10 December 2007

What you must say

From this year’s state of the onion (page 2):

Human languages therefore differ not so much in what you can say but in what you must say. In English, you are forced to differentiate singular from plural. In Japanese, you don’t have to distinguish singular from plural, but you do have to pick a specific level of politeness, taking into account not only your degree of respect for the person you’re talking to, but also your degree of respect for the person or thing you’re talking about.

Which struck me as a particularly profound observation about both human and computer languages.

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