W3C home > Mailing lists > Public > w3c-rdfcore-wg@w3.org > October 2001

Re: literals must be self-evident

From: Pat Hayes <phayes@ai.uwf.edu>
Date: Mon, 22 Oct 2001 14:22:30 -0500
Message-Id: <p05101037b7fa049f934b@[]>
To: Dan Connolly <connolly@w3.org>
Cc: w3c-rdfcore-wg@w3.org
>I'm having trouble following the literal model theory
>stuff in detail, and my attention is diverted by
>stuff like preparation for the upcoming AC meeting,
>and I'll be out next week.
>But I propose the following requirement as a constraint
>on solutions to this literal stuff:
>Lack of ambiguity
>Some programming languages allow one to introduce identifiers
>from new name spaces in such a way that it is not possible to
>know which namespace a local identifier belongs to without
>accessing both the module interface specifications and checking
>which one has with the highest priority, or  most recently in the
>document, redefined a given local identifier.
>This may have some uses in a programming language such as
>Java[Java], but it has a serious flaw in that when one module
>changes (without the knowledge of the designers of the other
>module), it can unwittingly redefine a local identifier used by the
>second module, completely changing the meaning of a previously
>written document. Clearly, in the Web world in which modules
>evolve but documents must have clearly defined meanings, this is
>--        Web Architecture: Extensible languages
>W3C Note 10 Feb 1998
>That is: it's essential that the interpretation of
>an RDF document is a function of the document alone,
>and doesn't vary according to the contents of other

We can apply this criterion more or less strictly, however. Let me 
try applying it in several cases.

There are three distinct classes of proposals, seems to me. I used to 
like the second, but have become persuaded that the first is best, 
and maybe the only viable option in the long run, so I would like to 
not rule it out.

1. Contextual datatyping.

One (class of) proposals is to allow literals to be used in a such a 
way that the exact meaning of the literal depends on the immediate 
context of a triple it is in, for example by using range information 
from another triple, so that in:

aaa  isSmallerThan "567881962" .
isSmallerThan rdfs:range xsd:Integer .

the literal should denote an integer, but in:

http://www.coginst.uwf.edu/~phayes#TheMan hasSSnumber "567881962" .
hasSSnumber rdfs:range govsd:SocialSecurity .

the very same literal would denote a social security number (which 
is, let us suppose, a different datatype). In other triples it might 
denote a string, a date, whatever.

This is the class of proposals ('class' because there are several 
alternative ideas about exactly how to provide the 'contextual' 
information that is given here by the rdfs:range information) that 
Peter P-S and I have sorted out how to handle in an extension to the 
current MT, with some very small tweaks.  (To emphasize, I am not 
urging that the WG adopt these extensions, or even consider them, but 
I would like to suggest that we take care not to lock in any 
restrictions that would make this future extension impossible.)

The consequence of this is that the meaning of a 'bare' literal 
triple is in a sense not determined until one has enough information 
about the 'context' to decide what literal-typing scheme to use, eg 
if I read

aaa bbb "567881962" .

and I know nothing else about the range of bbb, and the literal 
occurrence itself has no associated typing information, then I don't 
know whether that third item is supposed to be a string, or an 
integer or a date or whatever, so I really don't know what the triple 
is asserting. (The MT extension would actually assign a meaning to 
the literal, but it would be a function from an as-yet-unknown 
datatype to a value, and we can't determine the truthvalue of the 
triple itself until we have some way to apply the function to a 
datatype. We could tweak the MT even further and regard such a bare 
triple as a kind of disjunction over all possible datatypes; that 
would essentially treat this as similar in meaning to the 'bnode' 
proposal, below.)

Notice, this does not suffer from the really drastic problem 
mentioned in the above quote. The suggestion is not that the meaning 
of a bare triple might change as a result of what is said about it in 
some other module. There is no doubt that it is only the value of 
this particular occurrence of the literal that is being determined, 
and its interpretation depends only on information about the terms in 
the triple in which it occurs. That information - range information, 
in this case - might indeed be provided by another document, but it 
cannot be overridden or altered by another document, except in the 
general sense in which any piece of RDF might be overridden or 
updated. (As with any other RDF, two documents might not agree about 
the correct range information, and in that case the meaning of the 
triple would also become doubtful. For example if we had two 

bbb rdfs:range xsd:Integer .
bbb rdfs:range xsd:String .

then as far as RDFS is concerned the range is both string and 
integer, but I presume that this would cause some datatyping engine 
to barf.)

