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I found this question today:

What kind of language is CSS?

I wanted to ask a similar question about SAS. Knowing the academic classification of a language can greatly increase your ability to discover and apply various patterns and practices unique to that domain, and can also help when developing a curriculum (however small) to teach students and colleagues about the language.

I'm hesitant to post my question, though. The example question above was fairly well received (+36/-2) but it's also 3 years old. I can't decide if this sort of question would currently be considered "on-topic".

If I'm careful to phrase the question in terms of wanting an "academic" classification (not personal opinion), and ask that users explain what process they used to choose a proposed classification, would this kind of question even be answerable? Or are these questions inherently, invariably and unrecoverably opinion-based?

(In my opinion, the example question above is kind of a bad example in that it was left very open-ended and the answers were way too short (as per GS, BS). The question has more to do with these kinds of question in general and not the example specifically.)

share|improve this question
Is the "process they used to choose a proposed classification" a standard metric, or would it vary based on personal experience and opinion? – George Cummins Jul 17 '13 at 19:56
@GeorgeCummins - I don't know. Is there a standard metric for choosing a classification? If I knew, I wouldn't have to ask. ;) – JDB Jul 17 '13 at 20:00
Considering the question was created as Community Wiki, it is clear to me that it is the type that we would not consider suitable these days. People used CW questions for open-ended questions (lists, recommendations etc) - this fits that mold. – Oded Jul 17 '13 at 20:08
@Oded: Except that "what is the word that defines this" is presumably definitively answerable. – Robert Harvey Jul 17 '13 at 20:11
@RobertHarvey - It would, if there were universal agreement on the definite categories that computer languages fall into ;) – Oded Jul 17 '13 at 20:11
Bad question! Bad! Bad! I supplied the first close vote. – Rosinante Jul 17 '13 at 20:59
The kind of language SAS is, is answered in its tag excerpt. :) – Joe Jul 18 '13 at 14:17
@Joe - I looked at the wiki, but it didn't answer my questions clearly. I think I will do my own research though as this kind of question appears to be very controversial. – JDB Jul 18 '13 at 14:24
The excerpt, not the wiki, answers the question. "SAS is a 4GL" - that's the answer (a 4GL is a 4th generation programming language, or environment; wikipedia has a pretty good description). – Joe Jul 18 '13 at 14:25
OK, went ahead and improved the tag wiki some - once that's reviewed please feel free to further improve it. – Joe Jul 18 '13 at 14:32
up vote 6 down vote accepted

If there were a definitive academic classification for computer languages, similar to the dewy decimal system for books, then possibly. However, since there are many languages that individuals will argue about, such questions will always be debating houses until such a system is devised and codified.

For example, is C++ an object oriented language? You would find many people that would say no. (What sort of language is it? The only answer I could come up with was flexible and elegant.)

As an aside, I once spotted a library book categorised under Rolls Royce, a sub-category of motor mechanics. The book was Chariots of The Gods? by Von Däniken. Even a clear system is open to problems.

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Thank you for the edits @Cyborgx37 – Steve Barnes Jul 18 '13 at 18:34
I almost corrected your spelling of "categorised", then I noticed that you're from the UK and decided to let you keep your wonky spelling. Cheerio! ;) – JDB Jul 18 '13 at 18:44
Having so many fewer Zs in the language does make scrabble more of a challenge for us. – Steve Barnes Jul 18 '13 at 18:51

In general, I dislike vocabulary-style "What is the right word to describe this" questions.

Now what do you have? A word. So what?

Compare that with the usual workflow for Stack Overflow questions. I have this problem. Here's my code, the behavior I'm getting, the behavior I expect, and what I've attempted so far to fix it.

Do vocabulary questions bear any resemblance?

See Also
Questions about terminology related to computer programming

share|improve this answer
Vocabulary can help when learning or teaching something. If you've got a colleague with a basic understanding of C++ and XML, and you show them CSS for the first time, visually CSS looks more like C++. If you and your colleague have the vocabulary, though, you can explain that CSS is a DSDL, which may illuminate the code and drive them toward comparison with similar languages such as XML. Knowing vocab words like "generic", "functional" and "declarative" can make a world of difference and help to form connections that might not otherwise have been created. – JDB Jul 17 '13 at 20:21
The question, though, is whether it's on-topic. Can a question like this be answered? I tend to think not, but I wanted to get some more opinions. – JDB Jul 17 '13 at 20:21
@Cyborgx37: All true. But does it fit the format of SO? There are an endless number of vocabulary questions that could be asked on SO, none of which are duplicates of each other. I don't think serving as a reverse dictionary is one of SO's purposes. – Robert Harvey Jul 17 '13 at 20:22
Maybe something like this question could work on Programmers? If it's, say, narrowed down to a qualified choice between two options? I agree that it can't work for an endless number of terms though – Pëkka Jul 17 '13 at 21:18
@Robert ah, thanks – Pëkka Jul 17 '13 at 21:25

Stack Overflow already has answers to questions like this that ask "What is xxx". They are the tag wiki's:

Now, some of them are better than others (you may read the SAS tag and still wonder what it is) but you could always ask some knowledgable people here on meta to improve a specific tag wiki if you think that it needs it.

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+1 for writing where such speculations belong. I was to write the same. – Danubian Sailor Jul 18 '13 at 14:15
Indeed; and if the tag wiki isn't good enough, edit it :) I would note that the SAS excerpt is actually more helpful than the tag wiki for whatever reason (it mentions that it is a 4GL, which is the answer to the question). – Joe Jul 18 '13 at 14:20
@Joe: Well, considering that the OP was asking "What is SAS?" I doubt that he would be the right one to edit it, which is why I suggested asking for help here. :-) – lnafziger Jul 18 '13 at 14:50

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