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Computer Languages and Humankind

The evolution of human society has witnessed various language transformations. From primitive pictorial symbols to complex programming codes, the dialogue between humans and machines has become an integral part of our lives. These novel languages, aptly termed ‘computer languages’, have reshaped human interactions and cognition, warranting exploration through a linguistic anthropological lens [1].

History and Evolution of Computer Languages

The Dawn of Programming Languages

In the early 1940s, humans started to converse with machines using Assembly language, an elementary yet low-level language that could manipulate the machine’s hardware directly [2]. From this beginning sprouted an intricate tree of languages, branching into high-level languages like Fortran (1957), Cobol (1959), and Basic (1964), and further diversifying into modern languages such as Python, JavaScript, and Swift.

Table 1: Historical evolution of computer languages


Modern Diversity in Computer Languages

Contemporary computer languages can be grouped into procedural, object-oriented, functional, and scripting languages, each with unique syntax and semantics.

  • Procedural languages (e.g., C, Go) emphasize a step-by-step operational approach.
  • Object-oriented languages (e.g., Java, Python) encapsulate data and functions into objects.
  • Functional languages (e.g., Haskell, Lisp) focus on mathematical functions.
  • Scripting languages (e.g., JavaScript, Ruby) automate tasks within software environments [3].

Influence on Humankind

Transformation of Communication

Computer languages, in essence, are tools of communication. While traditional languages enabled human-to-human conversation, computer languages bridged the communication gap between humans and machines. They facilitated the construction of digital platforms, fostering global connectivity and reshaping human interactions [4].

Cognitive Impact

Learning computer languages influences cognitive processes. Several studies show that programming language learners demonstrate improved problem-solving skills, logical thinking, and creativity [5]. It reinforces the cognitive aspects associated with mathematics and formal logic.

Career Advancements

With the rise of digital economies, mastery of computer languages has become a sought-after skill. It facilitates career advancements in various fields, including software development, data science, artificial intelligence, and cybersecurity.

Anthropological Insights

Language Universals

Analogous to Chomsky’s theory of universal grammar in human languages, computer languages exhibit universals in their structures and principles. They all follow a syntax (structural rules) and semantics (meaning), creating a universal machine language.

Language, Culture, and Society

Computer languages reflect the characteristics of the societies that produce them. For example, languages like Python, advocating for readability and simplicity, mirrors a societal emphasis on accessibility and inclusivity.

Power and Hierarchy

Like traditional languages, computer languages reflect societal power dynamics. English-based keywords dominate programming languages, reflecting the hegemonic influence of English-speaking societies in the digital world.

Anthropological Implications of Computer Languages: Beyond Coding

The Digital Divide

Despite the universality of computer languages, their access and understanding are unevenly distributed. This digital divide mirrors societal inequalities, often barring disadvantaged populations from harnessing the benefits of digital fluency. In this light, computer languages aren’t just tools; they’re also a form of capital, holding implications for socioeconomic mobility.

Gender Dynamics in Programming

Computer languages are not gender-neutral; they exist within a sociocultural context marked by gender biases. The underrepresentation of women in computer science and programming has sparked debates on the gendered nature of computer languages and their pedagogical practices. Efforts are being made to create more inclusive programming languages and learning environments.

Language Preservation and Loss

As new computer languages evolve, older ones become obsolete, mirroring language extinction in human societies. While this extinction is viewed as technological progress, it often results in the loss of unique programming paradigms. The preservation of older computer languages, akin to endangered human languages, is thus an anthropological concern.

Future Perspectives

Quantum Programming Languages

Quantum computers, the next frontier in computation, require new programming languages. Q# by Microsoft and Qiskit by IBM are examples of quantum programming languages. These languages, currently in nascent stages, are expected to revolutionize human-machine interaction.

AI and Natural Language Processing

With advances in artificial intelligence (AI), the intersection of human languages and computer languages is becoming more seamless. Natural language processing, a field of AI, aims to teach computers to understand human languages, narrowing the communicative gap between humans and machines.

Conclusion: The Recursive Loop

The relationship between computer languages and humankind forms a recursive loop. As we shape these languages, they, in turn, shape us – our cognition, interactions, and society. By understanding this symbiotic relationship, we can better navigate the digital age, fostering inclusivity, equality, and progress.


[1] Duranti, A. (2001). Linguistic Anthropology: History, Ideas, and Issues.

[2] Lohr, S. (2015). The Evolution of Programming Languages.

[3] Sebesta, R. (2012). Concepts of Programming Languages.

[4] Crystal, D. (2001). Language and the Internet.

[5] Kalelioglu, F., Gülbahar, Y., & Kukul, V. (2016). A snapshot of computer programming students’ problem-solving and knowledge construction processes.

Anthropologist Vasundhra - Author and Anthroholic

Vasundhra, an anthropologist, embarks on a captivating journey to decode the enigmatic tapestry of human society. Fueled by an insatiable curiosity, she unravels the intricacies of social phenomena, immersing herself in the lived experiences of diverse cultures. Armed with an unwavering passion for understanding the very essence of our existence, Vasundhra fearlessly navigates the labyrinth of genetic and social complexities that shape our collective identity. Her recent publication unveils the story of the Ancient DNA field, illuminating the pervasive global North-South divide. With an irresistible blend of eloquence and scientific rigor, Vasundhra effortlessly captivates audiences, transporting them to the frontiers of anthropological exploration.

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