Human Language Should Not Be Traced Like Computer Code

September 26, 2014

I found myself saying the title in an online conversation over on reddit. It was an admonition to myself regarding trouble I often have in communicating with humans both online and in meat space. I tend to be very literal minded. So, I read and listen to human language the same way I would read computer code. Even worse, I expect others to do the same with my speech and especially my writing, which I’ve had time to edit and make it say exactly what I want. (Though, yes, sometimes I’m less careful.)

Anyway, on that reddit post, I suggested that I should write “human language should not be traced like computer code” 500 times on the blackboard, or until I believe it. So, here goes. There’s more of this post below, so please scroll.

[EDIT] I’m updating this post because, as ECA pointed out below, this may not be clear to everyone. To trace computer code means to follow paths through the program and imagine how the computer will execute each line of code. It is a very literal and exact way of reading the program. Often, doing this before running the code can find bugs before they even happen. Programmers in good programming environments often hand their programs to each other to review. Or, they might work together over a single screen with the person not typing reviewing and tracing the code as the other person types it. This last is not a quiet or unnecessary exercise. I promise. Thanks ECA for helping me with exactly the type of communication with which I have trouble.

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Prairie Dog Squeak Equals Human Sentence

May 19, 2013

I must say that I find it quite incredible that inside the very short squeak of a prairie dog is a complete sentence of the form “Danger, a thin human in a yellow shirt is approaching the colony.”

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