This question is not, "Why do people still use old programming languages?" I understand that quite well. In fact the two programming languages I know best are C and Scheme, both of which date back to the 70s.
Recently I was reading about the changes in C99 and C11 versus C89 (which seems to still be the most-used version of C in practice and the version I learned from K&R). Looking around, it seems like every programming language in heavy use gets a new specification at least once per decade or so. Even Fortran is still getting new revisions, despite the fact that most people using it are still using FORTRAN 77.
Contrast this with the approach of, say, the typesetting system TeX. In 1989, with the release of TeX 3.0, Donald Knuth declared that TeX was feature-complete and future releases would contain only bug fixes. Even beyond this, he has stated that upon his death, "all remaining bugs will become features" and absolutely no further updates will be made. Others are free to fork TeX and have done so, but the resulting systems are renamed to indicate that they are different from the official TeX. This is not because Knuth thinks TeX is perfect, but because he understands the value of a stable, predictable system that will do the same thing in fifty years that it does now.
Why do most programming language designers not follow the same principle? Of course, when a language is relatively new, it makes sense that it will go through a period of rapid change before settling down. And no one can really object to minor changes that don't do much more than codify existing pseudo-standards or correct unintended readings. But when a language still seems to need improvement after ten or twenty years, why not just fork it or start over, rather than try to change what is already in use? If some people really want to do object-oriented programming in Fortran, why not create "Objective Fortran" for that purpose, and leave Fortran itself alone?
I suppose one could say that, regardless of future revisions, C89 is already a standard and nothing stops people from continuing to use it. This is sort of true, but connotations do have consequences. GCC will, in pedantic mode, warn about syntax that is either deprecated or has a subtly different meaning in C99, which means C89 programmers can't just totally ignore the new standard. So there must be some benefit in C99 that is sufficient to impose this overhead on everyone who uses the language.
This is a real question, not an invitation to argue. Obviously I do have an opinion on this, but at the moment I'm just trying to understand why this isn't just how things are done already. I suppose the question is:
What are the (real or perceived) advantages of updating a language standard, as opposed to creating a new language based on the old?
--std=xswitch), so it's not as if creating newer standards results in tools that destabilizes older code.