RE: COMPUTER LANGUAGES



	Imagine my surprise to login this morning and find 12 netter messages,
 9 of which were devoted to the issue of FORTRAN as a "foreign"
 language!!!
 This notion seems imminently "practical" on the surface but, in my
 judgement,
  does not hold up under closer examination.
 	I think too much is made of the foreign language requirement as an
 "obstacle" to getting one's degree,...  and research advisors
 encourage the
 carping that goes on because they don't want their students taking time off
 from their research to prepare for these exams.  I simply told my advisor that
 I was going into seclusion for ~4 weeks each time  (He was decidedly NOT
 thrilled!!).  I studied the language 8-10 hours a day, and passed each on the
 first try (German in 1964, French in 1965). In truth, I spent LESS time on the
 languages than my colleagues who (a) spent numerous hours complaining about the
 requirement, (b) studied half-heartedly, (c) failed the exam, and (d) wound up
 taking the course to meet the requirement.  I HAD finished two years of German
 in college (1957). and my MS advisor very wisely urged me to take the
 first-year college French course (1959).  My "success", however,
 stemmed from
 the fact that I looked upon the languages requirements as a legitimate
 requirement ("They" got to make the rules, after all!!), and treated
 it as
 such!!
       o Do I have working familiarity with either French or German??... not at
 	the moment.  I have never developed good conversational skills.
       o Could I manage to translate German or French text??... with the aid
 	of a dictionary.  I have, on several occasions, done my own translations
 	of technical stuff when the wait for our translation service was longer
 	than I could tolerate.
       o Have I used French or German in a cultural context???... a little:
 	(a) I remember enough to know when opera libretti, art songs, 	etc.,
 	have been badly translated; (b) I am having some fun now doing 	my own
 	translations of the texts of the chorales that Bach used for Der (Die?,
 	Das?) Orglebuchlien.
 	I do not believe that there has ever been a consensus as to the purpose
 of the foreign language requirement(s) for advanced degrees in the US.  I have
 encountered two, rather different, rationales:
     (1)	The view most often expressed within the natural sciences community
 	goes something like this: "The purpose in gaining mastery of foreign
 	languages is to enable one to read the literature *IN ONE'S FIELD*.
 	The languages chosen should represent the countries most active in
 	one's field."  Thus, the options for scientists have tended to be
 	German, and French or Russian.
 	{My German exam was based on this view.  We had to handle some simple
 	grammar, vocabulary (Ger <-> Eng.), and general translation, but then
 	went on to the translation (Ger -> Eng) of a technical article.}
     (2)	From the liberal arts camp I have heard the following: "The
 language
 	requirements for the Ph. D. are CULTURAL requirements.  A truly edu-
 	cated person should be able to read the great literature of the ages
 	(meaning, usually, the great literature of western civilization!)
 	IN THE ORIGINAL LANGUAGE, thereby capturing the nuances originally
 	intended by the authors."  This view has evolved from an earlier
 	description of the truly educated person as one who had mastered Greek
 	(for the study of the Bible in its original text, and Latin (to be able
 	to follow the mass, and to read the writings of the early church
 	fathers).
 	{My French exam started out much like the German.  However, there was
 	no technical translation involved.  The "trial by fire" was a large
 	section dealing with *French synonyms*!!}
 Clearly, neither FORTRAN or C constitutes a "foreign language" under
 either of
 these rationales.  One must take a rather narrow, "careerist" view of
 the Ph.
 D. degree to come up with a rationale for acceptance of programming languages
 in lieu of a "real" language.  This may be appropriate for a "D.
 Chem." degree
 but not, I think for a Ph. D. degree.
 	If one remembers that "Ph. D." stands for *Doctor of Philosophy*, one
 has to question the "careerist" view that currently prevails towards
 the
 degree, especially in the sciences, and PARTICULARLY in chemistry.  How many
 recent Ph. D. organic chemists are truly competent to teach undergraduate
 physical chemistry, or vice versa???  I admit to being rather sensitive on this
 issue, for I benefited greatly from the older view that all Ph. D. chemists
 should be well schooled in the basics of all areas.  My mentor went through
 grad school at a time when ALL students had to take the advanced courses in
 each area. (Yes, not passing advanced organic could derail a would-be physical
 chemist!!)  Having gone to a small school which lost its physical chemist to
 industry, I thank the "old" system each day that there was someone
 there who
 could competently step into the breach for us.
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                            FREDERIC A. VAN-CATLEDGE
 Scientific Computing Division         ||   Office: (302) 695-1187
 Central Research & Development Dept.  ||      FAX: (302) 695-9658
 The Du Pont company                   ||
 P. O. Box 80320                       || Internet:
 fredvc.,at,.esvax.dnet.dupont.com
 Wiilmington DE 19880-0320             ||
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