[erlang-questions] Erlang Syntax - again
Richard A. O'Keefe
Wed Mar 12 05:56:40 CET 2008
On 12 Mar 2008, at 1:58 pm, Robert Virding wrote:
> Very few of the misfeatures of Erlang syntax are new, though this
> doesn't make them less important. Some are be fixable.
> I was probably a little unclear but I was interested in the question
> of a whole new syntax, which at least Ulf understood. And the follow-
> up question of whether this would satisfy people?
It seems to me that a new syntax for Erlang should do one of three
and ideally should do them all.
(1) Reduce the labour of creating Erlang.
I have a proposal for 'HaskErl' -- a Haskell-inspired syntax for
which has not kept up with developments in the bit syntax. I
this can reduce the SLOC count by a factor of 1.6. That is, for
8 lines of Erlang, there would be 5 lines of HaskErl.
In code which is heavily commented, of course, the total effect
much reduced, because the comments would not change.
(2) Reduce the error rate when creating Erlang.
That is, it should lead you into making fewer mistakes. One can
about what _ought_ to be error prone, but really, empirical
called for. HaskErl requires explicit 'let' for binding
equally explicit comprehensions), reducing some errors, but the
reduction in parentheses and commas presumably increases others.
(3) Reduce the labout of editing Erlang.
This, of course, invites (NOT "begs") the question "by what
Arguably, Lisp is about as good as it gets here, and LFE is a very
I don't list "familiarity" as a criterion, for two reasons.
- The kind of programmer who is likely to be interested in Erlang is
to already be familiar with at least one language that didn't steal
syntax from C.
- Too much similarity can lead to mistakes when things aren't
same. When I was taught French at school, I was warned about "faux
words that looked exactly like English words, but didn't mean the
> I suppose the question really gets back to where the *real* problem
> is. Is it really the syntax, or is it actually the semantics but
> people see it a syntax problem because that is what they see first,
> the syntax? If a new syntax really solved new users problems then it
> might be worth doing, otherwise not. What do people think?
Does anyone remember a story by John Brunner about "stardroppers"? It
as a serial in Analog, but was also published as a book. The hero was a
government agent. One of the nice little gimmicks in the book was
communicated with his superiors in a unique language specially
him, based on his person and personality. When he reported to them,
knew what he said, but it felt really really comfortable saying it.
My point is that syntax isn't *the* problem, but it is *a* problem in
that practically everyone has a language in them, and Erlang isn't it,
mismatch will be a source of discomfort.
Does anyone remember the wave of PL/I-like languages?
Or the wave of Algol 68-inspired languages?
Or the later wave of Pascal-like languages?
Heck, I've even seen a language that borrowed the control structures
PL/I is pretty much gone; Pascal is pretty much gone; SNOBOL is gone;
but Lisp is still with us.
Oh yeah, so are Fortran, Basic, and COBOL. Should we make Erlang look
If Erlang got a Java-inspired syntax, we'd still get grief from people
who wanted it to look like C# instead.
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