Writers and linguists

I know many people who like to write — essays, stories, reminiscences, polemics. Using the language to express oneself is, to many people, just plain fun. And it can a powerful way to reach other people, to share ideas, to preserve and celebrate culture, to maintain an extended conversation.

Yet I know relatively few people who focus on the language itself as a technical study. Psycholinguistics, sociolinguistics, historical / evolutionary / developmental / computational linguistics, computational phylogenetics, these are all fascinating but relatively rare career choices.

Most people are more interested in using written language rather than looking inward to study the workings of the language itself. And that makes sense, just as it makes sense that there are a lot more drivers of cars than there are automobile mechanics.

Yet while we have a recognized field called “computer science”, we do not have a recognized field consisting of the best use of computer programming. All of our academic study focuses on looking inward — of being the equivalent of the linguist or the auto mechanic. Academically, we seem to conflate the act of programming with the study of the underlying mechanisms of computation.

Maybe this false equivalence is holding our society back from achieving true universal programming literacy. Perhaps the field of programming needs to focus less on producing good linguists, and more on producing good writers.

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