What makes a language flourish?

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2021-06-09 10:00:14

As a young man already at work as a programmer, I was introduced to APL by a colleague who claimed to have resigned from IBM by arriving at his office in a white suit. I loved the cryptic language he showed me and its elegant glyphs. The first six numbers in reverse order?

Since then I have been a champion of APL and other languages (A+, J, k, q, etc.) derived from the notation Ken Iverson devised at Harvard. (I’m going to call them vector languages.)

What’s the appeal? I could bore for England on the advantages of vector languages, but here I want to confess that the appeal for me is primarily aesthetic. Something in the languages – a kinship to linear alegbra, perhaps – pleases both my inner mathematician and my inner poet. Writing a good problem solution in a vector language nourishes both of them. Writing vector solutions never gets old.

It has taken me until old age to concede this, because it sounds disrespectable. If we want to use vector languages, we need arguments that move the guardians of corporate technology stacks. Why should they let APL or q on their stack? My aesthetic thrills don’t come into it.

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