What is a programming language

Let’s begin with a very basic question you would ask as a beginner to computer programming -What is a programming language? In very simple terms:

A programming language is a special language created to communicate with machines, especially computers. It is a language using which we can instruct a computer to perform any given task in a step by step manner. It is used to write computer programs containing set of instructions in a special format for performing a specific task.

Just like humans have been using different languages to communicate with each other, programming languages are used to communicate with computers. Every language spoken by humans is governed by some special rules called grammar. Similarly programming languages also have their own special rules called grammar. By understanding the grammar of a programming language you can learn how to write complex programs using that language.

Why do we need a programming language?

Programming languages is a medium of communication between humans and computers. The major difference between a human spoken language and a programming language is its grammar. If you read a book written in English and a computer program written in C or C++ you will realize that both are written using English words and symbols which you can easily recognize. The difference is in the grammar. The way we create sentences in English and the way we create sentences (or statements) using a programming language is different.

Another important thing to keep in mind is that computers are not intelligent. They cannot think and understand like we humans can. They can only follow instructions and do what they are told to do. If you provide a wrong instruction to a computer it does not know how to correct it. So when talking to a computer we need to be very specific in our instructions. Humans can read a sentence written in wrong English and still understand and interpret its meaning, but a computer cannot.

Therefore, human spoken languages are not suitable for communication with machines because there are multiple ways of communicating the same message in human languages and computers do not possess the intelligence to understand such variations in communication. They need to be conveyed what has to be done in a straight forward manner without any ambiguity or double meaning. Programming languages were developed with a goal that they can be understood by humans as well as by computers.

With time programming languages have been growing. As computers are becoming capable of doing more and more complex tasks more and more instructions are being added to programming languages. Just like with time new words are added to English vocabulary to convey new meanings, new words are also added to programming languages to convey new instructions to a computer.

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