Text 8. Computer programming language

Computer programming is any of various languages for expressing a set of detailed instructions for a digital computer. Such a language consists of characters and rules for combining them into symbols and words.

Many kinds of programming languages have been developed over the years. Initially programmers had to write instructions in machine language. This coded language, which can be understood and executed directly by the computer without conversion or translation, consists of binary digits representing operation codes and memory addresses. Because it is made up of strings of Is and Os, machine language is difficult for humans to use. Assembly language was eventually devised for greater convenience. It enabled programmers to express instructions in alphabetic symbols (e.g., AD for add and SUB for subtract) rather than in numbers. Although assembly language with its mnemonic code was easier to use than machine language, it was clearly desirable to develop programming languages that more closely resembled human communication. The first so-called high-level language was FORTRAN (acronym for Formula Translation), invented in 1956. FORTRAN was well suited to scientists and mathematicians because it was similar to mathematical notations. It did, however, present some difficulty for those in nonmathematically oriented fields. As a result, a more practical programming language known as COBOL (Common Business-Oriented Language) was devised several years later (1960). COBOL employs words and syntax resembling those of ordinary English. Later, other languages even easier to learn and use were introduced. BASIC (Beginner's All-Purpose Symbolic Instruction Code), for example, can be readily mastered by the layperson and is used extensively in schools, businesses, and homes for microcomputer programming. С is a high-level language that can function as an assembly language; much commercial software is written in this flexible language. Another versatile language widely used for microcomputer as well as minicomputer applications is Pascal (probably named for the French scientist-philosopher Blaise Pascal).

Other high-level programming languages possess unique features that make each one suitable for a specific application. Some examples are APT (Automatically Programmed Tools), for numerical control of industrial machine tools, and GPSS (General-Purpose Simulation System), for constructing simulation models. LISP (List Processing) can be used to manipulate symbols and lists rather than numeric data; it is often used in artificial-intelligence applications. Fourth-generation languages (4GLs) are closer to human language than are high-level (or third-generation) languages. They are used primarily for database management or as query languages; examples include FOCUS, SQL (Structured Query Language), and dBASE. Object-oriented programming languages, such as C++ and Smalltalk, write programs incorporating self-contained collections of data structure or computational instructions (called "objects"). New programs can be written by reassembling and manipulating the objects.

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