[TUHS] [Re: Happy Birthday, Nicklaus Wirth

Doug McIlroy doug at cs.dartmouth.edu
Sat Feb 17 08:44:08 AEST 2018

> Computer pioneer Niklaus Wirth was born on this day in 1934; he basically 
> designed ALGOL, one of the most influential languages ever, with just 
> about every programming language in use today tracing its roots to it.

Rather than "tracing its roots to it", I'd say "has some roots in it".
Algol per se hardly made a ripple in the US market, partly due to
politics and habit, but also because it didn't espouse separate
compilation. However, as asserted above, it had a profound impact on
language designers and counts many languages as descendants.

To bring the subject back to Unix, C followed Fortran's modularity and
Algol's block structure. (But it reached back across the definitive Algol
60 to pick up the "for" statement from Algol 58.) Like PL/I, it also
borrowed the indispensable notion of structs from business languages
(Flowmatic, Comtran, Cobol).  It adopted pointers from Lisp, as polished
by BCPL (pointer arithmetic) and PL/I (the -> operator). For better or
worse, it went its own way by omitting multidimensional arrays.

So C has many roots. It just isn't fashionable in computer-language
circles to highlight Cobol in your family tree.


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