High-level programming paradigms are examined to determine their appropriateness for describing systems, which are amenable to automated compilation onto a reconfigurable computing platform. We aim to find a set of language features to act as a basis for future language development which: provide a concise description of the system to be realised; provide clear and intuitive semantics; abstract the underlying technology and are appropriate to the underlying technology.Clearly language design is a subjective process, but we have adopted a systematic approach by assessing the efficacy of existing programming and hardware description languages. We examine the languages Java, VHDL, Standard ML and Circal. Our method also bases the comparison on a set of properties drawn from an archetypal example which we know maps well onto reconfigurable computing platforms. We conclude that none of these established languages has all the properties required for describing reconfigurable computation.This approach leads to insight into the capabilities of existing languages and allows us to determine the essential characteristics of future languages oriented to reconfigurable computing. (C) 2005 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.