Programming language

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A formal system of symbols used for the communication of human beings with a computer. In solving computational problems or in controlling executing mechanisms, a computer with its software behaves in complex ways, usually related to the mental activity of human beings. It is precisely this resemblance of functioning, reflecting the generality of cybernetic laws of information processing in living organisms and automatic devices, that allows one to speak of the language of a computer, of the machine understanding the information given to it, of the communication between human beings and computers.

The basic purpose of a programming language is to be a means of programming, i.e. of formulating programs that can be executed on a computer. A sensible program for a computer is a distinctive operational and informational model of a certain regularity of the outer world, where the program fixates this regularity in a precise and reproducible form. This documentational side of programming makes a programming language also an important tool for the professional communication between human beings.

The most widely-spread kind of programming language are the algorithmic languages (cf. Algorithmic language), in which algorithms are formulated for solving problems on a computer. Usually, a programming language has a universal character, allowing one to formulate algorithms for solving various problems that are to be solved on different computers. In order to represent problems of a clearly distinguished class more conveniently one has created problem-oriented languages (cf. Problem-oriented language), and in order to use the possibilities of a concrete computer more completely one has created machine-oriented languages (cf. Machine-oriented language). Algol; Fortran; Cobol; PL/I, and Algol-68 are the most widespread programming languages in the 1970's. Lisp; Simula and Snobol are more special languages. The languages Al'fa and Refal are widespread in the USSR.


[1] N.A. Krinitskii, G.A. Mironov, T.D. Frolov, "Programming and algorithmic languages" , Moscow (1979) (In Russian)
[2] T.W. Pratt, "Programming languages: design and implementation" , Prentice-Hall (1975)


Other programming languages of widespread use are: Pascal, C, Modula II, Prolog.


[a1] R.D. Tennent, "Principles of programming languages" , Prentice-Hall (1981)
[a2] M.C. Henson, "Elements of functional languages" , Blackwell (1987)
[a3] K.N. King, "Modula-2" , Heath (1988)
[a4] B.W. Kernighan, D.M. Ritchie, "The programming language" , Prentice-Hall (1988)
[a5] M. Condillac, "Prolog" , Dunod (1986)
[a6] W. Findlay, D.A. Watt, "Pascal" , Pitman (1981)
How to Cite This Entry:
Programming language. Encyclopedia of Mathematics. URL:
This article was adapted from an original article by A.P. Ershov (originator), which appeared in Encyclopedia of Mathematics - ISBN 1402006098. See original article