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Re: plural vs singular properties (a proposal)

From: Garret Wilson <garret@globalmentor.com>
Date: Sat, 05 Jan 2008 10:15:00 -0800
Message-ID: <477FC924.70507@globalmentor.com>
To: Frank Manola <fmanola@acm.org>
CC: SWIG <semantic-web@w3.org>

Frank Manola wrote:
> You're right that I'm thinking of only one relation, essentially the 
> "triple" relation.


> As this text notes, an equivalent way to think about it is that each 
> RDF predicate is a distinct binary relation (in the relational model) 
> having two columns, one containing the subject URI (the key column), 
> and the other containing the RDF object value (literal or URI). This 
> is essentially the normalized version I described in my earlier message.

OK, I understand that I can create a single relation representing 
triples and everything fits within the relational model. This one 
possible technical implementation of an RDF graph I understand. But are 
the semantics of the RDF graph being represented here? Is the single 
relation describing resources, or describing triples?

Let me put it another way. Let's say I have the RDF description of 
#mybook that we've been discussing:

<rdf:Description rdf:about="#mybook">
<dc:subject>semantic web</dc:subject>

How would we explain the semantics of this RDF graph? Something like, 
"There exists a book, identified by the URI <#mybook>, and that book has 
a subject 'semantic web' and a subject 'airplanes'." What are the 
equivalent relational semantics? Let me turn to Date, _Introduction to 
Database Systems, Eighth Edition_:

A "given fact" in turn corresponds
to what logicians call a true proposition; for example, the statement 
"Supplier SI
is located in London" might be such a true proposition. ... It follows 
that a database
is really a collection of true propositions. ...
To be specific, in the relational model:
1. Data is represented by means of rows in tables, and such rows can be 
directly interpreted
as true propositions. For example, the row for BIN# 72 in Fig. 1.1 can 
be interpreted
in an obvious way as the following true proposition:
Bin number 72 contains two bottles of 1999 Rafanelli Zinfandel which 
will be ready
to drink in 2007 (page 15)

And again in Date, _Database in Depth_, speaking of "relvars" 
(relational variables):

Like all relvars, that relvar is supposed to represent some
portion of the real world. In fact, I can be more precise: the heading 
of that relvar
represents a certain predicate, meaning it's a kind of generic statement 
about some portion
of the real world .... (page 72)

Again, let P be the relvar predicate or intension for relvar R, and let
the value of R at some given time be relation r. Then r—or the body of 
r, to be more
precise—constitutes the extension of P at that time. (page 74)

So although I can put all my triples in a single relation, the 
relational semantics (according to Date) of the relation is not 
representing the same semantics as my RDF graph represents. The 
semantics of a single per-graph relation seems to have semantics 
describing the reification of a particular graph.

To put this in terms of the first Date quote cited above, the equivalent 
single-relation representation of "Bin number 72 contains two bottles of 
1999 Rafanelli Zinfandel which will be ready to drink in 2007" would 
mean (see figure 1.1 on page 5) , "statement #1 has a subject of 'bin 
number 72', a predicate of 'wine' and a value of 'Zinfandel'; statement 
#2 has a subject of 'bin number 72', a predicate of 'producer', and a 
value of 'Rafanelli'; statement #3 has a subject of 'bin number 72', a 
predicate of 'year', and a value of '1999'", etc.

So in summary, the semantics of a single-relation-per-RDF graph does not 
seem to have the same semantics of an RDF graph; instead, it has the 
semantics of the reification of the RDF graph, although you can add 
other semantics on top of that (i.e. an external understanding of what 
"triples" mean) to get back to the same semantics of the RDF graph.

In summary: if I take the semantics of an RDF graph (e.g. "Book 
<#mybook> has a subject of 'semantic web' and a subject of 'airplanes') 
and I try to map that to the equivalent relational semantics as 
explained by C.J. Date, I run into trouble if multivalued properties are 
allowed. This is what made me uncomfortable; does it make anyone else 

(And to summarize your response, the solution is to first reify the RDF 
graph and then map *those* semantics to the equivalent relational 

Whew---did I get all that correct?

Received on Saturday, 5 January 2008 18:16:50 GMT

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