What is Expresiveness in a Computer Language?

Xah Lee xah at xahlee.org
Sun Jul 10 11:57:04 CEST 2005

What is Expresiveness in a Computer Language

20050207, Xah Lee.

In languages human or computer, there's a notion of expressiveness.

English for example, is very expressive in manifestation, witness all
the poetry and implications and allusions and connotations and
dictions. There are a myriad ways to say one thing, fuzzy and warm and
all. But when we look at what things it can say, its power of
expression with respect to meaning, or its efficiency or precision, we
find natural languages incapable.

These can be seen thru several means. A sure way is thru logic,
linguistics, and or what's called Philosophy of Languages. One can also
glean directly the incapacity and inadequacy of natural languages by
studying the artificial language lojban, where one realizes, not only
are natural languages incapable in precision and lacking in efficiency,
but simply a huge number of things are near impossible to express thru

One thing commonly misunderstood in computing industry is the notion of
expressiveness. If a language has a vocabulary of (smile, laugh, grin,
giggle, chuckle, guffaw, cackle), then that language will not be as
expressive, as a language with just (severe, slight, laugh, cry). The
former is "expressive" in terms of nuance, where the latter is
expressive with respect to meaning.

Similarly, in computer languages, expressiveness is significant with
respect to semantics, not syntactical variation.

These two contrasting ideas can be easily seen thru Perl versus Python
languages, and as one specific example of their text pattern matching

Perl is a language of syntactical variegations. Python on the other
hand, does not even allow changes in code's indentation, but its
efficiency and power in expression, with respect to semantics,
showcases Perl's poverty in specification.


© Copyright 2005 by Xah Lee.

 xah at xahlee.orghttp://xahlee.org/

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