Saturday, January 15, 2005

Proprietary Bits in Language

I've been on a Sci-Fi kick. I just finished reading The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin. I've read a few of her books before, but I really liked this one a lot. It reminded me a of some of Daniel Quinn's ideas.
I picked it up sorta randomly because I'd read a couple of her books before. I had it sitting on my desk at work, and a few people said, "Oh, you're reading that? That's one of the best books I've ever read". Of course, I got it used for $3.50 at Powell's. I wonder how they get away with reprinting such books for $15.
One interesting aspect of the book is that one of the languages used doesn't really express possessives. So instead of saying, "my book" it was always rendered as "the book". I didn't really notice this until near the end. When I did notice it, was when Le Guin wrote, "the mother" instead of "his mother". This didn't seem quite right to me, because it doesn't represent the relationship between "him" and "mother", but it's not really Le Guin's fault... there's no convenient way to represent this in English without using the possessive form. Perhaps "the mother of the man," but that still seems a bit possessive. I believe this is also true of Russian and Spanish at least.
One way to look at it is that humans are so focused on possession that we don't have a convenient way to express relationships. But we are certainly not saying, "The mother that I own." Another way to look at it is that the so-called possessive case expresses more than just possession.
In fact, it sometimes means possession and sometimes not. If my mother fell off her horse and I had to rush back to Ohio to visit her, and someone asked me why I was going, I might say, "Because she's my mother!" Not possessive. But clearly, it is sometimes possessive, particularly in romantic relationships. Jealousy is possible in all forms of relationships, but is probably most clear in romantic ones. "Why did you go to the prom with him when you're MY girlfriend?"
This reminded me of the "object" formulation in object-oriented programming languages. (Didn't know that I was going to say THAT, did you? Ha!) In a language like Java, you say something like "the car's first wheel's last screw", "car.wheel[0].screw[3]".
In Haskell, you also have aggregate types, where one type is composed of others but to access them, instead of saying, "the car's wheel" we say, "there's a relationship between cars and wheels. It doesn't matter what the relationship is, but the function from cars to wheels is called "wheels".
So we have "last $ screws $ first $ wheels car". That is, "the last screw of the first wheel of the car"... actually that's clearer than "the car's first wheel's last screw" isn't it? There we go. I've once again proven that Haskell is morally and technically superior to C++.
Here is an article linked from Slashdot about how people are giving up on the internet because of spam and spyware. The article doesn't mention GNU/Linux or Firefox.
I just took one of those quizes that you've all been doing, and I was pretty disappointed.  

No comments:

Post a Comment