W3C home > Mailing lists > Public > www-rdf-logic@w3.org > April 2001

Grounding in English (was Re: semantics status of RDF(S))

From: Sandro Hawke <sandro@w3.org>
Date: Wed, 04 Apr 2001 08:20:56 -0400
Message-Id: <200104041339.f34Ddl725871@daniel.hawke.org>
To: pat hayes <phayes@ai.uwf.edu>
Cc: www-rdf-logic@w3.org

> >I'm going to go out on a limb here and propose a solution that I think
> >provides solid semantics without being unduly restrictive.  It's
> >simple: reduce the RDF model to binary relations stated with
> >locally-scoped terms which may be defined directly in English (not
> >indirectly as URIs attached to semantics by various standards bodies
> >and by application developers).
> Not sure I follow this, but English is not a good way to state 
> semantic meanings!

Sorry for not being more clear.

It seems to me that the only way two agents (eg you and I, or two
computer processes) can communicate (at least electronically) is by
exchanging linguistic expressions in a language they (we) both know.  

We can, of course, define a language (KIF, Prolog, FOPC, RDF, etc might
qualify) and then use it.  But we have to define THAT language using a
language we already know.

And it occurs to me that we end up back at English.  Usually English
in research papers and textbooks and formal specifications and
dictionaries, English written with an eye toward semantic precision,
but still just English.

This gives us an interesting design option: we can make a knowledge
exchange language with extremely simple syntax and extremely simple
semantics that can be arbitrarily extended in a non-conflicting way by
any user community.

> >More formally, in prolog syntax, the RDF model would be defined as
> >having two relations:
> >
> >   binary_relation(subject_term, relation_term, value_term).
> >
> >which means that the relationship identified by the relation_term (by
> >the mechanism defined below) is truly held between some object
> >identified by the subject_term and some object identified by the
> >value_term, respectively.
> >
> >The definitional grounding for the relation_term and optionally for
> >the other terms would be provided by:
> >
> >   english_definition(term, "This is English text which defines something").
> >
> >This approach allows semantics to be defined with arbitrary precision
> >for humans by allowing the inclusion of entire textbooks or legal
> >codes if necessary.
> But it doesnt provide any model-theoretic semantics, since English 
> doesnt have a model theory. The point is not to pin down the meaning 
> for English readers, but to provide a mathematically checkable notion 
> of valid inference for machines.

So you and Peter can define a language (which is just a vocabulary,
here) using my mechanism.  And then you can define another one.  And
the two can coexist and cofunction in a variety of data stores.  And
machines which have been taught one of the languages (ie which know to
match particular English strings to their internal machine operations)
can follow formal declarations in that language giving semantics to
the other language so they can then understand both.

> >And it allows machine processing via the
> >crude-but-effective mechanism of exact matching of strings.
> The longer the prose gets, the harder it is to get exact string matching.

I don't see computers having a real problem comparing arbitrary length
byte strings reproducably.  But no, I wouldn't ask people to type the
stuff.  For that, I'd use a level of indirection, like a web address
for the text.  But the level of indirection would of course be
formally specified in my proposed protocol to the mechanism which
accepted the user input.

(My main reason for not having that web-address indirection in from
the start is that web page contents can change, and for security and trust
reasons I thinks its essential to know certain semantics are immutable.)

> Pat Hayes

 - sandro
Received on Wednesday, 4 April 2001 08:21:18 UTC

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