Peter Naur

Peter Naur (25 October 1928 – 3 January 2016)[1] was a Danish computer science pioneer and Turing award winner. His last name is the "N" in the BNF notation (Backus–Naur form), used in the description of the syntax for most programming languages. He contributed to the creation of the ALGOL 60 programming language.

Peter Naur
Naur in 2008
Born(1928-10-25)25 October 1928
Frederiksberg, Denmark
Died3 January 2016(2016-01-03) (aged 87)
Herlev, Denmark
Known forALGOL,
Backus–Naur form
AwardsComputer Pioneer Award (1986)
Turing award (2005)
Scientific career
FieldsComputer science, Informatics
Niels Bohr Institute
Technical University of Denmark
University of Copenhagen


Naur began his career as an astronomer for which he received his PhD degree in 1957, but his encounter with computers led to a change of profession. From 1959 to 1969, he was employed at Regnecentralen, the Danish computing company, while at the same time giving lectures at the Niels Bohr Institute and the Technical University of Denmark. From 1969 to 1998 Naur was a professor of computer science at University of Copenhagen.

His main areas of inquiry were design, structure and performance of computer programs and algorithms. Areas such as software engineering and software architecture have also been pioneered by Naur. In his book Computing: A Human Activity (1992), which is a collection of his contributions to computer science, he rejected the formalist school of programming that views programming as a branch of mathematics. He did not like being associated with the Backus–Naur form (attributed to him by Donald Knuth) and said that he would prefer it to be called the Backus normal form.

Naur was married to computer scientist Christiane Floyd.

Naur disliked the very term "computer science" and suggested it be called "datalogy" or "data science". The former term has been adopted in Denmark and in Sweden as datalogi, while the latter term is now used for data analysis (including statistics and databases).

Since the middle of the 1960s, computer science has been practiced in Denmark under Peter Naur's term datalogy, the science of data processes. Starting at Regnecentralen and the University of Copenhagen, the Copenhagen Tradition of Computer Science has developed its own special characteristics by means of a close connection with applications and other fields of knowledge. The tradition is not least visible in the area of education. Comprehensive project activity is an integral part of the curriculum, thus presenting theory as an aspect of realistic solutions known primarily through actual experience. Peter Naur early recognized the particular educational challenges presented by computer science. His innovations have shown their quality and vitality also at other universities. There is a close connection between computer science training as it has been formed at Copenhagen University, and the view of computer science which has characterized Peter Naur's research [2].

In later years he was quite outspoken of the pursuit of science as a whole: Naur can possibly be identified with the empiricist school, that tells that one shall not seek deeper connections between things that manifest themselves in the world, but keep to the observable facts. He has attacked both certain strands of philosophy and psychology from this viewpoint. He was also developing a theory of human thinking which he called "Synapse-State Theory of Mental Life".[3]

Naur won the 2005 ACM A.M. Turing Award for his work on defining the ALGOL 60 programming language.[4] In particular, his role as editor of the influential Report on the Algorithmic Language ALGOL 60 with its pioneering use of BNF was recognized. Naur is the only Dane to have won the Turing Award.

Naur died on 3 January 2016 after a short illness.[5]


Numbers refer to the published bibliography. Naur published a large number of articles and chapters on astronomy, computer science, issues in society, classical music, psychology, and education.

  • 66. Minor planet 51 Nemausa and the fundamental system of declinations, PhD thesis, 1957
  • 95. (editor) Backus, J. W.; Wegstein, J. H.; Van Wijngaarden, A.; Woodger, M.; Bauer, F. L.; Green, J.; Katz, C.; McCarthy, J.; Perlis, A. J.; Rutishauser, H.; Samelson, K.; Vauquois, B. (May 1960). "Report on the algorithmic language ALGOL 60". Comm. ACM. 3 (5): 299–314. doi:10.1145/367236.367262. and several other journals.
  • 128. (editor) Backus, J. W.; Wegstein, J. H.; Van Wijngaarden, A.; Woodger, M.; Nauer, P.; Bauer, F. L.; Green, J.; Katz, C.; McCarthy, J.; Perlis, A. J.; Rutishauser, H.; Samelson, K.; Vauquois, B. (January 1963). "Revised report on the algorithmic language ALGOL 60". Comm. ACM. 6 (1): 1–17. doi:10.1145/366193.366201.
  • 144. "Go to statements and good Algol style" (PNG). BIT Numerical Mathematics. 3 (3): 204–5. 1963. doi:10.1007/BF01939987.
  • 212. ; Randell, Brian; Buxton, J.N. (1976) [1969]. The Conference on Software Engineering held in Garmisch, Germany, 7th to 11th October 1968. ISBN 978-0884053347. OCLC 610836679.
  • 213. (with C. Gram, J. Hald, H. B. Hansen and A. Wessel) Datamatik, Studentlitteratur, 1969
  • 247, 249. (with B. Pedersen) Matematik 4 kursusbog, 2 volumes, Copenhagen University, 1971, 2nd ed. 1972
  • 264. Concise Survey of Computer Methods, 397 p., Studentlitteratur, 1974
  • 274. Datalogi 2 1975/76, 102 p., Copenhagen University, 1975, new edition 1976
  • 333. (1992). Computing: A Human Activity. ACM Press. ISBN 978-0201580693.
  • 347. (1995). Knowing and the Mystique of Logic and Rules: Including True Statements in Knowing and Action * Computer Modelling of Human Knowing Activity * Coherent Description as the Core of Scholarship and Science. Springer. ISBN 978-0-7923-3680-8.
  • 363. Antifilosofisk leksikon: Tænkning – sproglighed – videnskabelighed, 111 p., 1999, ISBN 87-987221-0-7; English translation 2001, ISBN 87-987221-1-5
  • 382. Naur, Peter (2002). Psykologi i videnskabelig rekonstruktion. ISBN 978-87-987221-2-0.
  • (January 2007). "Computing versus human thinking". Comm. ACM. 50 (1): 85–94. doi:10.1145/1188913.1188922.
  • Daylight, E.G.; P., Naur (2011). Pluralism in Software Engineering: Turing Award Winner Peter Naur Explains. Lonely Scholar. ISBN 978-94-91386-00-8.

See also


  1. Peter Naur Dies Aged 87
  2. Sveinsdottir, Edda; Frøkjær, Erik (1988). "Datalogy — the copenhagen tradition of computer science". Bit. 28 (3): 450–472. doi:10.1007/BF01941128.
  3. Naur, Synapse-State Theory of Mental Life, 2004.
  4. Software Pioneer Peter Naur Wins ACM's Turing Award – February 2006.
  5. Devantier, Nicolai (4 January 2016). "Den verdensberømte it-dansker Peter Naur er død – Computerworld". Computerworld. Retrieved 4 January 2016. (in Danish)

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