Linguistic Relativity and Determinism in Context of Programming Languages

Linguistic Relativity and Determinism in Context of Programming Languages

The linguistic relativity and determinism is also called the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis. This theory is said to apply in the programming world. Many programmers may say that it does not. This paper will discuss the applications of this hypothesis to the programming languages. It will argue that the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis apply on the programming languages , even though the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis does not have a universality the computer languages have. This is the machine language.

Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis

The Sapir-Whorf hypothesis is a hypothesis made by American liguists Edward Sapir and Benjamin Lee Whorf. There are two principles in this hypothesis. First is the linguistic relativity which states that the language we speak relates on how we view experience. The second principle is the linguistic determinism. This states that language determines the way on how we think. It is said that languages influences person’s thoughts by the grammer, semantic, or lexicons (Pinker).

Programming Languages

Programming languages are languages that a programmers uses to give instructions to a computer. There are more than twenty-five thousand programming languages in the market today. It ranges from machine languages to the most powerful one. Some are revision or other versions of the others. Some revisions are done to accommodate some specific instructions needed for a certain areas (Wilson & Clark).

Like a real language it differs in syntax, grammar, and orientation. Programmers divide them into some categories of which they are oriented. These are the object-oriented, function-oriented, and logic-oriented (Wilson & Clark).

The object-oriented programming languages are languages where data and programs are stored in the memory which data are called objects which is to make inquiries faster. This features are usually use in database programs and operating systems which uses large memory (Wilson & Clark).

The function-oriented languages are languages that are more mathematical. They make use of functions to instruct the computer of the operations and makes use of parameters instead of variables (Wilson & Clark).

The logic-oriented languages are languages that far different from the other two. These uses logical inferencing algorithms. As to name suggest, it uses logic as the operating scheme (Wilson & Clark).

Application of Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis in Programming Languages

As this paper express in its introduction, it will the argue that the Sapir-Whorf hypothsesis apply in the programming world, even though they have a universal stand point which is the machine language. There are several arguments that will be presented here to support the claim.

The first argument is that in programming languages there are difference in their syntax use of words and other things. Additionally, there exist an impossibility of translation between languages. This the case where there are functions or parameters in a specific language which can not be express in the other languages. An example of this is the concurrency. The concurrency is not present in other programming language. Concurrency means that two function or programs can run at the same time inside the main program. Java is one the most popular that have this function. Other languages do not have a this functions. This means that a program in Java which have a concurrent subprograms cannot be program with other programming language, Cobol for example. Some programs written in high level programming languages are impossible to translate to much lower programs. This clearly follows the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis.

The second argument is the impossibility of reformulation. This argument is somewhat the same in the first argument. However, the difference is that this argument talks about the keyword use in a programming language. For example, a computation like a formulating a sequence is not possible for other programming language but there are other programming language that formulating a sequences is as easy as getting a sum of two integers.

The third argument is that programming languages are tools to express the thoughts and creativity of the programmers which somewhat bound by the feature the programming language has. From here on, it is obvious that a programmers mind is bounded by the rule of the language he is using. Additionally, it controls the thoughts of the programmer on how he will view a problem or instruct the computer which is the main principle of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis.


The arguments above presents an application of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis to the programming languages which is very apparent in these arguments. The paper then concludes that the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis works in programming languages as it work in the real languages, additionally, because it is also a language which created to be like the real language. Moreover, both linguists and programmers as well is finding solutions to create a unified language that will erase the existence of this hypothesis.

Works Cited

Pinker, Steven. The Language Instinct. United States of America: Perennial (HarperCollins), 1995

Wilson, Leslie B. and Robert Clark. Comparative Programming Languages. Boston: Addison-Wesley Longman Publishing Co., Inc., 1988

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