Strange Loop

The Programming Language Called Classical Chinese

In this talk I present some of the ideas of context-free grammars and type systems, using Classical Chinese (the written language of common East Asian tradition) for the examples. Why Classical Chinese? Because you can fully describe the syntax of Classical Chinese using simple cases of these bedrock programming-language principles. What an astonishing and beautiful fact!

As I introduce the principles I will illustrate them with actual examples, so that the discussion stays concrete. But you will need no prior exposure to Chinese; I will supplement Chinese script with tokens that monolingual English speakers can read.

This talk comes out of a long gestation — years of working to make Classical Chinese accessible to learners in their early stages, and then coming to grips with theoretical computer science for myself. My aims are for the listener to observe how to apply basic ideas of context-free grammar and type systems to a highly unusual subject — and in the process to learn the outline of the elegant logical system at the core of Classical Chinese.

David Branner

David Branner

David Branner is a student of Chinese language in its many forms and time-periods. After an academic career in the subject, he retired very early from his university and eventually found a more satisfying way to prosecute this quest by working as a coder. While following this path he spent the better part of two years at the Recurse Center in New York.