Programming Languages


Lecture slide: click here
History, standards, syntax, semantics, grammars, parsing. Readings: Scott, ch 1 - 2 See resources folder for language standards documents: C11, C++17, ECMA-262, ECMA-334, and JLS15.

Programming paradigms

Imperative (von Neumann)

Such as: Fortran, Pascal, C, Ada
  • programs have mutable storage (state) modified by assignments
  • the most common and familiar paradigm

Functional (applicative)

Such as: Scheme, Lisp, ML, Haskell
  • functions are first-class values
  • side effects (e.g., assignments) discouraged

Logical (declarative)

Such as: Prolog, Mercury
  • programs are sets of assertions and rules


Such as: Simula 67, Smalltalk, C++, Ada95, Java, C#
  • data structures and their operations are bundled together
  • inheritance


Such as: QCL, Q, Q#, qGCL
  • performs operations on data using quantum bits (“qubits”)
  • utilizes quantum properties such as superposition and entanglement

BNF (Backus-Naur Form)

Does not add expressiveness to the language—for convenience only.
  • alernation: <Symb> ::= <Letter> | <Digit>
  • sequencing: <Id> ::= <Letter> <Symb>

BNF Building blocks

  1. 1.
    Numbers of a and b are equal (in any order):
<E> :== a <E> b <E> | b <E> a <E> | ε
  1. 1.
    a is more:
<A> :== <E> a <A> | <E> a <E>

EBNF (Extended Backus-Naur Form)

Encompasses everything BNF has, plus:
  • repetition:
    • zero or more: {<Symb>} or <Symb>*
    • one or more: <Digit>+
  • option: [<Digit>]
  • grouping: ('+'|'-')

The Chomsky hierarchy

Regular grammars (Type 3)

  • all productions can be written in the form: N ::= TN
  • one non-terminal on left side; at most one on right
  • generally used for scanners

Context-free grammars (Type 2)

  • all productions can be written in the form:N ::= XYZ
  • one non-terminal on the left-hand side; mixture on right
  • most major programming languages

Context-sensitive grammars (Type 1):

  • number of symbols on the left is no greater than on the right
  • no production shrinks the size of the sentential form
  • used for parts of C++, but otherwise rarely used

Type-0 grammars

no restrictions

Regular expressions

Regular grammars can be used to generate regular languages. Regular expressions can be used to accept regular languages.
  • ε denotes
  • a character x, where x ∈ Σ, denotes {x}
  • sequencing: a sequence of two regular expressions RS denotes {αβ | α ∈ [R], β ∈ [S]}
  • alternation: R|S denotes [R] ∪ [S]
  • Kleene star: R* denotes the set of strings which are concatenations of zero or more strings from [R]
  • grouping: parentheses (A|B)
R? ≡ ε|R
R+ ≡ RR*
. ≡ any α ∈ Σ (“any character”)
[abc] ≡ (a|b|c)
[^abc] ≡ Σ \ {a, b, c}
[0-9] ≡ (0|1|2|3|4|5|6|7|8|9)
a-z and A-Z

Parse tree

A parse tree describes the grammatical structure of a sentence
  • leaf nodes are terminal symbols
  • internal nodes are non-terminal symbols
  • construction of tree from sentence is called parsing
Input string: 52.316
<Float> ::= <Digits> | <Digits> '.' <Digits>
<Digits> ::= <Digit> | <Digit> <Digits>
<Digit> ::= '0'|'1'|'2'|'3'|'4'|'5'|'6'|'7'|'8'|'9'
Parse tree:

Grammar ambiguity

If the parse tree for a sentence is not unique, the grammar is ambiguous.
From recitation: A CFG is ambiguous if it has more than one parse tree for some strings. i.e. there is more than 1 derivation for a string.

"Dangling if" rewrite solution

<S> ::= <M> | <U>
<O> ::= <V> ‘=’ <E> | <S> ‘;’ <S>
<M> ::= ‘if’ <B> ‘then’ <M> ‘else’ <M> | <O>
<U> ::= ‘if’ <B> ‘then’ <S> | ‘if’ <B> ‘then’ <M> ‘else’ <U>
<B> ::= <E> ‘===’ <E>
<V> ::= ‘x’ | ‘y’ | ‘z’
<E> ::= <V> | ‘0’ | ‘1’ | ‘2’ | ‘3’


If we say operator * has precedence over operator +. This means expression 5 + 2 * 3 should be evaluated as: 5 + (2 * 3), not (5 + 2) * 3.
Precedence can be specified in two ways:
  • Write precedence directly into the rules: higher precedence appear in deeper rules.
  • Write an ambiguous grammar first, then specify operator precedence separately.


Associativity tells the parser what to do with operators at the same level of precedence.
For example, 5 - (2 - 3) verses (5 - 2) - 3. Two - operators have the same precedence. However, how you associate them will yield different mathematical results.
Usually, you can specify using left associativity or right associativity.

Scanners and parsers

Scanners (or tokenizers) read in text and extract tokens. Parsers read in tokens and construct a parse tree.

LL parsers

LL (Left-to-right, Leftmost derivation) parsers are also called top-down, recursive descent or predictive parsers. It begins at the root symbol.
LL(k): means k look ahead.
Problems with LL parsing:
  • Left recursion: a grammar is left-recursive if there exists non-terminal A such that <A> ::= <A> α for some α.
  • Common prefixes: if there exists a non-terminal A and terminal b such that there exists rule R1 <A> ::= b ... and R2 <A> ::= b ....
How to eliminate left-recursive problem:
A → Aα1| Aα2 | … | Aαm | β1 | β2 | … | βn
Convert to:
A → β1A' | β2 A' | … | βnA'
A' → α1A' | α2A' | … | αmA' | ε