COMP_SCI 321: Programming Languages

Quarter Offered

Fall : 11:20-12:40 TuTh ; St-Amour
Spring : 11-12:20 TuTh ; St-Amour


Open to Undergrads only. Graduate students may be admitted to course with consent. For permission please contact Christopher K Riesbeck at


This course introduces students to the key features of programming languages. Students implement a series of interpreters that nail down the precise details of how various aspects of programming languages behave.  Students are assumed to understand trees and (mathematical) functions that process them; the course builds up to the features of real programming languages from there.

REQUIRED TEXT: Programming Languages: Application and Interpretation by Shriram Krishnamurthi

COURSE INSTRUCTOR: Prof. Vincent St-Amour (Fall & Spring)


COURSE TOPICS: The course explores these aspects of a programming language (in this order):

  • Modeling programming languages
  • Arithmetic expressions & variables
  • Functions
  • Deferring substitution
  • First class functions
  • (implementing) Recursion
  • State
  • Control
  • Garbage collection
  • Types

GRADES: Grades are based on weekly homework assignments. 

EXAM: There is no exam in this course.

COURSE OBJECTIVES: Students that complete this course should:

  • understand the basic features that underlie most programming languages
  • understand the basic semantic features of all call-by-value programming languages (which includes nearly all programming languages they will encounter),
  • understand the pragmatics behind those features (when to use them and why),
  • understand some of the more advanced features, when they are applicable, and when they are desireable,
  • be able to maintain and extend an interpreter-based implementation of a programming language containing those features