All coding languages are made up of a set of rules and vocabulary — their syntax — and they’re usually in English. This has been the case since the inception of software development. From older languages like ALGOL and BASIC to modern programming languages like Java and C#, the common denominator across the majority of programming languages is the prevalence of English.

Query languages like SQL and declarative and mark-up languages like HTML and XSLT, though they serve very different purposes, use English-based syntax as well. According to professional programmer Michal Boleslave Méchura, “The recent rise in demand for agile and functional programming has spawned a lot of new programming languages and those, again, tend to take their vocabulary from English.” It’s clear that English plays an important role in the development world. The question is, why?

One answer could lie in the ability for programmers from different countries to understand one another. Communication is much easier when everyone is working within the same language. Another reason could be ease of use. In programming, a language’s syntax is used to give instructions to machines so that they carry out certain tasks, such as running a program to display “Hello World!” on a computer screen.

Hello World in C#

using System;
class Program
{
public static void Main(string[] args)
{
Console.WriteLine("Hello, world!");
}
}

There isn’t much room for interpretation: When syntax is used properly, the computer can complete the command. That’s why the use of a common language can reduce errors and enable coders to understand each other. A closer look reveals even more contributing factors to what makes English the language of choice for many coders.

The Language of STEM

English is the most widely used language in the programming world. This is the case for two main reasons — one is historical and one is linguistic. Since the very beginnings of tech history, English has been the language of the individuals and companies who most directly drive change and innovation. Though this is contested by some programmers, the linguistic reason is the uncomplicated structure and syntax of English. Because programming languages are so basic in their need for words, this makes English a good fit. Another linguistic reason that English is ideal for programming is that words are generally short and have no diacritical marks, or accents.

In use, coding professionals are concerned more with how a language is designed than the specific keywords involved. Because of this, the English used in programming is more of a “computer language” than the English used in conversation. As C2 user Anders Bengtsson put it, “The programming language itself is like learning a foreign language, any foreign language. The few English words among the many symbols and expressions to learn don’t matter that much.” A good example of this, from the same thread, comes from music. The words used in musical notation are almost always in Italian. English speakers rarely know the direct translation; instead, they treat the word as a symbol that stands for a certain action. The same can be said for English in programming. Programmers memorize the English term but may not know its pronunciation or what it means. Instead, they know how the word is used in code.

As mentioned above, English used in code is abstract for non-native speakers. “It’s like learning [a] new language: Initially you just know what the word means and how to use it, it’s a mapping, like any other non-programming language,” according to Andrey Mima, startup founder and developer. “These words simply [do] not have any mapping in the native language … but their meaning is in the context of programming.” In one online forum, he provides Google as an example of this. The word itself means nothing to people; however, its use in modern vernacular is widespread. “Google it” has become a common phrase for many English speakers.

Some programming languages were even written in English by non-native speakers. For example, C++ was developed by Bjarne Stroustrup, who was Danish. Ruby was invented by a Japanese developer named Yukihiro Matsumoto. And of course, Linux as a whole was originally created by Linus Torvalds, from Finland.

History

From the beginning of software development, the majority of research and development has taken place in the United States. For this reason, English has become the adopted language of the STEM fields. English is used across the globe because IBM, Microsoft and other tech pioneers were American companies that invented the first programming languages. This means that in the tech world, people who don’t speak English may write in English so that they will be understood by their peers.

Historically speaking, computing came from technology developed by Allied forces during World War II, most notably from the United States and United Kingdom. Of course, the tech innovators behind the computer industry based the very first programming languages on their own. Thus, English became the de facto working language in computing. And even before this, as far back as the 1920s, many of Europe’s scientists immigrated to the United States because of various governmental and cultural issues in their home countries. This is another force behind English’s growth as a tech language. Other countries caught on over time, and the groundwork was set for the invention of English-based programming languages.

Global Programming Languages

The widespread use of English has not kept some programmers from creating programming languages that draw syntax from other languages. There are many programming languages that are based on languages other than English; however, most of them are not in use, only used rarely, or introductory and educational tools for beginners.

It is important to note that there are exceptions. Some were created using Russian during the time of the Soviet Union. And Wlanguage, a relatively new language, can combine French, English and Chinese. Even more surprising is that there are languages that are based on no language at all, such as machine code. The following are more languages that don’t rely on English:

Easy Programming Language

Easy Programming Language (EPL), known as 易语言, is a popular compiler-independent Chinese programming language.

公开 类 启动类
{
公开 静态 启动()
{
控制台.输出("你好,世界!");
}
}

Himawari

Himawari, known as ひまわり in Japanese and translated as Sunflower in English, is a structured scripting language.

「Hello, World!」と、表示。 ’母艦(メインフォーム)に表示。
「Hello, World!」と、言う。 ’ダイアログボックスで表示。

Linotte

Linotte is a French programming language mainly used for educational purposes.
BonjourLeMonde:
début
affiche "Bonjour le monde !"

Rapira

Rapira is a Russian procedural programming language initially used to teach computer programming in USSR schools.
ПРОЦ СТАРТ()
ВЫВОД: 'Привет, мир!!!'
КОН ПРОЦ

Shali Prathmik

Shaili Prathmik is an educational programming language part of the Hindawi Programming System, a collection of open source programming languages in Hindi, the official language of India.

10 टिप्पणी Hello world in Hindi BASIC
20 लिखो ( "नमस्ते दुनिया" )
30 इति

Aheui

Aheui is a Korean-based esoteric programming language. While it is largely impractical, it is the first esolang to be designed using the Korean alphabet, Hangul.

밤밣따빠밣밟따뿌
빠맣파빨받밤뚜뭏
돋밬탕빠맣붏두붇
볻뫃박발뚷투뭏붖
뫃도뫃희멓뭏뭏붘
뫃봌토범더벌뿌뚜
뽑뽀멓멓더벓뻐뚠
뽀덩벐멓뻐덕더벅

Interested in seeing more Hello World examples? View more code snippets on our blog post, The History of Hello World.

Learning a Programming Language

Though some experts say the next trend in programming will be code as images or symbols, for now English is by far the most utilized in the development world. Two of the most popular English-based languages are C# and Java. These are commonly used by enterprises of all kinds. If you’re ready to learn more about coding — or want to become a programmer yourself — check out our coding bootcamps.