Programming language theory

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Guy Steele, the developers of the Scheme programming language.[jargon

Programming language theory (PLT) is a branch of computer science that deals with the design, implementation, analysis, characterization, and classification of formal languages known as programming languages. Programming language theory is closely related to other fields including mathematics, software engineering, and linguistics. There are a number of academic conferences and journals in the area.


In some ways, the history of programming language theory predates even the development of programming languages themselves. The

functional programming languages have been described as providing a "thin veneer" over the lambda calculus,[2]
and many are easily described in terms of it.

The first programming language to be invented was

MIT developed Lisp
, the first language with origins in academia to be successful. With the success of these initial efforts, programming languages became an active topic of research in the 1960s and beyond.


Some other key events in the history of programming language theory since then:

  • Noam Chomsky developed the Chomsky hierarchy in the field of linguistics, a discovery which has directly impacted programming language theory and other branches of computer science.

Sub-disciplines and related fields

There are several fields of study that either lie within programming language theory, or which have a profound influence on it; many of these have considerable overlap. In addition, PLT makes use of many other branches of mathematics, including computability theory, category theory, and set theory.

Formal semantics

Formal semantics is the formal specification of the behaviour of computer programs and programming languages. Three common approaches to describe the semantics or "meaning" of a computer program are denotational semantics, operational semantics and axiomatic semantics.

Type theory

Type theory is the study of type systems; which are "a tractable syntactic method for proving the absence of certain program behaviors by classifying phrases according to the kinds of values they compute".[4] Many programming languages are distinguished by the characteristics of their type systems.

Program analysis and transformation

Program analysis is the general problem of examining a program and determining key characteristics (such as the absence of classes of program errors). Program transformation is the process of transforming a program in one form (language) to another form.

Comparative programming language analysis

Comparative programming language analysis seeks to classify programming languages into different types based on their characteristics; broad categories of programming languages are often known as programming paradigms.

Generic and metaprogramming

Metaprogramming is the generation of higher-order programs which, when executed, produce programs (possibly in a different language, or in a subset of the original language) as a result.

Domain-specific languages

Domain-specific languages are languages constructed to efficiently solve problems of a particular part of domain.

Compiler construction

instruction set
of a CPU).

Run-time systems

runtime environments and their components, including virtual machines, garbage collection, and foreign function interfaces

Journals, publications, and conferences

Conferences are the primary venue for presenting research in programming languages. The most well known conferences include the


Notable journals that publish PLT research include the ACM Transactions on Programming Languages and Systems (TOPLAS), Journal of Functional Programming (JFP), Journal of Functional and Logic Programming, and Higher-Order and Symbolic Computation.

See also


  1. OCLC 34576857
  2. ^ "Models Of Computation". December 3, 2014. Archived from the original on Nov 30, 2020.
  3. ^ C. Böhm and W. Gross (1996). Introduction to the CUCH. In E. R. Caianiello (ed.), Automata Theory, p. 35-64/
  4. ^ Benjamin C. Pierce. 2002. Types and Programming Languages. MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA.

Further reading

External links