CSE4250: Programming Language Concepts (Spring 2020)

General info


Ryan Stansifer

Office hours

Check my WWW page for up to date information, you are welcome to send me e-mail.


Class meets from 9am to 9:50am Monday, Wednesday, and Fridays in the Crawford (CRF) Building, room 404.

Catalog Description

CSE 4250 Programming Language Concepts. A survey of programming language concepts and design principles of programming paradigms (procedural, functional and logic). Topics include a history of programming languages, data types supported, control structures and run-time management of dynamic structures. Prerequisite: CSE 2010.


This is a course in comparative programming languages. We learn the fundamental concepts important to the field. We will study the major programming language paradigms: imperative, logic and functional. Among the other topics discussed are syntax, semantics, types and objects, exception handling, and modules. More broadly, it is the study of human to computer communication.

Why study programming languages?

Above all, the class helps alleviate some of the difficulty in having to write in some new programming language.


Students are expected to know how to program in an imperative language like Java, C or Pascal, and to know about algorithms and data structures. Such material is taught in CSE 1001, 1002, 2010 in the undergraduate curriculum. Some mathematical sophistication is desirable. The more you know, the more you learn.


The textbook for the class is by Sebesta, however we will not refer to it frequently. The value of a textbook is that it provides more depth than can be covered in class: other topics, more examples, ideas to explore and so on.

Sebesta Robert W. Sebesta.
Concepts of Programming Languages, eleventh edition.
Boston, Massachusetts: Addison-Wesley, 2016.
ISBN13: 978-0-13-394302-3
book cover

It is helpful to read the book before we get to the topic in lecture, so the reading assignment should be completed by the indicated week in the syllabus. We cover the material roughly in the order in the book, but not exactly. We will cover the last chapters of the book in more depth, so the lecture notes or other resources will be especially important at the end of the semester.

You may wish to read other textbooks that cover roughly the same material for a different perspective: Scott, Louden and Lambert, Tucker and Noonan, Mitchell, Stansifer.

Scott Michael Scott.
Programming Languages, fourth edition.
Morgan Kaufmann, San Francisco, California, 2016.
ISBN-13: 978-0124104099
book cover
Mitchell Mitchell, John Clifford
Concepts of Programming Languages.
Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 2003.
ISBN: 0-521-78098-5
book cover
Stansifer Ryan Stansifer.
The study of programming languages.
Prentice Hall, 1995. ISBN: 0-13-726936-6
book cover

Three kinds of supplementary course material are available on the Internet:

Grading and assignments

There will be two in-class midterms and a final exam. There will be a short quiz at the beginning of class. Each quiz will be worth a few points to encourage punctuality, attentiveness, and attendance in class. These points will be added to the point total for exams and cannot be made up. In addition, we anticipate that there will be several projects. The grade for the course will be based 60 percent on the exams, 40 percent on the projects.

I tend to grade using the entire numeric scale and not just the top end. These scores are not percentages and so your numeric score may be lower that you are accustomed. This does not necessarily mean your course grade will be a 'D' or an 'F'. Your grade is not determined by how hard or easy the assignments are. If there are many students in the class, a normal distribution of scores would be expected, Generally in a large class, I think the average numeric score is roughly equivalent to a B- letter grade. In a senior class often an average score will be a B letter grade or betterm and a third of class will get an A letter grade. However, occasionally the cutoffs move the other way. A rough way to tell how you are doing in the class is: above average numeric score means A or B, below average means C or D. The letter grade for the class will be assigned to each student at the end of the semester. Cutoffs based on the weighted sum of these numeric scores will determine the letter grade. Sometimes I have to make some very tough choices; invariably someone in the class must receive the highest B, the highest C, etc in the class. Your best strategy is to not make it close.

For each student the numeric scores for the assignments and exams are recorded. If you have any question about your standing in the class, or if some score has been recorded wrong, please contact me.

Students are expected to take the final exam at the scheduled time during finals week. Academic misconduct, such as representing someone else's work as your own, will result in a grade of 'F' for the class. Please read the CS honor code. If you receive ideas, code, or help from any source, be sure to give proper credit and acknowledgment.

Please note that all course work (homework, projects, exams, etc) is archived. This is done for two purposes: for review by accrediting agencies (for the purposes of maintaining the accreditation of the CS program), and to detect plagiarism.


There will be several projects in this course. The projects are not especially hard, but learning new languages takes time. Leave time to experiment and learn---that's the point of the projects. Do not wait until the last week to start the projects. It is wise to write at least one simple program in the language, before starting the project.

Writing a correct program is important, but learning to do it yourself is more important. Do talk to other students about solving the problems and about learning the languages, library, compilers, and program development tools. Do use the computer science CS help desk. But ... Do not look at other students' (current or previous) code for the projects. Do not spend your time searching for the project solutions on the Internet. Do not allow other students (current or future) to examine or copy your code for the projects. Do not buy and sell solutions to the projects. Do not denigrate the honest work of other students by valuing the "answer" to the project over the learning of the language. All programs are analyzed and a measure of similarity with other programs from many sources is calculated. Projects whose programs are very similar to other programs will receive no credit. This policy is necessary to ensure that students take reasonable action to avoid and prevent plagiarism, and to ensure the proper recognition of independent effort.

You may work together with another student in the class on the programming projects. Groups can be no more than two people. Please do not work with the same person twice.

