John von Neumann, the “father” of computers as they are now, has said: There’s no point in being exact about something if you don’t even know what you’re talking about. I like that quote and I’ll tell you why.

I have delivered again and again courses about requirements management and requirements gathering. There is no surprise to that, as bad requirements are the main reason for failing projects. The ways to get “bad requirements” are countless. I am not going to detail them today. Today, I am interested in an interesting phenomenon about natural language. It happens that I had to work with the topic of natural language during my PhD and since then I keep an eye on it. As I am also interested in learning languages (I have learnt Hungarian out of curiosity and intellectual challenge) I keep a second eye on it. So, what do my eyes tell me?

I bought the other day “The Story of Writing” by Andrew Robinson at the British Museum (I love the British Museum and its library is killing my wallet every time I go). In the introduction it talks about the different writings over the world. We all know that learning Chinese is far more difficult than learning English. Of course, it is obvious but the explanation why is still interesting. I quote:

All scripts that are full writing – that is, a ‘system of graphic symbols that can be used to convey any and all thought’ (to quote John DeFrancis, a distinguished American student of Chinese) – operate on one basic principle, contrary to what most people think, some scholar included. Both alphabets and the Chinese and Japanese scripts use symbols to represent sounds (i.e. phonetic [...]