A Project Approach to
Programming Language Theory
Joan Krone
Denison University
Many Languages
• Natural 6,912 Millennia to develop
• Programming 2,500 (U. of Kansas) 8,500
(Diarmuid Piggott) all within 50 years
• One language per week since Fortran
based on the 2,500
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Where Have All the Languages
Gone?
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Assembler
Fortran
Basic
Pascal
PL1
Modula2
Ada
C
C++
Lisp/Scheme
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ML
Clu
Prolog
Smalltalk
Eiffel
Python
Perl
Java
PHP
HTML
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Recent Article
Ryder, Soffa, Burnett, “The Impact of
Software Engineering Research on
Modern Programming Languages,” ACM
TOSEM, 2005.
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Paradigms
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Logic
Structured
Procedural
OO
Use of Abstraction (java interfaces)
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Why Johnny Can’t Code
• David Brin
• Language for novices?
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The Problem
• Maybe Basic
• Probably java
• Lack of student experience
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Two Levels of Programming
Language Courses
• Sophomore Level: survey
• Senior Level: capstone
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A Two Pronged Approach
• Semester Project
• Daily assignments
– Same questions
– Different languages for different students
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Project Choices
1. Become a guru.
2. Do a comparative analysis of 2 languages in
the same category.
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C++ and Java
Perl and HTML
3. Do a comparative analysis of 2 languages in
the different categories.
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Java and Scheme
Haskell and Python
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4. Write a translator for a simple language.
5. Design a new language.
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To Be a Guru
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Classify
History
Scoping
Type Checking
Support for Abstraction
Concurrency
Type Conversion
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• Write documentation
• Choose at least 3 features unique to your
language and explain how those features can be
used advantageously by a programmer to
perform some task in your language more
efficiently than it could be done in another
language without those features.
• Be prepared to give a talk and a demonstration
which illustrate how your language facilitates the
implementation of solutions to problems.
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Daily Requirement
• Choose a language
• Discover how that language handles a
particular topic, such as scoping.
• Prepare a demo to illustrate the discovery
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Class Size
• Small class - - individual investigations
• Large class - - groups of 2, 3, or 4
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Programming Languages are
Like Cars
Assembler: A formula I race car. Very fast but difficult to drive and
maintain.
FORTRAN II: A Model T Ford. Once it was the king of the road.
FORTRAN IV: A Model A Ford.
FORTRAN 77: a six-cylinder Ford Fairlane with standard transmission
and no seat belts.
COBOL: A delivery van. It's bulky and ugly but it does the work.
BASIC: A second-hand Rambler with a rebuilt engine and patched
upholstery. Your dad bought it for you to learn to drive. You'll ditch it
as soon as you can afford a new one.
PL/I: A Cadillac convertible with automatic transmission, a two-tone
paint job, white-wall tires, chrome exhaust pipes, and fuzzy dice
hanging in the windshield.
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Pascal: A Volkswagon Beetle. It's small but sturdy. Was once popular with
intellectual types.
LISP: An electric car. It's simple but slow. Seat belts are not available.
PROLOG/LUCID: Prototype concept cars.
FORTH: A go-cart.
LOGO: A kiddie's replica of a Rolls Royce. Comes with a real engine and a
working horn.
APL: A double-decker bus. It takes rows and columns of passengers to the
same place all at the same time but it drives only in reverse and is
instrumented in Greek.
Ada: An army-green Mercedes-Benz staff car. Power steering, power
brakes, and automatic transmission are standard. No other colors or options
are available. If it's good enough for generals, it's good enough for you.
C++: A black Firebird, the all macho car. Comes with optional seatbelt (lint)
and optional fuzz buster (escape to assembler).
Java: All-terrain very slow vehicle.
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Our Future
• C++ and Java forever?
• Probably Not
• Our students may be the designers of the
next important language
• Hopefully, they will learn from history
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