The University of Chicago

To study how the choice of computational tools such as programming languages and data-analysis environments impacts their users

  • Amount $750,000
  • City Chicago, IL
  • Investigator James Evans
  • Year 2017
  • Program Digital Technology
  • Sub-program Data & Computational Research

In linguistics, the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis holds that the structure of a language affects its speakers’ world view and modes of thought. University of Chicago computational sociologist James Evans and University of Wisconsin cognitive scientist Gary Lupyan hypothesize that a version of this hypothesis applies to programming languages. They propose to explore the “cognitive and social consequences of programming and data analysis environment” choices, specifically how the characteristics of programming languages might influence a developer’s efficiency, creativity, and collaboration. To evaluate this hypothesis, Evans and Lupyan will undertake exploratory studies of observational data on software development broadly then then look more closely at specific cases in scientific software development. They will use large-scale project data from GitHub to determine which specific features of programming languages (e.g., static vs. dynamic variable typing) might be best operationalized as independent variables that influence the ways in which developers think and work. They will then test the hypotheses that surface through that exploratory work using a series of comparative-language experiments to be run in constrained development environments, including the Jupyter Notebook platform. Grant funds provide three years of research support for the project.

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