Musing over Namespaces

Reynolds, Gregg greynolds at
Tue Dec 14 22:11:22 GMT 1999

> -----Original Message-----
> From: Don Park [mailto:donpark at]
> Sent: Tuesday, December 14, 1999 1:37 PM
> I started with the question: "Why isn't there namespaces
> in normal languages like English?"  A boring and divergent
> question.

Who told you English was normal?

Of course natural languages have namespaces: they're innumerable and
flexible, and also form the ground of articulation, not the surface, and we
get to decide which to use when, both sending and receiving.  If you're
really good, you can play on the available field of namespaces to create
things like jokes and irony.  Think "semiotic field".
> I moved on to more interesting question: "What if English
> language used namespaces?"  There are several ways to
> interpret this question but the most interesting is this:
> "What is the social impact of using namespaces in English
> or any other spoken/written language?"
> My answer was: massive fragmentation of society.

Who told you society wasn't massively fragmented?  

Explicit namespacing (aside from being impossible) would only render the
illusion of communication even more untenable than it already is.  I believe
logicians call this the problem of indexicals:  in "this sucks!", how do you
know what "this" references?  Very important in determining the attitude of
the speaker.

> I have a feeling that the answer to above question is
> important to understanding the impact of namespaces in XML.
> Here are some of the side questions I asked myself:
> Is it really a 'good thing' to have namespaces in XML?  What

Do you mean "a means of scoping names, so that a local, apparently atomic
name can be mapped to a universal name"?  Yes.  Or do you mean "namespaces
as designed in the current rec"?  Dunno.

> ill effect will it have on XML's future?  Why can't the
> semantic of '<name>' be determined purely by context?  What

Efficiency rears its ugly head.  If you could derive the semantics from the
context, then you could just tell the computer what to do, in English.

> is wrong with using just <html> to distinguish HTML's use of
> 'a' tag?  Is the ability to inject attributes from other
> namespaces really useful?  What is the possitive effect of
> having just one namespace?

Well, it makes life easier for language designers and implementers.  Makes
life really hard for everybody else.

>  Why can't we have central
> registry of XML names?

Who's gonna run it?  Networking Solutions?  What happens when somebody sets
up a competing registry?  Who's going to settle disputes over the semantics
of FOO?


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