Perl's a language, but it's also a community that supports that language, as evidenced by the Perlmongers groups (I lead the group in Toronto, Canada), The Perl Foundation (I'm taking care of the Sponsorship committee these days) and the annual conference (TPCiC, happening again this June).
For me, it was originally a more convenient tool than writing one-off C programs to mung a file, and it ran on a variety of platforms which was really handy. Lucky chance got me in the door of a startup that needed someone to write CGI scripts in Perl, so I started doing that over twenty years ago. The language continues to entertain and employ me, and it also provides a terrific technical community.
Now, over twenty years since picking this language up, I've looked at PHP, Python and Ruby -- they're nice languages, but I'm quite comfy with Perl. Tiobe says Perl's declining in popularity -- well, all I know is that I got cold-called a couple of times via LinkedIn for Perl jobs over the last five years, and they were thrilled that I was available, because "It's hard to find good Perl developers." So maybe it's not a popular language for new projects, but there's lots of legacy code out there that needs attention, as well as some new projects. So maybe Perl is the new COBOL?
Finally, I'm not going to bash other languages -- I wrote an SSO plugin in PHP for Roundcube a few jobs back, and while it wasn't my favourite language, it was perfectly fine. I used the same style of writing code that I use for Perl. It worked fine, I got it done on time and everyone was happy with the result. I also adore C -- it's a blast writing in it again, and it's blisteringly fast, but my language now is Perl. It's plenty fast, very flexible, and has all of these amazing modules.
Alex / talexb / Toronto
Thanks PJ. We owe you so much. Groklaw -- RIP -- 2003 to 2013.