Languages Pre-Fortran

A list of early programming languages. Also links to a paper by Knuth and Pardo in 1976.

There were many languages that pre-dated Fortran. This series is based on the white paper by Knuth and Pardo published in 1976, “The early development of programming languages”. In this paper the authors describe 20 languages, and use a generic program “TPK” described using ALGOL-60 to illustrate how each language would be formed.


A nice list - nice to see Plankalkül, for some reason.

This popped up recently, and seems in some way related:
[madhadron - The seven programming ur-languages]

(Of course any definitive claim like this is open to their being other opinions, but it’s an interesting breakdown and list.)

Other topics we’ve had in the same vein:
A retrospective on influential programming languages
Programming languages: history and fundamentals (1969 book)


Here’s another early language (1955), from the other side of what was the iron curtain: ПП-BESM.

Described in A.P. Ershov’s 1959 book “Programming Programme for the BESM Computer”, ПП-BESM, was a language implemented for the BESM computer, one of the first large scale soviet computers. Started in 1954, after a lecture on ПП-1 a precursor language, it was finished by 1955.

Currently on HN, see the comments.
(A more modern version was BESM6, there’s also a re-implementation on GitHub.)

See also: GitHub - xldenis/besm: Resurrecting PP-BESM, which features various examples.

1 Like