"The Case for Large Languages" revisited

by Conrad Weisert
© 2003 Information Disciplines, Inc., Chicago

Programming Languages in 1988

Fifteen years ago vigorous arguments were raging about the relative merits of: small programming languages (e.g. C, Pascal) versus large ones (e.g. PL/I, Ada). Conventional wisdom at the time and the momentum of both academic and industry trends favored small languages and disparaged large ones as obsolete "dinosaurs".

I joined the debate with a paper The Case for Large Languages at the May 8-11 conference of the Structured Techniques Association.

Programming Languages in 2003

It's almost irresitably tempting to go back and annotate the earlier paper taking notice of programming language developments since 1988. However, I'll limit my comments to these few observations:

  • Today's most popular programming languages -- Java, C++, Visual Basic -- with their essential standard libraries are by far larger than even the largest of the 1988 languages. One of them is surely the largest language in the history of programming.
  • Nevertheless, those languages are enthusiastically supported by the very same experts who most loudly condemned large languages in 1988.
  • Many of the "shortcomings" of small languages cited in the 1988 article are exhibited by the large languages of today.

Take a look at the original paper and make your own judgments.

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Last modified August 30, 2003