2 Language

Belittle! What an expression! It may be an elegant one in Virginia, and even perfectly intelligible; but for our part, all we can do is to guess at its meaning. For shame, Mr. Jefferson! European Magazine and London Review, 1787 (reviewing Thomas Jefferson’s Notes on the State of Virginia)

The most powerful tool we have for communication is language. This is true whether we are considering communication between two humans, between a human programmer and a computer, or between a network of computers. In computing, we use language to describe procedures and use machines to turn descriptions of procedures into executing processes. This chapter is about what language is, how language works, and ways to define languages.