[whatwg] Section 1.7 "abstract language"

Ian Hickson ian at hixie.ch
Fri Aug 21 23:51:44 PDT 2009

On Thu, 13 Aug 2009, Kevin Benson wrote:
> On Thu, Aug 13, 2009 at 10:10 PM, Ian Hickson<ian at hixie.ch> wrote:
> > On Thu, 6 Aug 2009, Elliotte Rusty Harold wrote:
> >>
> >> "This specification defines an abstract language for describing 
> >> documents and applications, and some APIs for interacting with 
> >> in-memory representations of resources that use this language."
> >>
> >> The phrase "abstract language" concerns me. It's not clear to me that 
> >> a language can be abstract, nor is it clear to me what this phrase 
> >> refers to, especially since it seems to be distinguished from the 
> >> "concrete syntaxes that can be used to transmit resources that use 
> >> this abstract language, two of which are defined in this 
> >> specification."
> >>
> >> Perhaps there's some sort of abstract data model or information model 
> >> here; but I don't believe that the word "language" is appropriate to 
> >> describe this. Language as normally understood is a collection of 
> >> actual words or symbols, written or spoken. It is not a collection of 
> >> abstract concepts, at least not in any definition of the term I was 
> >> able to find.
> >>
> >> http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&safe=off&q=define%3Alanguage&aq=f&oq=&aqi=g10
> >
> > What term would you recommend rather than "language" that is more 
> > understandable than "data model" or "information model"?
> >
> > Would "vocabulary" be ok?
> Rather than changing the word "language", how about changing the the 
> word "abstract" instead... ...to an adjective such as "prescriptive" or 
> "normative"... in order to describe the usage of the word "language" 
> more purposefully ?

On Sat, 15 Aug 2009, Elliotte Rusty Harold wrote:
> "Vocabulary" may be an an improvement over "abstract language"--I'd need 
> to think further about that--but I think Kevin's suggestion is likely 
> better. The spec defines a language (not abstract) with two syntaxes (or 
> dialects, or variants).

The word "abstract" is there to lead people away from thinking of HTML as 
being a concrete language in the sense that, e.g., C++ is a "language" or 
BibTex is a "language". I agree that "abstract" isn't really the right 
word, but omitting it I think would cause more confusion here. 
"Vocabulary" is wrong too, since it implies just a lexicon of words, 
rather than a grammar, content models, etc.

If anyone has any ideas for a better term than "abstract language" that 
conveys all the richness that language does but without implying a syntax 
exists, please let me know.

Ian Hickson               U+1047E                )\._.,--....,'``.    fL
http://ln.hixie.ch/       U+263A                /,   _.. \   _\  ;`._ ,.
Things that are impossible just take longer.   `._.-(,_..'--(,_..'`-.;.'

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