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Sunday, December 25, 2005

Language Design ?

Can you call it arrogance if it's true? Paul Graham on how hard it is to design a new Lisp:


The advantage [the inventors of Perl, Python, and Ruby] had over us in the Lisp world was that they started from a lower point. Larry Wall, for example, started out trying to make a better awk. That's not hard. Awk is missing a lot. Whereas we in the Lisp world are bumping up against the asymptote. Among other things, we can't avail ourselves of the one of the richest sources of features for new languages: taking stuff from Lisp. We have to invent genuinely new things.

Of course, he's missing the obvious answer: just take stuff from Smalltalk...
On a more serious note, I'm not sure why "the Lisp world" (to use Paul's sweeping generalization) spends so much time on language implementations. The great thing about languages like Lisp, Scheme and Smalltalk - which, I would agree, are all pretty asymptotic, but on local maxima not the global one - ought to be that the language problem is solved, and you can spend all that energy inventing genuinely new libraries instead. That way, all that genuine newness gets to interoperate, rather than compete.

Well, just a thought.

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