[erlang-questions] A proposal for Unicode variable and atom names in Erlang.

Rustom Mody <>
Mon Oct 22 15:49:13 CEST 2012

On Mon, Oct 22, 2012 at 5:59 PM, Fred Hebert <> wrote:

>  Regarding the use of Unicode in variables, here is a short list of
> languages that allow it:
> - Ada
> - C#
> - Common Lisp
> - D
> - Delphi
> - GNU Forth (other impls are often ASCII only)
> - Go
> - Haskell
> - J
> - Java
> - Mathematica
> - Perl (also Perl 6)
> - Python
> - Racket
> - Tcl
> Now in any of these languages, can you blame the use of Unicode in
> identifiers as the source of woes in there? Is it usually due to semantics,
> other syntax, lack of clarity (even in English), their community? Name me
> one language where unicode support is a true problem compared to anything
> else, in this list.
> Is a Chinese programmer suddenly typing with her own glyphs rather than
> pinyin a problem? If I'm programming in French already and had my education
> in French, it's possible I learned everything using French terminology:
> tableau -> array, arbre binaire -> binary tree, liste -> list, paquet ->
> packet, octet -> byte, taille -> size, fichier -> file, dossier ->
> directory, boucle -> loop
> and so on. Note that I can use all of these in my existing Erlang programs
> if I want to, if I'm working with people who do not speak English  but
> still have a formal education in Computer Science, software engineering, or
> whatever. Chances are that someone who doesn't speak French won't have the
> best time reading that code, but has it been a major problem so far? Would
> allowing, say accented characters so someone can write 'colonne' and
> 'rangée' instead of 'colonne' and 'rangee' for 'column' and 'row', be the
> straw that breaks the camel's back? Is the use of accents what's going to
> be the problem here? Or are we supposed to be especially afraid of
> non-latin-looking characters?
> I've mentioned to a few people here before that I'm coming from a small
> part of Quebec where people don't speak English that well. I've had to work
> on code bases where French was mandatory because otherwise, people on your
> team wouldn't be able to understand what the code was supposed to do.
> French code shoved in English exists, and it's being used. I'm sure you
> know the same happens in a boatload of other languages.
> Telling these people "well just Learn English, that's what I did when I
> needed to" isn't a valid way of doing things. Nobody should have to jump
> through the hoops we had to jump through, just because we had to when we
> were learning. This isn't a reason enough. I'm not willing to go back to my
> old office, and tell this father of 3 children (who programs to feed them)
> "Sorry buddy, you're out of a job because apparently English is now
> necessary." It just won't happen because it is *not* necessary to know
> English to program.
> As much as the huge github love circle and "code is global" thing has been
> going, there's still an entire localized world out there where people work
> in small private enterprises, providing local services to people who speak
> their language, a place where people don't give a shit whether user
> 'robocop56' stars your repository or not. Programmers who want to go global
> can still write English stuff all the same, lest they want to see their
> code shunned by the majority of the world. That's likely what anyone using
> the listed languages above did.
> This is no excuse to make it hard for everyone else to work in a way
> they're comfortable. A huge part of programming is being able to reason
> about code. Let programmers who want to do it, be able to do so, especially
> when we see that so many languages support it already, without most people
> even noticing.
> Here's one for you specifically Yurii: why would you want to keep people
> from using a feature they want to use but that you wouldn't use anyway?
> Regards,
> Fred.

If I may use a marketing metaphor: if one widens the net of the marketing
campaign, one potentially gets more customers, but also the campaign cost
rises. So a hardnosed cost-benefit analysis is required.

To take an example closer to us: at some point in the long history of
emacs, emacs decided to support windows.  Today probably there are 3 times
more windows users of emacs than all else combined -- just my guesstimate
from hanging about the emacs users list. However when I move over to the
emacs dev list a different picture emerges.
The windows code in the low level parts of the display manager is
sufficiently different and sufficiently brittle for the devs to wish avoid
touching it.
So supporting windows has a direct cost in slowing the progress of emacs.

Its obvious that for Erlang to support unicode will be a development cost.
The important (and hopefully non-rhetorical) question is whats the
cost-benefit analysis.

In the Erlang world I am completely unqualified at this point to say (hope
this changes soon!)

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