Languages on boards

Why Are There so Many Programming Languages?

Recently, an outsider to the programming world offhandedly asked me a question: “why are there so many programming languages?”

This gave me pause for a moment.  When you’re steeped in the programming world, you just kind of take this for granted.  In that sense, it’s like me asking you right now, “why are there so many spoken languages on Earth?”

But I reflected a little further on it.  And I decided it would make good fodder for this blog—one that answers questions asked by newbie and aspiring programmers.  We answer questions about whether software engineers are happy and whether programmers should blog.  Why not this question?

So let’s look at why there are so many programming languages.

First of All, Are There Really a Lot of Them?

Before answering the question outright, we should probably look to quantify the vague claim “a lot.”  How many programming languages are we really talking about?

Is five a lot?  10?  20?

I went over to Wikipedia’s list of programming languages to see if I could give you a number.  And I can.

There are 68 programming languages… that start with the letter “S.”  I’m not going to count the entire page, but based on “S” you can easily extrapolate that we’re talking hundreds of programming languages.

And, depending on how you define “programming language,” one might argue that this understates the number out there.  After all, this list omits markup languages like HTML and XML.  (Some consider these programming languages, though I don’t, myself.)

So yes, there really are a LOT of programming languages.  Now we just need to talk about why.

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