Re: [Json] Nudging the English-language vs. formalisms discussion forward

John Cowan <> Wed, 19 February 2014 20:47 UTC

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Date: Wed, 19 Feb 2014 15:47:08 -0500
From: John Cowan <>
To: Phillip Hallam-Baker <>
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Subject: Re: [Json] Nudging the English-language vs. formalisms discussion forward
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Phillip Hallam-Baker scripsit:

> Semantics can be defined very precisely and most modern computer
> science courses teach methods of doing that Z, VDM and the rest are
> all very precise ways of specifying the behavior of a protocol with as
> high a degree of precision as LR(0) parsers allow for syntax.

That's behavioral semantics (what to do), not document semantics (what
is meant).  It is impossible to define document semantics without
reference to the recipient: indeed, as a member of the pragmaticist
tradition I define the semantics of a document as its effect on the
recipient.  A book written in Georgian has no semantics to me, for I
cannot understand a single word of it.

> What I have found is that making use of syntax to encode semantics is
> always a mistake.

See, if I didn't know that you were talking about behavioral semantics,
that would be incomprehensible.  This very email uses syntax (English
syntax) to encode the semantics of what I am (I hope) communicating to
you.  Indeed, there is no other way for me to communicate it.

> Using different tags for "DateTime" (=String) and "DeltaTime"
> (=Integer) avoids that whole business.

That is, of course, a syntactic distinction.

> When people reach for Regular Expressions they are almost always doing
> something that is better done without.

"I have a problem.  I know!  I'll use a computer.  Now I have 100,000
problems." --me

John Cowan    
Historians aren't constantly confronted with people who carry on
self-confidently about the rule against adultery in the sixth amendment to
the Declamation of Independence, as written by Benjamin Hamilton. Computer
scientists aren't always having to correct people who make bold assertions
about the value of Objectivist Programming, as examplified in the HCNL
entities stored in Relaxational Databases.  --Mark Liberman