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   Re: Syntax and semantics

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  • From: John Robert Gardner <jrgardn@emory.edu>
  • To: xml-dev@xml.org
  • Date: Thu, 18 May 2000 12:20:12 -0400 (EDT)

On Thu, 18 May 2000, Michael S. Brothers wrote:

> bringing that possibility back into mind. Autonomous, anonymous nodes 
> can only communicate when meaning (semantics) is known to both parties. 
> The namespace URI, though created soley for the purpose of 
> deconflicting names, could take on the second purpose of providing the 
> needed information to bridge the semantic gap.

It's a slippery slope to raise the spectre of Derrida and deconstruction,
but since "recent 20th century critical theory" has already been
[mis]bandied on this point, "recent" theory would actually weigh in that
"autonomous, anonymous nodes" _do_ communicate exactly as intended by the
spec. even if the are entirely ephemeral strings (and I am not, to be
sure, registering a pro-or-con opinion on the larger issues of late, nor
the cheetos-n-blood of yore).  By "naming" --however arbitrarily--
semantics are conveyed in that syntactic act.

I create and name "buwidgerist."  It is a round creature shaped like a tac
found on the moon.  It is right in front of me on the wall mural of the
moon as I type.  Prior to my typing that, buwidgerist did not exist, but
in naming a distinction was made.  Actually, there are tacs holding up my
mural, but naming them as moon creatures distinguishes and semantically
instantiates something of my office which, to this list, is otherwise an
unknown room somewhere.

I shudder to reference a rose and its aroma by any other name . . . but
the point in naming is not semantic content but distinguishing.  To name,
even with a nonsense word like buwidgerist, is to make a crucial
ontological distinction upon which all semantic content is necessarily
predicated: it makes the thing named _not_ something else. Whatever else
it is beyond that--semantically or otherwise--is dependent upon the
ensuing exchange.

It is a misnomer, then, to procede under the premise that a name alone
serves no semantic purpose/meaning value.  On the contrary, it is the
fundamental premise upon which any expository utterance, digital or
otherwise, is dependent.  In and of themselves, the binary "1" or "0" at
the electronic--even subatomic--level (and chaos theory attests to the
import of naming as saying _something_, cf. Heisenberg Principle), say
only what the state of that bit is not.  


johnrobert gardner

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