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

Fred Hebert <>
Mon Oct 22 16:03:37 CEST 2012

Have you ever heard communities from any of the languages I listed (Ada, 
C#, CL, D, Go, Haskell, J, Java, Mathematica, Perl, Python, Ruby1.9, 
etc.) complain that "well we would accept that change, but it's 
incompatible with Unicode variable names?" Have we had problems with 
Spanish or Portuguese programmers submitting Spanish or Portuguese code 
to OTP? That code exists, just without using other characters, and it's 
just not much of a problem from what I understand.

Many of us are 'foreigners' already, and many of us made the effort to 
switch to English to be understood -- hell, wasn't Swedish at the 
origins of Erlang?  We all understood, pretty fast too, that English was 
the way to go around here. I can tell you people who don't speak English 
realize it also.

People speaking other languages only aren't morons. They damn well know 
that the international community won't understand their language 
already, and they probably deal with it daily. People on this list seem 
to think that as soon as you allow other alphabets or glyphs, they'll be 
invaded by foreigners taking over their code bases. It just won't 
happen, the same way it doesn't happen already while it's entirely 
possible to represent other languages in the current subset of Erlang.

I'd like to call bull shit on this entire premise. It's entirely made up.

On 12-10-22 9:49 AM, Rustom Mody wrote:
> On Mon, Oct 22, 2012 at 5:59 PM, Fred Hebert < 
> <mailto:>> 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.
> 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!)
> Rusi

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