Approaching Polyglot Programming: What Can We Learn from Bilingualism Studies?

Authors Rebecca L. Hao , Elena L. Glassman

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Rebecca L. Hao
  • Department of Computer Science and Department of Linguistics, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, USA
Elena L. Glassman
  • Department of Computer Science, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, USA

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Rebecca L. Hao and Elena L. Glassman. Approaching Polyglot Programming: What Can We Learn from Bilingualism Studies?. In 10th Workshop on Evaluation and Usability of Programming Languages and Tools (PLATEAU 2019). Open Access Series in Informatics (OASIcs), Volume 76, pp. 1:1-1:7, Schloss Dagstuhl – Leibniz-Zentrum für Informatik (2020)


Today’s programmers often need to use multiple programming languages together, enough that this practice has been given the name "polyglot programming." However, not much is known about how using multiple programming languages affects programmers, despite its increasing ubiquity. If we want to better design programming languages and improve the productivity of programmers who program in multiple programming languages, we should seek to understand the user in this context: we need to better understand the impact that polyglot programming has on programmers. In this paper, we pose several open research questions to begin to approach this question, drawing inspiration from psycholinguistic studies of bilingualism, because despite the differences between natural languages and programming languages, the questions considered in natural language bilingualism studies are relevant to programming languages, and the existing findings may prove useful in guiding our intuitions, methods, and priorities as we begin to explore this topic. In particular, we pay close attention to the implications that code switching (switching between languages within a conversation) and interferences (ways an unintended language may influence one’s use of an intended language) may have on our understanding of how using programming languages may impact a programmer.

Subject Classification

ACM Subject Classification
  • Human-centered computing → HCI design and evaluation methods
  • Software and its engineering → General programming languages
  • Programming languages
  • polyglot programming
  • bilingualism


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