An extended treatment would be to invoke a 'default' datatyping 
scheme in which (in the absence of any other type information) the 
literal is interpreted as denoting itself, ie as a string. That has 
the merit of locking in current RDF M&S best practice, but it has the 
disadvantage of introducing a nonmonotonic construction in which 
adding information (eg from another document) does indeed change the 
interpretation of a triple (eg from being true of a string to being 
true of, say, an SS number). However, it is a very restricted and 
well-behaved form of nonmonotonicity, in a sense.

(The new extended MT technique has as an automatic consequence that 
the 'string' interpretation has a special status, in that it is the 
only 'fixed' interpretation which can be composed with a later 
datatyping scheme in a transparent way. This corresponds exactly to 
the intuition that treating RDF literals as strings is just kind of 
telling the parser to treat them as 'blobs' whose meaning will be 
determined by something else; the something else can be another RDF 
document, is all. )

2. Datatype-on-the-sleeve

Another class of proposals takes very seriously the idea that any 
symbol must have a fixed meaning in any interpretation, and insists 
that this goes for literals as well. It follows therefore that if one 
literal  means the integer 567881962 and another literal means the SS 
number 567-88-1962, then they must be *different* literals. So, on 
this account, the objects in the above example triples must in fact 
be distinct literals, and maybe they should be written differently, 
or something; in any case, this difference has to be somehow 
incorporated into the 'logical syntax' ie in our case, in the RDF 
graph. Maybe they would look like this:

aaa isSmallerThan xsd:Integer:"567881962" .

http://www.coginst.uwf.edu/~phayes#TheMan hasSSnumber 
govsd:SocialSecurity:"567881962" .

where the datatype is somehow incorporated into the very syntactic 
form of the literal itself. (The exact form of such inclusion I leave 
to others to decide; this prefixing isn't intended as a serious 
proposal for a suitable syntax.)

This kind of solution trades syntactic complexity (and rigidity) for 
conceptual simplicity. This is completely trivial for the model 
theory, and assigns datatyping to an essentially lexical issue. 
Notice that the 'range' information could still be given, but its 
only purpose now would be to enable the inference engine to check 
that the lexically assigned datatypes were consistent, ie it would be 
a kind of integrity check rather than providing any new information. 
Notice also in this case, the 'bare literal' case would be lexically 
ill-formed, and one would expect that the datatyping machinery (which 
lies outside RDF in this case) would have assigned some kind of 
default interpretation to any 'bare' literal, eg by prefixing it with 
xsd:string: , say.

3. Literals as blank nodes

(This may be regarded simply a variant on the first class of 
proposals, but I think it is worth treating separately as it requires 
no extension to the MT, but it does require rewriting all RDF graphs 
which use literals.)

This treats a literal an an existential assertion together with an 
assertion about the syntactic 'literal' form, as Ron Daniel suggested 
So the above examples would be rewritten in the following ways:

aaa isSmallerThan _:thing1 .
_:thing1 rdf:value "567881962" .
_:thing1 rdf:type xsd:Integer .

http://www.coginst.uwf.edu/~phayes#TheMan hasSSnumber _:thing2 .
_:thing2 rdf:value "567881962" .
_:thing2 rdf:type govsd:SocialSecurity .

This has the merit of keeping all the datatyping information in the 
same document, but it suffers from triples-bloat.


>Any solution where the truth/falsehood of a document
>(in some interpretation) depends on some range
>contraint in another document would be a violoation
>of what I suggest is a core RDF requirement.

Well, you could say that the first class of proposals is ruled out by 
this, but I'm not sure. What if that range constraint was included in 
the  scope of the interpretation?


PS. Just for clarification: the stuff about modifying Ntriples syntax 
to allow nodeIDs to be used on triples was to allow an slight 
modification to number 1 above where one asserts the datatyping 
directly as a property of the literal (which therefore has to be a 
subject), in effect short-circuiting the blank nodes in Ron's 
proposal by labelling the literal node itself. This maps the third 
proposal into the first:

aaa isSmallerThan _:thing1:"567881962" .
_:thing1 rdf:type xsd:Integer .

thereby removing the triples-bloat and, incidentally, integrating 
this better into RDFS generally, since this rdf:type assertion is now 
giving exactly the same information that one could also get from an 
rdfs:range assertion, or maybe by some other means. The general point 
is that if you know something is in an rdfs class *which is defined 
by a datatype* and you also know its a literal, then you know how to 
interpret it, independently of *how* you happen to know that it is in 
that class. So datatypes are just a special kind of class, which is 
what got Peter so excited :-)

IHMC					(850)434 8903   home
40 South Alcaniz St.			(850)202 4416   office
Pensacola,  FL 32501			(850)202 4440   fax
Received on Monday, 22 October 2001 15:22:47 EDT

This archive was generated by hypermail pre-2.1.9 : Wednesday, 3 September 2003 09:41:09 EDT