There are several reasons why speeds will differ between compilers/interpreters/programming languages, some of it having to do with the compiler, and some of it having to do with the language itself.
Some programming languages require more overhead.
If your language is very high level, it'll have more overhead compared to C, which is very low level. (garbage collection is a good example of this). It becomes a tradeoff. Do I want blazing fast binaries, or do I want to be able to write programs easily?
Languages are designed to do different things.
For example, PHP is designed to be used on web servers, and nobody in their right mind would try and use it to create a top-tier fps game. Different languages are better suited for different tasks, and will be faster in some areas then in others.
Not all languages compile to assembly.
While C/C++ may compile to assembly, languages like Java instead compile to bytecode and is run against the java virtual machine, for interoperability reasons. Once again, this is a tradeoff -- you gain portability at the expense of overhead.
Compilers are not magic.
They're programs, and like all programs, have bugs and will improve (or degrade) over time. I could try writing a C compiler over the weekend, and I'd bet a million dollars that it would perform several orders of magnitude worse then a compiler/interpreter for the slowest language you can think of.
Compiler/interpreter optimization is an ongoing field of research and study.
Every year, researchers are writing and publishing papers on a new way to compile and make programs run faster. If a language is newer, it may not yet have had the time to fully apply every optimization available. (see above). Some optimizations may apply to only one kind of compiler/interpreter.
So, to summarize, the speed of a language is a mixture of the intrinsic features of the language itself, along with the maturity of the compiler/interpreter/platform used.
Compilers and interpreters are not some monolithic magical process that's constant between all programming languages -- they're all different, have different benefits and disadvantages, and are constantly in a state of flux.
15 Million Students Helped!
Sign up to view the full answer