I became interested in programming languages somewhat before really getting interested in natural language. There’s a philosophy of language question which is very big in the programming language community that’s equally applicable to both types. To what extend does our language influence our thoughts?
In programming languages in my purely anecdotal experience it seems like programming languages, both the language a person is using and the languages they know are both hugely influence in how the write a program. Trying to explain to a programmer why a style of programming they aren’t familiar with may have some advantages is an exersize in futility. There’s nothing quite like the smug superiority of someone who knows their programming language is best, period.
As Stephen Fry points out in that sketch, with natural language it’s trickier to tell. Languages are strongly bound up with culture and it’s not clear how one would tell where the influence of one ends and the other begins. As a monolingual person, I have no perspective to really speak from. I took many years of Spanish in school but I don’t remember much of it. More importantly, I never learned to think in it. I memorized words and phrases and tenses and such but my thought process in putting them together was always in English.
I think it’s clear the strongest version of the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis, the theory that language limits what we are capable of thinking, is false. I’m sure we’ve all had a time when we couldn’t find the words. If all our thoughts were completely based in and expressible in our spoken language, how would that happen? What would that mean? Still, I think in English, it seems like that would have a very large affect on how I put my thoughts together and thus the thoughts that I have. I’m a very verbal thinker. I understand that a little over half the population consists of visual thinkers (this is different from visual learners). They think mainly in pictures. I don’t know how this applies to them.
I’m always wary of having too narrow a perspective. According to Alan Kay, creator of object orient programming among other things, “perspective is worth 80 IQ points”. I think that’s about right. The trick I use to make people think I’m smart is make sure I’m looking at problems from the right angle. Language is so fundamental but it’s an area where I can’t really do that. While I’d love to go really learn another language and immerse myself in a culture long enough to become fluent, I don’t want to uproot my life. It’s a blind spot that I’ll probably always have.