History Notes . . .

"Does the world need another programming language?"

©Conrad Weisert
September 1, 2012

NOTE: This article may be reproduced and circulated freely, as long as the copyright credit is included.

A young member of our profession might assume that the above quotation is a reaction to the recent proliferation of special- and general-purpose programming languages. In fact, it's a verbatim quote from an angry delegate to a 1967 ANSI standards committee meeting.

The speaker1 asserted that Fortran and Cobol were already meeting every need of scientific and commercial applications programmers, respectively, and that we already had too many programming languages with overlapping capabilities. It would be wasteful, confusing, and potentially harmful, he warned, for ANSI to involve itself2 in facilitating the proliferation of even more programming languages.

We're amused today by the short-sightedness of such confident claims from a half-century ago as we confront a growing variety of programming languages that were unknown back then and as we develop our applications using today's mainstream object-oriented languages, C++, Java, C#, not to mention all the scripting and functional varieties.

So, do we now, at last, have enough programming languages? If so, which ones are they? If not, can we even identify gaps that need filling?

1—I do not engage retired or deceased individuals in arguments over their oral statements.   If you need to know who this was, contact me privately.
2—The specific issue at that meeting was whether to add to the 7-bit ASCII character code standard a few characters (|, etc.) needed by PL/I and other modern programming languages.

Last modified 30 August, 2012

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