Ralph Griswold

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Ralph E. Griswold (May 19, 1934, Modesto, CA – October 4, 2006, Tucson, AZ) was a computer scientist known for his research into high-level programming languages and symbolic computation. His language credits include the string processing language SNOBOL,[1] SL5,[2][3] and Icon.[4]

He attended Stanford University, receiving a bachelor's degree in physics, then an M.S. and Ph.D. in electrical engineering. Griswold went to Bell Labs in 1962, where he studied ideas for non-numerical computation. SNOBOL was the outcome; it was a radically different language in its time and still is. He became the head of the Labs' Programming Research and Development department in 1967.

In 1971, he was hired by the University of Arizona to be its first professor of computer science, subsequently organized the department, and was its head until 1981. While at Arizona, Griswold developed Icon. The earlier Ratfor implementation of Icon was discarded and the language rewritten from scratch in C and UNIX.[5]

In 1990 Griswold was appointed Regents' Professor, and he retired in 1995. "As one of the founders of the Bell Labs software culture which spawned UNIX, C, and many other essential contributions to modern software, Ralph Griswold brought to his academic research not only brilliance, but also experience and a value system that demanded that research ideas be tested by fire and proven useful and usable by real users, not just good-looking diagrams in academic papers."[6]

After his retirement, his interests turned to the mathematical aspects of weaving.[7][8]

Griswold died on October 4, 2006, from cancer.[9]

Griswold's son, Bill Griswold, is also a computer scientist.


  • Cortada, James W. (1987). Historical Dictionary of Data Processing: Biographies. New York: Greenwood Press. ISBN 0-313-25651-9. 
  1. ^ Griswold, Ralph E.; Poage, J.F.; Polonsky, Ivan P. (1971). The SNOBOL 4 Programming Language (2nd ed.). Englewood Cliffs NJ: Prentice-Hall. ISBN 0-13-815373-6. 
  2. ^ Griswold, Ralph E.; Hanson, David R. (April 1977). "An overview of SL5". ACM SIGPLAN Notices. 12 (4): 40–50. doi:10.1145/954654.954658. 
  3. ^ Griswold, Ralph E.; Hanson, David R. (May 1978). "The SL5 procedure mechanism". Communications of the ACM. 21 (5): 392–400. doi:10.1145/359488.359502. 
  4. ^ Griswold, Ralph E.; Griswold, Madge T. (1996). "History of the Icon programming language". In Bergin, Thomas J.; Gibson, Richard G. History of Programming Languages II. New York NY: ACM Press. 
  5. ^ Shapiro, E. (July 1985). "SNOBOL and Icon: Language Designer Ralph Griswold Looks at His Language". Byte. 10 (7): 341–6. 
  6. ^ Jeffery, Clinton L. (2004). "The Icon Language Family". CS 580: Compiler Construction Lecture Notes. Las Cruces NM: New Mexico State University. Archived from the original on September 6, 2006. 
  7. ^ Ralph Griswold 1934–2006, retrospective at University of Arizona
  8. ^ On-Line Digital Archive of Documents on Weaving and Related Topics
  9. ^ Wampler, Steve (5 Oct 2006) Interesting-People Message Archived October 24, 2006, at the Wayback Machine.

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