Include your name and e-mail address in all program files you submit for the projects. (Do not include your student number.) If you are working together, make sure your partner's name is also in the file. Here is an example header (using Java style comments):

 * Author: student name, e-mail address
 * Author: partner name, e-mail address
 * Course: CSE 4250, Spring 2020
 * Project: project tag, short project name
 * Implementation: compiler version
Your name or names on the code is your pledge that this work is solely your own effort. If you receive help from any source, you must include a note to that effect in the header. For example,
 * Conversations with Don Knuth helped me figure out how to do IO.
 * The WWW site www.xxx.edu/yyy.html had a good explanation of the Knapsack problem.
 * The client/server example in van der Linden's book (figure 5.4) was the model
 * for my code.

We will use electronic submissions. Projects are due at midnight. You may turn them in later at your own risk, but as soon as grading begins, no later assignments are accepted. Assignments turned in early might get some feedback which may improve the score. Only one person of the group should turn in the assignment.

Academic Support

Please take advantage of the support services provided by the CS help desk and the office of Academic Support.

Important Notices


Do not cheat on the exams; do not ask for or give code to others; do not buy or sell the solutions to the projects. Do not make solutions publicly available. The penalty for academic misconduct is a grade of 'F' for the course. Discussions with your classmates, with teaching assistants, at the help desk, or academic support center are encouraged. Know how to do exercises, know how to ask for help, and know how to help each other. Without student cooperation, the importance of course grades for individuals diminishes, as does the incentive for learning by doing it yourself. Please discourage your peers from cheating. You have more influence than I do. If you have evidence of academic misconduct, you should bring it to the attention of your instructor, or the department head.

Please note, that copies of some work (homework, projects, exams, etc) for classes may be kept on file. This is done for two purposes. For review by ABET, for the purposes of maintaining the accreditation of the CS program, and to detect plagiarism.

Title IX

What is Title IX?

Title IX of the Educational Amendments Act of 1972 is the federal law prohibiting discrimination based on sex under any education program and/or activity operated by an institution receiving and/or benefiting from federal financial assistance. Behaviors that can be considered “sexual discrimination” include sexual assault, sexual harassment, stalking, relationship abuse (dating violence and domestic violence), sexual misconduct, and gender discrimination. You are encouraged to report these behaviors.


Florida Tech can better support students in trouble if we know about what is happening. Reporting also helps us to identify patterns that might arise — for example, if more than one complainant reports having been assaulted or harassed by the same individual. Florida Tech is committed to providing a safe and positive learning experience. To report a violation of sexual misconduct or gender discrimination, please contact Security at 321-674-8111. * Please note that as your professor, I am required to report any incidences to Security or to the Title IX Coordinator (321-674-8885). For confidential reporting, please contact CAPS at 321-674-8050.

Calendar and Important Dates

Consult the Florida Tech academic calendar for important dates for all classes.

Monday, 13 Jan 2020first lecture
Monday, 20 Jan 2020MLK, Jr. Day (no classes)
Friday, 7 Feb 2020Proj #1
Friday, 14 Feb 2020midterm exam #1
Wed & Fri, 19-21 Feb 2020(lecture canceled)
Saturday, 22 Feb 2020ICPC North American Champtionship
Monday, 24 Feb 2020essay on names due
Friday, 27 Mar 2020midterm exam #2
Sat, 4 Apr 2020Google Code Jam (over 27 hours)
Friday, 10 Apr 2020Proj #2
Wednesday, 29 Apr 2020Last lecture
Thursday, 30 Apr 2020study day (no classes)
Friday, 1 May 2020study day (no classes)
Friday, 1 May 2020Proj #3
Thursday, 7 May 2020final exam (8am-10am)
Saturday, 9 May 2020Commencement


Week 1
Introduction, history.

Reading assignment. Sebesta 11e, Chapter 1: Preliminaries

Week 2
History of programming languages. Study of language.

Reading assignment. Sebesta 11e, Chapter 2: Evolution of the Major Programming Languages

Week 3
Formalizing syntax: Regular expressions, BNF. Semantics.

Reading assignment. Scott 4e, Section 2.1: Programming Language Syntax: Specifying Syntax. Reading assignment. Scott 4e, Chapter 4: Semantic Analysis. Reading assignment. Sebesta 11e, Chapter 3: Describing Syntax and Semantics

Week 4
Bindings, environments, pointer

Reading assignment. Sebesta 11e, Chapter 5: Names, Bindings, and Scopes; Chapter 7: Expressions and Assignments Statements; Chapter 8: Statement-Level Control Structures

Week 5
Data types and polymorphism

Reading assignment. Sebesta 11e, Chapter 6: Data types

Week 6
Blocks, scope, subprograms

Reading assignment. Sebesta 11e, Chapter 9: Subprograms

Week 7
Week 8
Implementing block structured languages

Reading assignment. Sebesta 11e, Chapter 10: Implementing Subprograms

Week 9
Abstract data types and modules

Reading assignment. Sebesta 11e, Chapter 11: Abstract Data types and Encapsulation Constructs

Week 10
Object-Oriented programming

Reading assignment. Sebesta 11e, Chapter 12: Support for Object-Oriented Programming

Week 11
Functional programming

Reading assignment. Sebesta 11e, Chapter 15: Functional Programming Languages

Week 12
Functional programming language: Haskell
Week 13
Functional programming language: Haskell

Week 14
Logic programming: PROLOG

Reading assignment. Sebesta 11e, Chapter 16: Logic Programming Languages

Week 15