John Backus, father of FORTRAN, dies at 82

John Warner Backus, the creator of FORTRAN, the first high level programming language, died on Saturday at the age of 82.

He was also known as the inventor of the Backus–Naur form (BNF) which “is widely used as a notation for the grammars of computer programming languages, instruction sets and communication protocols, as well as a notation for representing parts of natural language grammars”

When he won the ACM Turing Award in 1977, his speech was on liberating programming from the imperative style. Many people (perhaps wrongly) understood this as a glorification of Functional Programming. (As you know, I am a big fan of FP and I really believe that Computer Science students should really play with Scheme, LISP and Haskell)


(Photo courtesy of New York Times)


  1. frederic says:

    Seen that this morning. RIP.

  2. flyjason says:

    I remember doing BNF at A-Level…

    ‘Meta-language’, ‘semantics’ and ‘syntax’ are some of the words I can retain. How not to forget the omnipresence of recursion?!! I remember there were lots of debates about that because it was quite complex to understand. Many times we ended up with multiple (2 or 3) answers for a particular question. :)

    Didn’t figure out at that time that the guy was still among *us*.

    It’s always sad to lose a person…

    …a guru has gone :(

  3. BlueBerry says:

    Here’s what I think should be the mantra for every aspiring programmer:
    ‘I should learn (or at least familiarize myself with) another (new) programming language every year’.

    That’s what I’m doing right now: learn Ruby so that I do not miss out the revolution ;D and of course have an appreciation of computing history (there’s so much on Wikipedia! Keep reading…)

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