30 January 2008

Arc, or, Láadan for Programmers

Paul Graham, six years after announcing it, has released arc, his new dialect of lisp.

One of the odder corners of my library — for most people at least — will be the section that has all the books on constructed languages. Of course there's Esperanto, but Klingon is represented along with several works on Tolkien's languages. I also have the second edition of A First Dictionary and Grammar of Láadan by Suzette Haden Elgin (neatly abbreviated SHE). SHE is a linguist by training, but is also a science fiction writer. She created Láadan not only for a series of books, but as an experiment to see if a language designed specifically to represent the views of women could change society, sort of an informal test of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis. Láadan is thus presented as representing women's views better somehow. I've never really been convinced that it does so — I know more gay men who have learned the language than women — but there is no doubt it does represent the viewpoint of one extremely intelligent woman.

Arc is just Láadanified lisp. It represents the particular views of one particular lisp programmer. He may be aiming at a hundred year language, but all I can see is perfectly conventional lisp with a few common functions spelled differently and a few parentheses eccentrically deleted.

This was my first warning sign:

It's not for everyone. In fact, Arc embodies just about every form of political incorrectness possible in a programming language.

Whatever one's feelings about speech codes, I think it's safe to say that any time someone warns you, or brags, that they're about to be politically incorrect you're almost certainly in for some first class assholism or lunacy. I've not previously seen it used in a programming language context, but it seems to hold here, too.

At long last, Graham's vaporous Microsofting of lisp is over. I need to prepare some Homer (I'm taking a class again this semester), but I think I'll spend some time this evening refining my Common Lisp betacode to unicode conversion library, and maybe play with Hunchentoot some more.

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