Lexicography: What Can You Write with 50 Words? … Web 3.0

For many years, I worked in IT and wrote web-based software – mostly middleware – using various programming languages, among them Java and .NET. “OK, AMP, but what’s that got to do with writing fiction or Web 3.0?” Patience, Grasshopper.

Most computer languages have no more than 100 keywords or ‘reserved’ words, and fifty or so main ones, such as if, then, for, etc. I used those fifty words over and over again. In essence, the world was reduced to fifty words.

How would that work with human language? Fifty words in English? Not a good thing. Are fifty computer keywords really enough? You’d think the paucity of computer lexicons would render the IT world flat and colourless. It could, and it did – from the 1950s to the 1980s. Think mainframes and keypunch cards.

Then came the UX (User eXperience) Revolution: user-friendly interfaces and web browsers. Next came smartphones and apps. Consider what’s been created with a fifty-word base: Web 1.0 and Web 2.0. Of course, you could say that IT has pauperized the world, reduced it to two-dimensional screens, to a virtual realm, to a hell of trolls. Yeah, there IS all that. But there is much more. For instance, there’s blog space. You and I are ‘talking’ now. Well, I imagine you talking with me. That’s how I think of it.

Let’s do a very cursory comparison of a human language and a computer language. When learning a new human language, say English, if you master 1000 words you’re well on your way – not to being a poet, but to being functionally literate. The Oxford English Dictionary has about 200,000 entries. When learning to program in C++, you master less than fifty keywords. Only fifty! It’s amazing what a CPU can do with fifty keywords.

Think of human culture as a whole. Human languages have spawned millions of books. Computer languages have spawned millions of URLs. I’m not suggesting we can compare human lexicons to computer lexicons. It’d be like comparing a book to a byte. So, let’s move on. At the moment, Web 3.0 is in its infancy. It will use the same fifty keywords. Can you expect them to accurately mirror the real world? No. But coders will keep trying.

PS: To all the code warriors and IT professionals out there: You’re right, you use thousands of variables and elements, not fifty. But I’m referring to reserved words. Look what you’ve done with them. Billions of humans are glued to their phones. Hehe. Which brings new meaning to the old maxim: “Words are powerful.”