American English: The Language of Tech

English, particularly American English, is the de facto language of technology. Awhile back, I posted a thread on a forum asking people what they thought about not being able to use British spelling in CSS, a stylesheet language clearly based on the English language. In reality, it would not be hard to accept text-align: centre or colour: red, but CSS only accepts American spelling. British spellings for colours, such as "grey", are acceptable, but Internet Explorer only accepts American spellings for colours. Of course, no one on the forum seemed to express much concern over not being able to use British spelling in CSS.

For me, it just raises the question of language in the technology field. American English is the dominant language of technology, all the way down to the most widely-used programming languages, such as C++ and Java. What about all the other languages in the world? Imagine that your native language is Russian or Chinese and that you have to program in a programming language based off of the English language. I guess it is not as much of a problem with so many people abroad learning English, but I still find it interesting. Even foreign software companies often base their operations in English, such as Opera (which is based in Norway). Personally, I can only think of one time when I opened a PHP source file and found the comments in a foreign language.

Most of us here at Lowter speak English natively or near-natively. However, I just personally find the dominance of American English in technology an interesting issue. Any thoughts on this?


  • I dont find programming in american english a problem but I can it being a problem for people who don;t speak English nativly. Especially as things like game development and some web design is moving slowly over to Asia and India. Russia is also getting bit for game development and they'll use C++ or C# which are both based of english.

    I'm not sure what you could do though because having support for all languages would mean that there are too many reserved words and the language would become hard to maintain. Also, for interpreted languages the interpreter would have to be able to understand all languages that are supported which would lean to it being much harder to maintain and slower to run.

    Posted by Matt Oakes (external link) on Mon 21 Jul 2008 at 14:33

  • I do agree that supporting multiple languages, even two, would become a hassle and probably not worth the effort. However, I do wonder when the time will come when China or Japan develops their own programming language or computer technology based on an Asiatic language. Then, we will all be programming using Asiatic characters and such, which would be interesting. I also wonder if this is even possible and if English will remain the dominant tech language.

    Posted by Ethan Poole (external link) on Mon 21 Jul 2008 at 15:03

  • I that web languages and offline languages will do different ways.

    Web languages I think may soon come out that use asian characters like you said Ethan, however as the W3C and web browser makers control what the base markup for the web is (HTML, CSS, JavaScript) this part will stay English based. This is mainly because Microsoft have the biggist market share and therefore are the defacto-standard which they will want as American English. Apple will want to keep Webkit as English for them to use. FireFox is open source but I'm guessing as they use English to comunicate between developers they will want to keep it all English as well. Same goes for the W3C.

    Computer languages might be a bit more interesting as it's possible to create a new language without relying much on the technology of major operating systems. You could create an Asian based language that compiles into machine code for example. Therefore as games and software development is a massively growing market in Russia there may be a language based on their language developed soon.

    I'm not sure if there will be any languages developed in other languages for some time though. If you are creating a new language you will want to win over people who use a competing language (Ruby trying to win over PHP developers); to do this you'll need to develop for the majority of the people who use that language. As they are already using an English based language it wouldnt be unreasonable for them to move to another English based one.

    The only reasoning for a non-enligh language being developed at the minute is people developing the language just for themselves and then releasing it or if the number of non-english speaking programmers begins to outweigh the number of English speakers.

    I can't seeing any that are developed becoming propular anytime soon but that's not to say it wont happen in the future.

    Posted by Matt Oakes (external link) on Mon 21 Jul 2008 at 15:27

  • If you think it is hard to code in Java, PHP, etc. you should try OpenGL or DirectX. I have been using them in conjunction with C++ and I would not fancy doing that if English wasn't my native language. Bad Times.

    Posted by Tom (external link) on Mon 21 Jul 2008 at 17:26

  • I've tried some DirectX with C# and I got confused so quickly. That was following a tutorial as well.

    I need to get into desktop programmign a but more. All I know is VB6 and

    Posted by Matt Oakes (external link) on Mon 21 Jul 2008 at 17:29

  • I do find desktop programming less-language orientated. Whereas the move on the web is towards more-language orientated languages, like Ruby, the desktop is still really far beyond. It just seems like there are more symbols and a lot of less words. It would be hard if you didn't speak English, whereas PHP wouldn't be as bad, at least I don't think so.

    Posted by Ethan Poole (external link) on Mon 21 Jul 2008 at 17:50

  • I know that VB is similar to ruby in the way it uses words and noe symbols (end if and things like that).

    Posted by Matt Oakes (external link) on Mon 21 Jul 2008 at 18:09

  • Yeah, both Ruby and VB use a lot of words and language, which is why they are much easier for people to learn. VB uses even more actual language, which is why the userbase is very large (or at least one reason why).

    Posted by Ethan Poole (external link) on Mon 21 Jul 2008 at 20:31