9 Ancient Programming Languages That Are Still Alive

Do you know what the first programming language was? Can you name a few languages which were created as far back as in 1950s? The main fact about programming languages is that they definitely go out of style, but they rarely die. For developers who work with old programs, using the “ancient” language, it can be a far better choice than to rewrite everything. Bloomberg decided to remember the coding languages that were created far ago but still are quite useful.


All of the programming languages listed above appeared in the 50s of the last century. Also a number of foreign languages were picked to be the linguistic equivalent to the old coding languages.

ALGOL

It was created in 1958. ALGOL stands for “Algorithmic Language” and was widely used in 1958-1959. It was invented by a group of European and American computer scientists.

ALGOL was used mostly for scientific computing. It was actually the first attempt to create a programming language that would be able to work on different machines. It turned out to be more suitable for lab work than for commercial applications because it didn’t have any input-output protocol. Today it’s almost not used, but its “DNA” lies in many programming languages that are used nowadays.

Linguistic equivalent: Classical Greek.

COBOL

It was created in 1959 by one of the pioneering computer scientist Grace Hopper (we’ve already talked about her in our blog postProgramming Languages That Were Created by Women), who is also famous for creating the term “bug”. COBOL is an abbreviation of Common Business-Oriented Language and was widely used during 1960s through 1980s for big business systems.

Grace Harper
Grace Harper

Actually it’s still taught in schools. In 2000, financial organizations had to pull COBOL developers out of retirement to dig into their old code and to fix the problem. Not so far ago, Computerworld reported that young programmers, who knew COBOL, could receive a significant salary premium.

Linguistic equivalent: Church Latin.

PL/I

It was created in 1964 but released in 1969. Its name stands for Programming Language One and was created by a group of experts convened by IBM. Its peak of glory was at the early 1970s.

This programming language was used for the IBM System/360 mainframes, which served for everything from bookkeeping to astrophysics. PL/I was intended to supplant COBOL, FORTRAN and other programming languages of those times. It was used more widely in the Soviet Union than in the Western countries. PL/I is almost useless today as it’s a resource-consuming and overcomplicated language. However its last update was released a month ago.

Linguistic equivalent: Old Church Slavonic

PASCAL

It was created in 1968 by Swiss scientist Niklaus Wirth and was named for Mathematician Blaise Pascal. PASCAL was one of the most popular descendants of ALGOL, it was widely used for teaching and software development for early Apple computers. The most popular version of this language is called Turbo Pascal which was released in 1983. Nowadays it is still used for teaching object-oriented programming.

Linguistic equivalent: Esperanto.

LISP

It was created in 1958 by John McCarthy and its name stands for “List Processing”. It was most widely used in 1960s for artificial intelligence, air-defense systems and computer blackjack. That’s interesting that it’s still one of the dominant languages in AI work.

Liguistic equivalent: Sanskrit.

APL

It was created in 1962 and its name stands for “A Programming Language”. Its author, Ken Iverson, received Turing Award for this coding language. APL was quite popular in 1960s and was used mostly for applied mathematics. It’s known for simplicity and clarity of syntax. But it has also some disadvantages, such as required Greek letters and obscure symbols, and thus a special keyboard. Also it is read from right to left, like Hebrew.

Linguistic equivalent: Navajo.

FORTRAN

It was created in the year of the first flight of artificial Earth satellite. Its creator, John Backus, worked for IBM, and Fortran stands for “Formula Translator”. It was used mostly for heavy-duty scientific computing and is still in fairly wide use among physicists and engineers.

Linguistic equivalent: Jane Austen’s English.

LOGO

Its name came from the Greek “logos”, meaning “word” or “thought”. It was created by Seymour Papert, Wally Feurzeig and a group working with Papert at the MIT Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. Firstly Logo was developed to teach small kids how to program, and it is still used for this purpose (Also you can read our blog postHow kids can start programming). One version of Logo works with Arduino, the building kits are beloved in the robotics world.

Linguistic equivalent: Airport-sign symbols.

ADA

It was created in 1980 by Jean Ichbiah and was named for  the proto-programmer Ada Lovelace in the 19th century. Ada was most widely used in 1980s for military and air traffic control. And it’s a  fact that it’s still at the heart of air traffic control, and will remain there in the nearby future due to its security and safety.

Ada Lovelace
Ada Lovelace

Linguistic equivalent: American English with some Appalachian dialect.

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