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Future of HTML - Dictionaries

From: Rob <wlkngowl@unix.asb.com>
Date: Sun, 12 Apr 1998 21:55:41 -0500
Message-Id: <199804130201.WAA20906@unix.asb.com>
To: www-html@w3.org, www-html-editor@w3.org
CC: faith@acm.org, bamartin@miranda.org

HTML markup for "special words" (acronyms and abreviations, proper 
names-- people and geographical locations, definitions, 'foreign' words) 
has been ambiguously addressed at best. In September '97 I posted a 
suggestion to the list [1] recommending a possible solution using the 
LINK element to reference a "dictionary file" that in HTML, that 
consisted of a definition list for defined terms.

I came across RFC 2229,  a "Dictionary Server Protocol", which may
provide an even better solution. The INS, DEL, Q and BLOCKQUOTE elements
in HTML 4.0 have the CITE attribute for referring to a URL as a citation.

Something similar could be done with the ABBR, ACRONYM and DFN [3]
elements where the citation refers to a dictionary server or a document
that contains the definition. This would supercede the previous 
suggestions, and would be work well with older browsers and agents 
which do not recognize citation attributes.

For example:

  <ACRONYM TITLE="Hypertext Markup Language"

  <DFN CITE="dict://dict.org/m:shortcake">shortcake</DFN>

An optional reference to a dictionary or glossary (using the LINK 
element) would also be useful.

How a browser (user agent) handles these citations is not specified. An 
agent may display citations as hyperlinks, or provide a separate menu of 
definitions. (An agent might even be configured to look in a default 
dictionary server for definitions of uncited terms, or to override 
citations in a document should the links be invalid or the server 

Multiple citations for a term in a document should be discouraged, but 
not forbidden since there are times when an acronym or term may have 
multiple meanings.

Pronunciation (aural style sheets) and other language-specific issues for 
abbreviations and acronyms are not addressed here.

The document type returned by dictionary servers is also not addressed 
here (nor is it addressed in [2] RFC 2229) although presumably in the 
future a "definition markup language" will emerge. Note that that RFC 
2229 is not an official standard.

Notes and References:

[1] "A less painful way of adding dictionaries to HTML"

[2] "RFC 2229 A Dictionary Server Protocol"

[3] The DFN element represents the "defining instance of the enclosed 
term" (according to Sec. 9.2.1 of the HTML 4.0 specs) implying the first 
use of a term in the context of a definition.

[4] What is missing is an element for marking up "proper names" (names
of people, geographic locations, institutions, or even scientific names
such as genus/species) and other special terms ("keywords" that may not
be appropriate for including in the META elements but useful for users of
a collection of documents). DFN could cover some of these, and certainly
others could be used as standard links (the A element). Whether one
would like to mark these attributes for user agents (such as search
engines, or authoring tools which could be used to build an index) is a
separate issue not covered in the message. 

Author Contact Information:

Robert Rothenburg Walking-Owl
PO Box 1327
Stony Brook, New York, 11790

E-mail: wlkngowl@unix.asb.com
Received on Sunday, 12 April 1998 21:57:23 UTC

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