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

Rick Jelliffe ricko at
Fri Apr 24 05:54:38 BST 1998

From: Paul Prescod <papresco at>

>Let me suggest this definition for semantic: a mapping from a syntactic
>feature to an abstraction.

I think people get confused between the "semantics" of the markup language
and the "semantics" of the element [type]s and attributes being marked-up.

I'll note the dictionary meaning of "semantic" as "relating to connotation
words". But in markup languages it has taken on a rather more specialized
meaning, unfortunately: "relating to the connotation of (particular)
of markup or their content".

When people say "XML is not semantic-free" they are using "semantics"
to include  "the connotation of the delimiters" as well. Maybe it serves
everyone right for using jargon.

So I think this is what Tim is saying with:

>> I think that
>> "element", "element type", "notation", and so on are profoundly
>> *syntactic* constructs.  I think an element is  a piece of an XML
>> document that is bounded by tags;

They are "syntactic" in relation to the document being marked-up,
but they are "semantic" in relation to the XML spec. It is because
people make the transition between the two contexts that the
term "semantic" becomes confusing.

Rick Jelliffe

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