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  • Print publication year: 2004
  • Online publication date: June 2012

4 - DON'T SWEAT THE SYNTAX

Summary

Programming languages, like natural languages, have a vocabulary (lexicon) and rules of syntax (grammar) that you have to learn in order to communicate. Just as unfamiliar grammatical conventions can make learning a new natural language difficult, unfamiliar programming-language syntax can make learning to program difficult. English speakers learning Japanese have to get used to the fact that Japanese verbs generally come at the end of the sentence. With computer languages, the problem is made worse by the fact that computers are much less adept at handling lexically and syntactically mangled programs than humans are at grasping the meaning of garbled speech.

If you want to talk with computers, however, you're going to have to learn a programming language. Just as you learn new natural languages to communicate with other people and experience other cultures, you learn a programming language to communicate with computers and other programmers and to express computational ideas concisely and clearly. The good news is that learning one programming language makes it a lot easier to learn others.

When you start learning to program, you may find yourself consumed with sorting out the lexical and syntactic minutiae of the programming language. You'll have to look up the names of functions and operators and memorize the particular syntax required to invoke them correctly. You may end up spending obscene amounts of time tracking down obscure bugs caused by misplaced commas or missing parentheses.

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