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

Re: rdfms-xmllang alternatives

From: pat hayes <phayes@ai.uwf.edu>
Date: Thu, 26 Jul 2001 13:14:16 -0700
Message-Id: <v04210105b786211613fb@[]>
To: Graham Klyne <Graham.Klyne@Baltimore.com>
Cc: w3c-rdfcore-wg@w3.org
>At 07:28 PM 7/23/01 -0700, pat hayes wrote:
>>>Another possible disadvantage?:  not all literals are in some 
>>>language.  It doesn't really make sense to specify a language for, 
>>>say, a decimal number or a MIME type string.
>>Why not say that the language for those things is RDF?
>Because the definition of xml:lang (which is the defined syntax 
>whose meaning we are trying to capture) is that the language code 
>used is as defined by RFC 1766, now obsoleted by RFC 3066, which 
>2.4 Meaning of the language tag
>   The language tag always defines a language as spoken (or written,
>   signed or otherwise signaled) by human beings for communication of
>   information to other human beings.  Computer languages such as
>   programming languages are explicitly excluded.  There is no
>   guaranteed relationship between languages whose tags begin with the
>   same series of subtags; specifically, they are NOT guaranteed to be
>   mutually intelligible, although it will sometimes be the case that
>   they are.

Christ Almighty. That is so unbelievably stupid that we should ignore 
it deliberately, I suggest. Whoever wrote that must have a humanities 
degree and is probably waging a private war against the 
dehumanisation of postmodernism. It presumes that programming 
languages are incomprehensible to humans; it presumes that there is a 
clear conceptual distinction between information exchange between 
humans and between other information processors; it presumes that 
'intelligibility' is meaningful without explanation, and it presumes 
that XML has no utility beyond human text markup. It is an 
intellectual fossil.

If anyone objects to RDF as a tag on these grounds, just tell them 
that you know at least two people who use it for communication 
between themselves (I volunteer to be one of them), and cite De 
Sassure, Wittgenstein and Quine as authorities to justify this as 
sufficient to qualify it as a human language. Or tell them that RDF 
is actually a sublanguage of Math, which has been used for 
communication between humans numbering in the millions for about 400 


PS. After writing the above, I checked out RFC1766, and it is clear 
that that document is entirely concerned with XML's use as a text 
markup language, where 'text' means text aimed at direct human use. 
It uses as guiding examples problems of maintaining a coherent 
international user interface, eg
   - In markup languages, such as HTML and XML, language information can
      be added to each part of the document identified by the markup
      structure (including the whole document itself).  For example, one
      could write <span lang="FR">C'est la vie.</span> inside a Norwegian
      document; the Norwegian-speaking user could then access a French-
      Norwegian dictionary to find out what the marked section meant.  If
      the user were listening to that document through a speech synthesis
      interface, this formation could be used to signal the synthesizer
      to appropriately apply French text-to-speech pronunciation rules to
      that span of text, instead of misapplying the Norwegian rules.
However, XML has many other uses now, and many of them are 
incompatiable with the limited suite of uses contemplated in RFC1766 
(eg formal specification of syntax; RDF). In particular, RDF is not 
intended to be read by human users, but by software agents, a fact 
which by itself seems to render RFC1766 irrelevant.

I would suggest therefore in all seriousness that we consider simply 
rejecting RFC1766 as inappropriate to our intended domain of use.

Pat Hayes

(650)859 6569 w
(650)494 3973 h (until September)
Received on Thursday, 26 July 2001 16:14:07 UTC

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