Computer Programming is the new Latin

This quote has been festering in my head from the readings last week: “A debate about whether or not students should learn computer programming was ongoing. Some felt that it replaced previous hit Latin  as a “mental discipline” (Hockey 1986).” The key: “as a mental discipline”; a way to train the mind that serves universal cohesion and collaboration. I studied Latin in high school, prodded along by the wishes of my grandmother, a woman who sincerely believes in the value of an ‘old-school’ education. But what about computer programming? She couldn’t wrap her head around it. ‘Why were they in the same sentence?’. I told her about it, the class I am taking: “Digital Humanities”. Have fun explaining that one; I give a different answer to nearly everyone I ask; but there is something there. I don’t speak the language yet, the ‘universal’ core, which maybe at one point was Latin, and is now computer programming (all I remember about my high school Latin is a massive amount of tables — filling in and creating conjugation charts and applying said tables to various activities — which from my understanding is what under-girds a lot of programming: tables, and the relationships therein) but I hope to get there. The separation of  powers between the humanist with the ‘idea’, and the programmer with the ‘skill’ to bring this idea into the concrete reality of 1s and 0s (and maybe 3s) will hopefully be blurred and people who think like us will get some agency back. 


1 thought on “Computer Programming is the new Latin

  1. Mary Catherine Kinniburgh


    I love how you highlighted the question of language in our conception of digital humanities. I wonder if the question of programming as the new Latin aims to piggyback on Latin’s reputation for rigorousness and classical learning, as a sort of humanist PR move.

    As a medievalist, I’m also inclined to think of Latin historically as the primary language of ecclesiastical authority, and to think about the political uses of Latin versus the vernacular throughout the medieval period and beyond. Learning Latin was not just a mental exercise–it was thought to shape the goodness of the soul towards virtue and thus God. Language does, after all, govern the structures in which we think–and medieval scholars felt this way too.

    I wonder, is “coding the new Latin” a mode of shaping the modern soul towards the virtue of computing? Thinking of the hacktivism in the Losh chapter, is this a social as well as ethical imperative? And if not God, to whose authority are we shaping our computational virtues?

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