Semantics (was Re: Inheritance in XML [^*])

David Megginson ak117 at
Fri Apr 24 02:53:41 BST 1998

Tim Bray writes:

 > Well, we just have a difference of perception.  I think that
 > "element", "element type", "notation", and so on are profoundly
 > *syntactic* constructs.

It seems to me that semantics and syntax are fuzzy sets (like "tall"
and "short") rather than crisp sets (like "greater than zero" or "less
than zero").

In the SGML/XML world, we somehow know what we mean when we talk about
"syntax" and "semantics", but as this discussion has shown, it's hard
to quantify _how_ we know what we know, and in the end, it turns out
that we have simply set an arbitrary boundary and silently agreed to
enforce it.  Both the location of that boundary and the very fact of
its existence are also meaningful texts that some underpaid lecturer
in cultural studies might want to pursue some day.

If you all think that this is troubling, try reading Jacques Derrida
on natural language and the act of writing (but please don't assume
that I agree with him).  Then, if you want to be reassured that the
world is simple and quantifiable, go back and read some of Donald
Knuth's friendly textbooks.

All the best,


David Megginson                 ak117 at
Microstar Software Ltd.         dmeggins at

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