Peter Naur

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Peter Naur
Born (1928-10-25)25 October 1928
Frederiksberg, Denmark
Died 3 January 2016(2016-01-03) (aged 87)
Herlev, Denmark
Nationality Danish
Fields Computer science
Institutions Regnecentralen
Niels Bohr Institute
Technical University of Denmark
University of Copenhagen
Known for ALGOL,
Backus–Naur Form
Notable awards Computer Pioneer Award (1986)
Turing award (2005)

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.

He 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 institute, 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).

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".[2]

Naur won the 2005 ACM A.M. Turing Award for his work on defining the ALGOL 60 programming language.[3] 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.[4]


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) Lua error in Module:Citation/CS1/Identifiers at line 47: attempt to index field 'wikibase' (a nil value). and several other journals.
  • 128. (editor) Lua error in Module:Citation/CS1/Identifiers at line 47: attempt to index field 'wikibase' (a nil value).
  • 144. "Lua error in Module:Citation/CS1/Identifiers at line 47: attempt to index field 'wikibase' (a nil value).
  • 212. Lua error in Module:Citation/CS1/Identifiers at line 47: attempt to index field 'wikibase' (a nil value).
  • 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 0201580691.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • 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.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • 363. Antifilosofisk leksikon: Tænkning - sproglighed - videnskabelighed, 111 p., 1999, ISBN 87-987221-0-7; English translation 2001, ISBN 87-987221-1-5
  • 382. Psykologi i videnskabelig rekonstruktion. 2002. ISBN 87-987221-2-3.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Lua error in Module:Citation/CS1/Identifiers at line 47: attempt to index field 'wikibase' (a nil value).
  • Daylight, E.G.; P., Naur (2011). Pluralism in Software Engineering: Turing Award Winner Peter Naur Explains. Lonely Scholar. ISBN 978-94-91386-00-8.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>


  1. Peter Naur Dies Aged 87
  2. Naur, Synapse-State Theory of Mental Life, 2004.
  3. Software Pioneer Peter Naur Wins ACM's Turing Award - February 2006.
  4. Devantier, Nicolai (4 January 2016). "Den verdensberømte it-dansker Peter Naur er død - Computerworld". Computerworld. Retrieved 4 January 2016.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles> (Danish)

External links