Dave Raggett (
Mon, 28 Jul 1997 08:30:21 -0400 ()

Date: Mon, 28 Jul 1997 08:30:21 -0400 ()
From: Dave Raggett <>
To: Holger Wahlen <wahlen@ph-cip.Uni-Koeln.DE>
Subject: Re: "ACRONYM"?
In-Reply-To: <>
Message-ID: <Pine.WNT.3.95.970728070739.-148885B-100000@holly>

On Sat, 26 Jul 1997, Holger Wahlen wrote:

> Is there any reason why the HTML 4.0 draft refers to
> initialisms as "acronyms" and even names an element this way?
> According to all dictionaries and encyclopedias that I have
> checked, an acronym is a combination of other words' first
> letters to a new *word* ("radar", "laser"), something that is
> *not* "spoken by pronouncing the individual letters
> separately" - with regard to the pronunciation thus the exact
> opposite of what the draft talks about, "HTTP", "URL" and so
> on.

Dictionaries define acronym as a word formed by the initial
letters of other words. Some acronyms such as laser and NATO
are pronounced as words in their own right. Many abbreviations
are also acronyms, e.g. CD for compact disc, BBC for British
Broadcasting Corporation. Other abbreviations such as adj. for
adjective, and Mr. for Mister use other approaches for shortening
the name. When it comes to pronunciation, one weak rule is that
if the acronym is fully capitalised, then you can speak it by
saying each of the letters in turn. This works for WWW and BBC
but not for NATO. As a result, we really need a way to specify
how to pronounce such words.

Speech synthesisers use dictionaries to supplement general rules.
It is not unreasonable to assume that the dictionary holds common
abbreviations and acronyms. For uncommon terms, though, you need
to pass the phonemic and prosodic information to drive synthesis.
This could be done via an attribute on elements, or via a link to
a downloadable dictionary. Further work is needed to arrive at
agreed representations for these.

In the short term, it would be better to be able to indicate in
the markup that an abbreviation/acronym should be pronounced by
speaking each of the letters in turn rather than treating it as a
word. The most obvious name is SPELLOUT which according to the 
Oxford English dictionary "make out (words etc.) letter by letter".
Perhaps the HTML 4.0 spec should replace ACRONYM by a new
attribute on SPAN, e.g.

  The <span spellout>BBC</span> tonight reported heavy
  shelling on the Boznian capital.


-- Dave Raggett <>
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World Wide Web Consortium (on assignment from HP Labs)