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Re: DTD Notation raises a question

[Rod Davison]

> Stephen Ullman in Semantics notes "it is perfectly true that absolute
> synonomy runs counter to our whole way of looking at language.  When we
> different words we instinctively assume that there must be some
> in meaning, and in the vast majority of cases there is in fact a
> even though it may be difficult to formulate.  Very few words are
> synonymous in the sense of being interchangeable in any context without
> slightest change in objective meaning, feeling-tone or evocative value."
Yes, and more can be said about why this is.  Mostly, words are not defined
or understood by intension, but by extension.  Not only that, but it's more
than extension in the sense of a list of exemplars - every word has a cloud
of associations that help set its meaning, not all recognized consciously
and all constantly changing over time and through experience.  And then the
same word or even phrase can change its meaning depending on context and how
we express it.

Everyone recognizes this in practice, in everyday life.  But we don't know
how to do computer-like things that way.  Some people try to make a pretense
that words are defined once and for (and so could have exact synonyms), but
I think it's more useful to simply agree that sometimes we have to
drastically reduce the range of possibilities for the sake of ... well,
whatever you want to plug in here.

In this restricted world you can have exact synonyms.  Here's one pair:
xsl:stylesheet/xsl:transform.  You have to know what the restrictions are;
there's no use in bringing in general linguistics, we've already agreed to
try to put a lot of that aside.

In the stylesheet example, a person might look at "xsl:transform" and get a
different connotation, but the xslt processor will produce the same result

In a way, the final arbiter is how a processor processes something, I
suppose, since the specifications, not being able to be written in such a
restricted way, do convey different things to different people.  Sometimes,
then, it's a reference implementation, or a consensus among
processor-writers, that determines the effective meaning of some word or

So a better question for some of these cases might be not "are these terms
synonymous" but "have we restricted their meaning adequately so that we
definitely know they are synonymous", or even "do they get processed the

OK, people, time to tear all of this babble apart.  Go to it!


Tom P