In computer programming, mastering syntax is the key to learning a new programming language. Unless you give a machine precise instructions, it will spit out an curt error message that is often cryptic, and present a blinking cursor for further instructions.

The machine’s rebuke isn’t personal – it is merely a limitation. The computer is used to communicating a certain way. The syntax is the ‘tax’ we ought to pay in order to instruct it.

As humans, we all have our syntax – we made computers in our likeness after all. Our syntax, however, is implicit and is packaged in our culture via language, gestures, rituals, customs and etiquette. When we wish to communicate with people in a different context as our own – people from a different country, profession or generation – we ought to learn the syntax that is embedded into their culture.

If we do not, we are likely to be rebuked. And when that happens, it isn’t personal.

4 thoughts on “Syntax

  1. I believe you are differentiating syntax, which deals with rules and definitions versus semantics, which deals with meaning and interpretation. One is explicit and the other is implicit. One is context independent and the other is context dependent. One is on the surface and the other goes deeper.
    Having lived in two different countries, I was initially baffled by some of the social protocols and rituals in these foreign cultures. Once I spent some time and had a bit of cultural context, it made sense.
    Examples – I was initially struck by how strictly Germans adhere to work/office hours. Initially it seemed dogmatic and rigid to me. However, after having spent 2 years working there, I realised how this ensures work life balance and in a counterintuitive way, improves productivity by giving enough rest to workers. In Singapore, there are strict laws against littering, but when I see the immaculate subway stations, I am glad for it.

    In both these examples, the outward protocols/rules (syntax) don’t make sense on their own. One had to see it operate within some context (semantics) to see why they exist.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Yea – I indeed imply that we follow several norms in human communication and interaction. Semantics is just one among them.

    To successfully connect with people of a new culture, those norms are to be adhered to. If not, the rebuke one faces isn’t personal, just like a computer’s error message.


  3. Isn’t personal? 😢😢
    Nobody understands that, especially in my home, especially in India………
    People take offence at everything.
    Politicians NEVER apologize for mistakes.

    Nothing objective. EVERYTHING is personal. 😠

    Liked by 1 person

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