a language construct is a part of a program that does some special work
This is indeed too vague. First of all, every program is built specifically to do a particular job. "Special" is subjective, often synonymous with "custom tailored" and thus any program can be called a "special work". By logical extension, any part of a program is therefore part of that program's special job.
The quickest (but not perfect) fix here would be
a language construct is a part of a language that does some special work
It's still too vague, but it hits the nail more on the head. Constructs are very specifically not something you've written yourself, i.e. they are not part of your program but were already part of the language/compiler.
More specifically, I would define a language construct as a predefined operation of the language, i.e. it is not something that developers must build for themselves.
Learners don't yet grasp the big picture
...by semantical definition of what a learner is.
I could not come up immediately with something more accurate YET WITH LANGUAGE SIMPLE ENOUGH to be at his vocabulary level!
In software development, where everything is so abstract, you only understand a given name (= dictionary entry, vocabulary) when you understand the underlying concept. If your friend does not have a particular word in their vocabulary, they do not understand the underlying concept.
In a way, their inability to define what a language construct is specifically proves that they either don't know what a language construct is, or they don't understand some key concepts that language constructs (and their definition) inherently rely upon.
The purpose of providing this definition to the teacher is not to give the teacher some wisdom that they already have. The purpose is for your friend to show that he knows it.
The proper solution for this is for your friend to either dig deeper into the concepts that he's trying to tackle, or to not overreach at the moment.
Overly complex definitions
“A language construct is a syntactically allowable part of a program that may be formed from one or more lexical tokens in accordance with the rules of a programming language. The term Language Constructs is often used as a synonym for control structure, and should not be confused with a function.”
This sounds like a quote from the Architect in The Matrix, who is often ridiculed for using near-nonsensical liguistic complexities merely as an affectation.
I could delve into abstract analogies as to why the Architects innate desire to abstract and define is very similar to what you're trying to do, but I'm instead going to focus more on the specifics of software engineering.
Languages vs frameworks
Considering it, shall we say class, object, structures, hash tables and such are not programming constructs?
A language is different from its framework, and this is a very important distinction (that your friend may not understand yet).
Take the example of C# and the .Net Framework.
IEnumerable<T> is part of the .Net framework, it is not part of the C# language. However, interfaces and generic type parameters are part of C#.
In the end, an application is just layers upon layers code, where any layer tends to rely on the predefined concepts in the layer beneath it. As a basic model:
- The language provides language constructs and a syntactical definition
- A framework extends functionality by creating additional predefined concepts which rely on the language constructs
- An application relies on its framework (and language) and can rely on all predefined concepts at its disposal in order to achieve its goal in the best way possible.
To you as an application developer, the lines between language features and framework features can be muddied (because it doesn't really matter to you where it comes from). But for framework designers and language designers, these distinctions are incredibly important.
At a base level, a language is globally pervasive whereas a framework can be avoided selectively. For example, I am able to write my own
IEnumerable<T> as long as I avoid namespace conflicts with my framework's
IEnumerable<T>. Good practice suggests I don't do this, but I am technically able to do so.
However, I am never able to use
switch anywhere in my code for anything other than referring to my language's constructs. Good/bad practice doesn't even come into it, it's just outright prohibited to repurpose these constructs as their definitions are globally persisted through all of the code (written in that particular language).
Education through definition
The target is to come up with a definition of the term programming construct” that is simple, within the vocabulary level of a high school student
When you drill down into software development, things become more complex, not less. The diligence you are putting effort into is what is leading you to the increasing complexity.
Ask a beginner programmer what a "hello world" application does. Now ask them on the intricacies of how these characters are displayed on the screen. They are patently unable to do the latter because you're asking them something they do not yet grasp, yet they already display top-level knowledge by being able to understand the purpose of a "hello world" application.
I am hoping to get some precision and lucidity that AUGMENTS my friend’s definition and makes it more rounded. Lets help a serious young man who has done his due diligence and needs some scaffolding. Thanks people.
Your question is based on the underlying principle that one learns by observing strict definitions and derives understanding from them. I want to challenge that frame of mind, especially in the field of software engineering.
The vast majority of good developers I've worked with are all "hands on" developers. They learn by doing, and their vocabulary naturally grows with their skill. If you put these developers in a classroom and get them to learn definitions of things they do not yet understand, or have not yet encountered in practice, they are going to either actively reject or genuinely forget the intricacies you've poured into these definitions.
I'm not saying that it's impossible to learn the theory before the practice, but for abstract fields such as software development it's so very fickle to understand a theoretical definition without misinterpretations if you don't have practical experience to rely on. It's not impossible, but it is highly improbable.
Just a lucid, compact and rounded definition at the vocabulary level of a high school student not explanations please.
Abstract concepts don't work without practical examples. You cannot teach a child what addition is without at some point having used physical objects to show addition in reality.
You can teach a child to blindly accept and parrot the symbology of
1 + 1 = 2, but they won't understand what it represents in the real world. Furthermore, if they only recognize the symbology and not the meaning, then they will be unable to answer
2 + 2 or
1 + 1 + 1 as they cannot apply the general concept of addition as they have not yet understood it.
Compared to children, adults are significantly less capable of deriving understanding from parroted information. Compared to adults, software developers are even less capable of doing so; and those that do blindly accept and parrot things often end up stagnating in their job by repeating what they know instead of perpetually reevaluating their approach.
Abstractions stem from practical applications, not the other way around
Your friend's definition of a language construct should not be the start of their understanding on what a language construct is. Their ability to define a language construct is the resulting proof that they have understood what a language construct is.
Don't pour your effort into definition. Pour your effort into practical experimentation. The definition will naturally come from your practical experience.