Problems of Symbol Congestion in Computer Languages

Xah Lee xahlee at
Fri Feb 18 07:43:13 EST 2011

On 2011-02-16, Xah Lee  wrote:
│ Vast majority of computer languages use ASCII as its character set.
│ This means, it jams multitude of operators into about 20 symbols.
│ Often, a symbol has multiple meanings depending on contex.

On 2011-02-17, rantingrick wrote:

On 2011-02-17, Cthun wrote:
│ And you omitted the #1 most serious objection to Xah's proposal,
│ rantingrick, which is that to implement it would require unrealistic
│ things such as replacing every 101-key keyboard with 10001-key
│ and training everyone to use them. Xah would have us all replace our
│ workstations with machines that resemble pipe organs, rantingrick,
│ perhaps the cockpits of the three surviving Space Shuttles. No doubt
│ they'd be enormously expensive, as well as much more difficult to
│ to use, rantingrick.

keyboard shouldn't be a problem.

Look at APL users.
they are happy campers.

Look at Mathematica, which support a lot math symbols since v3 (~1997)
before unicode became popular.
〈How Mathematica does Unicode?〉

word processors, also automatically do symbols such as “curly quotes”,
trade mark sign ™, copyright sing ©, arrow →, bullet •, ellipsis …
etc, and the number of people who produce document with these chars
are probably more than the number of programers.

in emacs, i recently also wrote a mode that lets you easily input few
hundred unicode chars.
〈Emacs Math Symbols Input Mode (xmsi-mode)〉

the essence is that you just need a input system.

look at Chinese, Japanese, Korean, or Islamic. They happily type
without requiring that every symbol they use must have a corresponding
key on keyboard. Some lang, such as Chinese, that's impossible or

when a input system is well designd, it could be actually more
efficient than
keyboard combinations to typo special symbols (such as in Mac OS X's
opt key, or
Windows's AltGraph). Because a input system can be context based, that
it looks
at adjacent text to guess what you want.

for example, when you type >= in python, the text editor can
automatically change it to ≥ (when it detects that it's appropriate,
e.g. there's a “if” nearby)

Chinese phonetic input system use this
extensively. Abbrev system in word processors and emacs is also a form
this. I wrote some thought about this here:

〈Designing a Math Symbols Input System〉

Xah Lee

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