قلب, A Coding Language Written In Arabic

7 May 2014

Ramsey Nasser:

قلب is a programming language exploring the role of human culture in coding. Code is written entirely in Arabic, highlighting cultural biases of computer science and challenging the assumptions we make about programming. It is implemented as a tree-walking language interpreter in JavaScript.

All modern programming tools are based on the ASCII character set, which encodes Latin Characters and was originally based on the English Language. As a result, programming has become tied to a single written culture. It carries with it a cultural bias that favors those who grew up reading and writing in that culture. قلب explores and challenges that by presenting a language that deviates almost entirely from ASCII.

Seeing code written right-to-left is disorientating.1

Whilst I support the aim of universal code literacy, it’s important to note that this is just one step towards this goal. Nasser also makes a big assumption: that code syntax should closely reflect how people write. This isn’t necessarily true.

Also, although this is about breaking down cultural barriers, you could argue that this doesn’t help at all. Most people who code today don’t know Arabic. This language still divides those who speak English and those who do not. Truly solving this problem will require reaching far beyond a change to technological standards.

1 You can try the language here.