. A language that has less than 2 million users and was purely created for pride and heritage instead of out of necessity.

The Programing Language Written in Irish (Gaeilge)

Setanta (named after a mythical figure in Irish folklore) is a programming language written entirely in the Irish language. The creator notes in his github that he created it to understand the connection English has in programming and to allow more people to learn to code through Irish. The Syntax can be seen below.

There are probably a number of other programming options that weren't mentioned in this article but these are the ones that stuck out in my mind. We often think of coding as being sterile and monotonous from a communications perspective and it's easy to forget that they are essentially just a way for us as people to communicate with our processor that uses instructions in binary.

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