Abstract: A reference-point error occurs when a programmer writes code that mistakenly refers to one element when the intention is to refer to an element structurally related to it. I review these errors and their relation to the use of metonymy in human communication. Using a working example, I draw upon cognitive theories of human communication and problem-solving to explore three accounts of why these reference errors occur in novice programming. The first account involves a deficient mental model, the second assumes a misconception of the notional machine, and the third considers implicit, proceduralized habits of communication. I conclude with learning objectives for students that address these sources of difficulty.
PPIG 2016 - 27th Annual Workshop
Human language and its role in reference-point errors