Growing a language

by Ulf on July 4th, 2008

Michael Ernest brought this video of a talk by Guy Steele (him of Scheme fame, for you SICP fans, but he’s now with Sun, working on Java) to my attention. It’s about languages that are too small, about why -when creating a language- neither a small nor a large one will do, and what to do about that. It’s also got a really nice twist to it around the 10 minute mark, where there’s an auditorium-sized “Aha!” effect. You won’t regret watching it: Guy Lewis Steele at OOPSLA ’98 (PostScript)

Shrinking a language

Ten years earlier Niklaus Wirth wrote From Modula to Oberon, in which he outlined why in that case the evolution from a language to its successor involved removing more language features than adding new ones. Since Pascal is mentioned in Steele’s talk as an example of a language that didn’t grow much, it’s interesting to see that both Modula and Oberon included a module facility that allowed them to grow seamlessly from the start.