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Humanist Archives: June 2, 2020, 11:49 a.m. Humanist 34.74 - on notation

                  Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 34, No. 74.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                   Hosted by King's Digital Lab
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        Date: 2020-06-01 22:27:54+00:00
        From: Dr. Herbert Wender 
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 34.68: on notation


thank you very much for citing in length Iverson on representational aspects in
the history of notations! I suppose that all freinds of LISP - and not to
forget: the bracketeers in the TEI community - have enjoyed the passage on the
history of flatting formulaic notations by hierarchically bracketing

Now I'm awaiting a genuine linguist to explain the influence which will have
earlier uses of a sign or his similars when introduced in different notational
contexts, and which role may play the earllier meaning of an adopted sign or
the atoms in composite signs as ":-" or ":=" resp. "=:" ? And both
linguistically and philosophically, IMHO, it is worth to notice that Iverson's
accentuated - as Gabriel Egan earlier in this thread, pointing to BASIC's "LET"
- the actional, imperative aspect of signs used in programming languages:

"You couldn't even say 'A + B.' You had to say, 'Load A into accumulator; load
B into so-and-so' -- you couldn't even say that. You had to say, 'Load register
800 into the so-and-so and so on.'"

While the most earlier formal languages describe relations or functions the most
programming languages describe actions by instructions. Symtomatically Zuse
named his forerunner of FORTRAN and AGOL: "Plankalkül".  In this respect I
would also refer to the first paper in the history of designing IAL / ALGOL
which explained the intended goal in terms which specified the object domain
of the planned language: "Proposal for a universal language for the description 
of computing processes."

Perhaps the subtext 'universal' behind the initial naming IAL was partially
responsible for the feeling of 'pompousness', maybe only the misleading
similarity compared with assembly languages like SOAL or SAL motivated the name
change. However, the new name was convincing surely because 'algorithmic'
accentuates the most prominent property of a language to describe computing
processes 'step-by-step'.

Regards, Herbert

-----Ursprüngliche Mitteilung-----
Von: Humanist 
An: publish-liv 
Verschickt: Fr, 29. Mai 2020 8:42
Betreff: [Humanist] 34.68: on notation

                Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 34, No. 68.
         Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                    Hosted by King's Digital Lab
                 Submit to: humanist@dhhumanist.org

            Date: 2020-05-29 03:10:44+00:00
            From: Douglas Knox 
            Subject: Iverson on notation as a historical struggle that begins in


I appreciate your provocations on ":=" and the subsequent discussion, which
led me to look around a bit in the Wexelblat volume from the 1978 History
of Programming Languages conference.

Ken Iverson, the inventor of the programming language APL, cared a lot
about notation, understood math to be embedded historically in language and
human culture, and characterized himself as a "renegade mathematician." His
closing talk at the conference seems well matched to the generously broad
spirit of your provocation while perhaps resisting some premises. I'll sign
off here and quote Iverson at length below.

Doug Knox

What follows is from Kenneth E. Iverson, transcript of presentation, in
Wexelblat (1981), pp. 681-682:


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