Python, Dutch, English, Chinese, Japanese, etc.

Steve Howell showell30 at
Mon Jun 4 04:38:07 CEST 2007

The never-ending debate about PEP 3131 got me thinking
about natural languages with respect to Python, and I
have a bunch of mostly simple observations (some
factual, some anecdotal).  I present these mostly as
food for thought, but I do make my own
continent-by-continent recommendations at the bottom
of the email.   (My own linguistic biases are also
disclosed at the bottom of the email.)

Nationality of various technologists who use English
to some degree (keywords in their languages, etc.):

   van Rossum -- Dutch-born, now lives in California
   Wall -- American
   Matz -- Japanese
   Ritchie -- American
   Stroustroup -- Danish-born, lives in Texas
   Gosling -- Canadian
   McCarthy -- American
   Torvalds -- Finnish-born (but family spoke
Swedish), lives in Oregon
   Stallman -- American
   Berners-Lee -- English-born, did major work in

A sampling of largish countries where English is
fairly widely known:

   United States (82% of inhabitants speak it at
home), Canada, United Kingdom, Australia, South
Africa, India

about China:
    largest country in the world by population
    Mandarin Chinese has 850 million speakers
    written Chinese dates back 4000 years, employs
5000 characters

about India:

   second largest country in the world by population
   official languages: Hindi, English, and 21 others
   major software outsourcing center (anecdotal)
   Hindi is Indo-European language with distinctively
different alphabet from English

about Japan:
    10th largest population
    world leader in robotics
    Japanese language mostly spoken in Japan
    major linguistic influences: Chinese, English,
    kanji = Chinese characters
    hiragana and katakana -- syllabic scripts
    Latin alphabet often used in modern Japanese (see

some European alphabets:

   Spanish -- accented, includes digraphs ch and ll
   German -- accented
   French -- accented
   Italian -- accented, no J/K/W/X/Y

Bringing Python to the world (all opinion here):

   Even in English-speaking countries, Python is
greatly underutilized.

   Even in environments where programmers commonly use
ASCII encoding, Python is greatly underutilized.

   Any focus on the current English/ASCII bias of
Python should mostly concern Asia, due its large
population, the 80/20 rule, the prevalence of
different writing systems in large Asian countries,
Asia's influence on technology in general, etc. (not
to mention Ruby!)


   Python should be *completely* internationalized for
Mandarin, Japanese, and possibly Hindi and Korean. 
Not just identifiers.  I'm talking the entire
language, keywords and all.


   Lobby EU for more funding for PyPy.  Promote
cultural acceptance of English-ized spelling in the
context of writing software programs.

North America:

   Marketing, marketing, marketing.

South America:

   Focus first on translating Python documents, books,
etc. to Spanish.


   write Python code for the XO-1 (aka $100 laptop)


   no worries


   more Penguins than people

My linguistic biases:

    1) I speak American English natively.
    2) I live in a very multilingual city.
    3) I took 6 years of French in high school, but I
get very little exposure to the language in my
day-to-day life.
    4) I hear a LOT of Spanish in day-to-day life, and
I have first semester literacy.
    5) I have never learned Arabic, Mandarin,
Japanese, just to name a few major world languages.
    6) I have written software that has been
translated from English to other languages, but I only
once been the primary person to do the actual
internationalization, and it was a small project.
    7) Lots of U.S.-based programmers that I have
worked with speak English as their second or third


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