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Suppose I'm currently writing an introduction to programming languages. One of my paragraphs start as follows:

Everyone can learn how to program. It is like learning a new language. [...]

In this sentence, by language I mean Spanish, English, French, etc. This kind of language.

But as the reader, how would you know that? Language may be referencing a programming language or a speech language (Spanish, English ...).

Of course, if it'd mean a programming language, the sentence will make not sense, so the reader will opt for the other alternative.

But consider a translation program or software which the only information available to it is the context of the text. Judging by the context, it'd be consitent that I am refering to programming languages. So it'll be translated accordingly.

In Spanish, we have a specific word for speech languages, which is idioma. This word will remove the ambiguity and the reader can now know exactly what I mean.

But there isn't a similar word in English (nor that I know of, of course). I'm not proficient at it, but "idiom" seems like a totally different thing from me than its spanish translation.

When saying or writing the word "language", how can I explciitly differentiate from a programming language, or a "speech language", or any kind of different language?

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    The usual English equivalent to Spanish's idioma is natural language and indeed computer programs such as your hypothetical translator that try to identify the intended gloss of a word from its context fall under the discipline of Natural Language Processing, or NLP. – Dan Bron Jan 25 '16 at 13:16
  • When you use the word "language" outside of a computer context, only the most isolated nerd would take that to mean "programming language". – Hot Licks Jan 25 '16 at 13:22
  • 'natural language' – Mitch Jan 25 '16 at 14:38
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A programming language (such as C++) is referred to as a programming language.

A language (e.g. English, German, Swahili, Chinese, etc) is referred to as a language.

Shakespeare did use the word tongue a lot, but using it today is not advisable. Some folks might get resentful and start giving you weird looks.

That's all there is to it.

  • I think "tongue" is a fairly good way of avoiding the ambiguity in this particular sentence: "... It is like learning a new tongue." – Green Grasso Holm Apr 10 '18 at 17:21
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The easiest way to make sure your meaning is properly understood would be to say:

Everyone can learn how to program. It is like learning to speak a new language. [...]

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how can I explciitly differentiate from a programming language, or a "speech language", or any kind of different language?

Where needed, I would clarify that I'm either talking about a spoken language, a written language, a programming language, a sign language, or a mathematical language etc.

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