Re: Stroustrup's Confession

Lee Daniel Crocker (
Sun, 22 Mar 1998 02:48:53 -0800 (PST)

I can't find the source of the Stroustrup interview parody
anywhere, so I don't know whom to credit for it, but it is
definitely not Stroustrup. There are several real interviews
with him on the net, and a whole book by him on the subject,
none of which have this parody's choppy, idiomatic writing
style, or anything like its contents.

My personal opinion, as a programmer, on the impact of
language choice on engineering success is this: Yes, the
choice of language impacts what solutions are thought of
and chosen, in addition to the obvio8us effects on the
efficacy of the solution and ease of development. I do
not think it is a primary determinant of success, though:
talented engineers will manage to find good solutions in
whatever medium of expression is at hand.

There's a great story in Douglas Hofstaedter's book
_Le Ton Beau de Marot_ about his trip to Poland. He is
having a conversation in a coffee shop, struggling to
remember the grammar, periodically checking his Polish
phrasebook, but managing. Soon he is joined by someone
speaking German, and discovers that the person he was
talking to also speaks German, so he switches. This
being his third language, he is still not entirely
comfortable, but much moreso than in Polish, which he
has only studied for the trip. Later still, he speaks
to another friend in French, his second and almost-
native language which he is quite comfortable with.
Finally, he calls home and relates the story in his
native English.

On each switch, he feels as if he is escaping a mental
straightjacket that was consuming effort and limiting
his choice of expression; in English, he felt the
thoughts coming fluidly and expressed them exactly as
he wanted with confidence.

Imagine, then, what might be the next step; what
language--if learned natively--might allow one to easily
and confidently express concepts for which English
would be a restraint? What would it feel like to lift
that constraint and expand the possibilities of what
one can communicate?

I'm sure that Hofstaedter had wonderful insights even
in Polish--but he could accomplish much more in his
native English. If he had learned some other language
as a child--say Lojban (you knew it was coming...)--
how different would his insights have been, and how
effectively might he have communicated them?

Lee Daniel Crocker <> <>
"All inventions or works of authorship original to me, herein and past,
are placed irrevocably in the public domain, and may be used or modified
for any purpose, without permission, attribution, or notification."--LDC