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Programming languages have been classified into several programming language generations. Historically, this classification was used to indicate increasing power of programming styles. Later writers have somewhat redefined the meanings as distinctions previously seen as important became less significant to current practice.
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The terms "first generation" and "second generation" programming language were not used prior to the coining of the term "third-generation"; none of these three terms are mentioned in early compendiums of programming languages. The introduction of a third generation of computer technology coincided with the creation of a new generation of programming languages. The marketing for this generational shift in machines correlated with several important changes in what were called high level programming languages, discussed below, giving technical content to the second/third-generation distinction among high level programming languages as well, and reflexively renaming machine code languages as first generation, and assembly languages as second generation.
Initially, all programming languages at a higher level than assembly were termed "third-generation", but later on, the term "fourth-generation" was introduced to try to differentiate the (then) new declarative languages (such as Prolog and domain-specific languages) which claimed to operate at an even higher level, and in a domain even closer to the user (e.g. at a natural language level) than the original, imperative high level languages such as Pascal, C, ALGOL, Fortran, BASIC, etc.
"Generational" classification of high level languages (3rd generation and later) was never fully precise and was later perhaps abandoned, with more precise classifications gaining common usage, such as object-oriented, declarative and functional. C gave rise to C++ and later to Java and C#, Lisp to CLOS, Ada to Ada 2012, and even COBOL to COBOL2002, and new languages have emerged in that "generation" as well.
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