Re: Book on programming for the humanities

Eric Johnson (
Thu, 24 Aug 1995 15:44:12 -0500 (CDT)

On Thu, 24 Aug 1995, Evan L. Antworth wrote:

> This is a genuine question, not a rhetorical gibe: why use SNOBOL rather
> than ICON?
> --Evan Antworth

Well, Evan, if there were no SNOBOL4, I *would* use Icon. The two
languages are similar in having numerous data types, untyped variables
with automatic type conversion, automatic storage management, pointer
semantics for structures, tables, and recursive procedures. However,
there are differences. I realize that SNOBOL4's structure (it uses labels
and gotos) is thought rather old-fashioned, but the language can certainly
be used to create clear, structured programs that are very powerful for
the kinds of string processing and text analysis that I want to do.
Indeed, Ralph Griswold (the central creator of both SNOBOL4 and Icon)
noted that "SNOBOL4 has an incredibly powerful pattern-matching facility
-- no language before or after it, including Icon, rivals it."

Anyone interested in a comparison of Icon and SNOBOL might want to
read a review that I wrote about implementations for the Macintosh of
Icon and SPITBOL (a superset of SNOBOL4). The full text of my article
can be found on the Web at

Although this article is a review of specific Macintosh implementations,
it has a fair amount of background on both languages.

-- Eric Johnson