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Challenges for Formal Semantic Description: Responses from the Main Approaches

Lookup NU author(s): Professor Cliff Jones, Dr Troy AstarteORCiD



This is the authors' accepted manuscript of a conference proceedings (inc. abstract) that has been published in its final definitive form by Springer, 2017.

For re-use rights please refer to the publisher's terms and conditions.


© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2018. Although there are thousands of programming languages, most of them share common features. This paper reviews some key underlying language concepts and the challenges they present to the task of formally describing language semantics. The responses to these challenges in operational, axiomatic and denotational approaches to semantic description are reviewed. There are interesting overlaps between these responses; similarities are exposed even where accidental notational conventions disguise them so that essential differences can be pinpointed. Depending on the objectives of writing a formal semantic description of a language, one or other approach might be considered the best choice. An argument is made for increasing the use of formal semantics in language design and here it is suggested that the operational approach is the most viable for a complete language description.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Jones CB, Astarte TK

Publication type: Conference Proceedings (inc. Abstract)

Publication status: Published

Conference Name: Third International School on Engineering Trustworthy Software Systems (SETSS 2017)

Year of Conference: 2017

Pages: 176-217

Online publication date: 13/11/2018

Acceptance date: 02/04/2016

Date deposited: 14/01/2020

ISSN: 0302-9743

Publisher: Springer


DOI: 10.1007/978-3-030-02928-9_6

Library holdings: Search Newcastle University Library for this item

Series Title: Lecture Notes in Computer Science

ISBN: 9783030029272