Syllabus and general information for MCS-287: Organization and Theory of Programming Languages (Spring 2014)


This course will help you learn how programming languages are designed, specified, and implemented. You will learn about broad areas of commonality that underlie many superficially different languages, as well as about the critical distinctions between languages that may at first glance seem similar. Although we will spend some time working with a few example languages, the goal is not to make you a master of any of these languages, but rather to give you ways to think about languages. This skill will serve you well as you encounter future languages.

Office hours

I welcome visitors to my office (OHS 306) on a drop-in basis as well as by appointment. You may send me electronic mail at

World Wide Web

All course materials will be available through my World Wide Web page. The URL for this course is After this syllabus I will give hardcopy handouts only to those students who ask for them.

Text and readings

The primary text for this course is Modern Programming Languages: A Practical Introduction, 2nd Edition, by Adam Brooks Webber. Numerically specified readings in the syllabus refer to its chapters and sections.


There will be two take-home tests as shown on the syllabus and a final exam as scheduled by the registrar. If you have a conflict with a testing time, please contact me as soon as possible to make an alternative arrangement.

Exams will be closed-book and mostly closed-notes. You may, however, use a single 8 1/2 by 11 sheet of paper with hand-written notes for reference. Both sides of the sheet are OK.


Some days, shown in the syllabus, we will meet in the OHS 326 computer lab rather than in the usual classroom. Each lab assignment will also require you to spend additional time out of class.


You are expected to be familiar with the college academic honesty honor code policy, and to comply with that policy. If you have any questions about it, please ask.

In doing an assignment, you may discuss the problems and their solutions with fellow students, but you should make an effort to solve each problem on your own. Give credit to the people and/or reading sources that help you find the solutions, be they fellow students, textbooks, journals, or internet postings. Be explicit and acknowledge clearly what sort of help you received. Failure to do so will be considered cheating.

Mastery homework

The syllabus shows due dates for eight homework assignments; each will typically consist of a few problems. You must turn in each problem in an assignment by that assignment's due date but may turn in individual problems earlier if you wish. I encourage submissions by email, but I accept hardcopy as well.

I will mark each problem as mastered or not yet mastered. For those not yet mastered, I may write you some brief indication of what area needs work, but you should really take these as an invitation to come talk. You may turn in a revised version of each problem however many times it takes to reach the mastered point, even after the original due date. If you revise homework in hardcopy form, attach the previous graded version.

The only restrictions are these:

Note that if you turn in each homework problem as soon as you can do it, rather than saving them for the assignment due dates, you will have more opportunity for revision and resubmission before the cutoff dates listed above. Keep in mind that you will also be working on lab assignments.

The homework portion of your course grade will simply be determined by the fraction of the homework problems you eventually mastered.

Late assignments

All lab assignments are due at the beginning of class on the day indicated. Late lab assignments will be penalized by one “grade notch” (such as A to A− or A− to B+) for each weekday late or fraction thereof. However, no late assignments will be accepted after graded assignments are handed back or solutions are distributed.

If you are too sick to complete an assignment on time, you will not be penalized. Simply write “late due to illness” at the top of the assignment, sign your name and hand it in. Other circumstances will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.

Grade changes

Please point out any arithmetic or clerical error I make in grading, and I will gladly fix it. You may also request reconsideration if I have been especially unjust.


The course components will contribute to your grade in the following proportion:

Please see me if you have any question how you stand. Class participation is not graded; however, it allows you to find and repair the gaps in your understanding before doing the assignments and thus can dramatically improve your grade. You are responsible for all course material, whether or not you are present when it was covered or distributed.

Style guidelines

All assignments should be readily readable and should not presuppose that I already know what you are trying to say. Use full English sentences where appropriate (namely almost everywhere) and clear diagrams, programs, etc. Remember that your goal is to communicate clearly and that the appearance of these technical items plays a role in this communication process. For anything you submit in hardcopy form, make sure pages are stapled together and your name is on them.


Gustavus Adolphus College is committed to ensuring the full participation of all students in its programs. If you have a documented disability (or you think you may have a disability of any nature) and, as a result, need reasonable academic accommodation to participate in class, take tests or benefit from the College’s services, then you should speak with the Disability Services staff for a confidential discussion of your needs and appropriate plans. Course requirements cannot be waived, but reasonable accommodations may be provided based on disability documentation and course outcomes. Accommodations cannot be made retroactively; therefore, to maximize your academic success at Gustavus, please contact Disability Services as early as possible. Disability Services is located in the Academic Support Center

Support for English Learners and Multilingual students is available through the Academic Support Center and the English Learning Specialist, Laura Lindell ( or x7197). If you fall into one of these categories, she can meet individually with you for tutoring in writing, consulting about academic tasks, and helping you connect with the College’s support systems. In addition, you can seek help from peer tutors in the Writing Center. Please let me know if there is any accommodation in the course that would enable you to more fully show your abilities; for example, I would consider allowing extra time on tests, as well as allowing a dictionary in an otherwise closed-book test.


This is my best guess as to the rate at which we will cover material. However, don't be shocked if I have to pass out one or more revised syllabi.

2/101.1-2.5Overview and grammars
2/112.6-2.8More on grammars
2/123Syntax meets semantics
2/144Language systems

2/175A first look at MLHW 1
2/18A first look at ML, continued
2/19Lab 1: ML Programming

2/247A second look at ML
2/26Lab 1 continues
2/289A third look at ML

3/411A fourth look at MLHW 2
3/5Lab 1 concludes
3/712.1-12.6Activation recordsLab 1

3/10No class
3/11Review/catch-up (take-home exam 1 out)
3/1413A first look at Javaexam 1

3/1714.1-14.4Memory managementHW 3
3/1815A second look at Java
3/19No class (Amcom trip)
3/21Lab 2Interpreter lab preview

3/24Lab 2: An Interpreter
3/25Bracha 1, 2, 3Java generics
3/26Lab 2 continuesHW 4
3/28Bracha 4, 5, 6More Java generics

4/7Lab 2 concludes
4/8Lab 3Generics lab preview
4/9Lab 3: Java GenericsLab 2
4/11Lab 3 continues

4/1416Object orientation
4/1517A third look at Java
4/16Lab 3 continuesHW 5

4/22Barbara Liskov video
4/23Lab 3 concludes
4/25Review/catch-up (take-home exam 2 out)Lab 3

4/2919.1-19.7A first look at Prologexam 2
4/3019.8-19.11More prolog (11:30-12:00)
5/220.1-20.4Prolog implementationHW 6

5/5Lab 4: Parsing and Analysis in Prolog
5/620.5-20.7More about Prolog
5/7Lab 4 continues
5/9Lab 4 continuesHW 7

5/12No class
5/1321Cost models
5/1423.1-23.3Natural semantics
5/16Lab 4 concludesHW 8

5/1923.4-23.6More on semantics
5/2024History of programming languagesLab 4

Course web site:
Instructor: Max Hailperin <>