Structured Languages

Ever since Dan Kaminsky demonstrated that the US Legal Code is more structurally similar to software than to literature, I’ve been attuned to comparisons between the structure of natural languages and programming languages.

Over at BugBlogger, Ken Gilmore looks at this relationship in terms of “context”:

a general difference between human language and computer language: works based on human languages are much easier to critique and modify than machine languages…
What makes human languages so much easier to modify than machine languages? Part of the answer I think lies in Context…
In human language, it’s simple and often pleasurable to let someone else wrap you in context, and once there, modification and extension of that work can be natural and straightforward. In machine language, just getting to that state of contextualization is at best painful and usually impossible.

To flip this on its head: if Dan’s right, perhaps one way of looking at law school is as $150,000 worth of context that will later be billed to clients. On the other hand, does that imply an inverse relationship between “context” and “structure”? If we interpret “context” as “flexibility”–the capacity to adjust variables–then that sounds about right…


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