Language as an Element of Ecology

Anne Lenz

As many people have ideas about programming or what it means to manipulate the scientific system of computing, whether Ada Lovelace is the first programmer needs to be answered with the question, was she literate in the system? Was she able to manipulate the signifiers that, if organized correctly, created a language for programming? At a glance of her notes on Babbage’s project, one would guess that she was literate. That she understood what she was writing about, and not transcribing for someone else. Not only did she understand, but she wanted to benefit from the system, even improve or manipulate it, not necessarily for her sake, but for the sake of future programmers to develop upon her work.

If there was evidence of Lovelace writing in programming language instead of copying or having such characters dictated to her, then that might quell the anxiety over this issue of ‘who came first.’ But since all that is available at the moment is a text of her notes, we have to trust that she is receiving proper credit for her work. Regardless of her gender, who knows who produces art without sufficient “evidence.” Shakespeare’s authorship of any or all of his prominent works is often the center of great debate. Placing a gender filter on the question of authorship shouldn’t determine her credit – the accuracy of content and rhetoric that she wrote should determine if she knew what she was talking about.

Ted Nelson’s article on File Structure makes the appropriate comment, that:

“Indeed, often personal files shade into manuscripts, and the assembly of textual notes becomes the writing of text without a sharp break.” (138)

Shouldn’t this thought be considered when comparing the similarities of Ada’s text to the work, which it supplements? Shouldn’t the notes be written in the same language, or style if it is to exist cohesively in the same “place” (the article)?

The importance of language in characterizing a place should be an element of our studies of ecologies. Each place, even a piece of paper, needs a language, a set of symbols rather, that tie it together. The W3 article, by Ted Nelson et al. introduces HTML as a language of communication. For the W3, original programmers came up with a language that is needed to be literate to participate in the proper giving-taking-sharing practice to help us utilize the benefits of this place, specifically the Internet, and be literate and able to understand it.

What is interesting in the concept of ecologies – what places have their own languages? I can think of a few examples: yoga studios, restaurants, bars, cheese shops, hospitals, and doctors’ offices. Which of these has a unique set of symbols/things/objects that can exemplify the characteristics of this language, as HTML does for Internet computing? Do all ecologies have language? Do we need vocabulary or symbols to understand localized meanings? (I think, yes!)

Theodor (Ted) Nelson, “A File Structure for the Complex, the Changing, and the Indeterminate,” 1965.


~ by Anne on September 11, 2013.

One Response to “Language as an Element of Ecology”

  1. A smart post

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