[FoRK] A brief thought about a historical oddity in programming language evolution

Jeff Bone < jbone at place.org > on > Tue Oct 31 20:03:16 PST 2006

On Oct 31, 2006, at 5:02 AM, Dave Long wrote:

>> One thing that amuses me somewhat about how programming languages
>> have evolved over the last 30 years or so...
> Would you believe 40 years*?  All of the languages you mention below:
>> It's a bit odd that the entire family of functional languages that
>> this lecture almost directly gave birth to..
> strike me as having descended more from ISWIM than FP/FL.  (wasn't  
> ML also late 70's?)
> Landin, Peter J. (March 1966). "The next 700 programming  
> languages". CACM 9 (3): 157–166.
> http://www.cs.utah.edu/~wilson/compilers/old/papers/p157-landin.pdf
> (In which Landin, among other things, discusses referential  
> transparency and introduces the offside rule)
> For more a more direct FP descent, see <http://www.plasm.net/>.   
> For expressing the point-free (pointless?) aspect of Backus'  
> vision, maybe J, or Apter's functional array language experiments  
> with K would also be more in line.

Points well made, gracefully taken.

Clearly we can legitimately argue over "grandfathered" vs.  
"fathered."  As far as I know, the science of programming language  
evolution has yet to have developed clear paternity tests.  It seems  
that citation-mining might go a long way towards that, but I'm  
lazy.  ;-)  It seems incontrovertible to me that a generation of  
doctorate-aspirants was inspired --- rightly so --- by Backus' moving  
and insightful lecture;  the remark was on their subsequent focus  
more on formal programming language semantics and fun theory work  
(pun intended) and less on what the whole Backus proposal was  
*actually* meant to accomplish practically.  And yes, I agree that  
the APL offspring are much more clearly the "genetic" progeny of that  
lecture.  APL, J, and K (and so forth) are all indisputably great,  
and works (and tools) of genius --- particularly APL itself and K;   
but please g*d never let me have to *maintain* or *extend* a serious  
program in any of them!  ;-)  I'm just not that geek-macho.  Or, at  
least, too short-term lazy to be that long-term lazy.  ;-) :-)


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