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Re: A possible approach in "solving" the FDL problem

Op za 16-08-2003, om 13:55 schreef MJ Ray:
> > I'm not even remotely suggesting we start describing each and
> > every word that appears in the SC or in the DFSG; I'm only suggesting 
> > a
> > note is appropriate if it is shown that the meaning of a word isn't
> > shared by everyone.
> > 
> > This is the case with the word "software".
> If we cannot rely on true meanings, then this is the thin end of the 
> wedge.

I don't think you ever can.

> The local conclusion is to define all words in order to remove 
> all potential for misinterpretation, which is what I suggested and I 
> don't understand why you are so hostile to it.

That would be pointless. I'm suggesting to define a word which has
proven to mean different things to different people. If the same applies
to other words, we'd have to do those too; otherwise, it'd probably be a
waste of time to do so.

> > The meaning of a word is more than its etymology. [...]
> Because a language belongs to its people, not the lexicographers, 
> right?

No, it belongs to both of them. The only thing a lexicographer really
can do is describe the meaning of words as the people using a certain
word see it.

Really, a word is more than it's etymology. If not, we'd all still be
speaking Medieval English, with the exception of names for new
inventions. Moreover, there wouldn't be any such thing as 'American

> > Why do you think most legalese texts start with a description of words
> > of which you could generally assume most people more or less 
> > understand
> > their meanings?
> They are using definitions which are *different* to the normal.

If that were true, and if there actually *was* a 'normal' definition,
why would they be using a different definition in the first place?

I say you're wrong, and that they do so because they want to make sure
everyone understands everything as intended.

> Why 
> do you think they only define some of the words used, and denote them 
> with devices like leading Capitals?

Because only some of the words used are that important that they have to
be defined? Another possibility could be that only some of the words
used could be interpreted ambiguously.

> [...]
> > Alternatively, we could remember that some people aren't native 
> > english
> > speakers, and that in some other languages, the word 'software' has a
> > different meaning as compared to what the english meaning is.
> Feel free to translate the document, bugfix any defective 
> translations, or bugfix defective languages, as required.

There aren't any 'bugs' in languages.

Try to look the word 'language' up in a dictionary once. It doesn't even
mention the words 'lexicographer' or 'dictionary' anywhere.

Lexicography isn't an absolute science, like math or CS are. It's about
finding a reasonable agreement on what all people using that language as
their native language see as the definition of the words they use. As
those definitions may shift over time, so may the definitions of the
words as the lexicographers define them.

A dictionary is an aid, and a central reference for people to understand
a language, but it is *not* the source of the definitions contained
therein. As such, it can be *wrong* from time to time.

I'm saying that, due to the fact that we're all humans, we apply
different meanings to words from time to time. Since the word 'software'
is crucial in the Debian Free Software Guidelines, it's just as crucial
people understand the meaning of the word 'software' in the context of
the DFSG unambiguously.

> > If I check
> > Van Dale (the leading Dutch dictionary, probably comparable to the
> > Oxford English Dictionary), the word 'software' clearly *isn't* any 
> > more
> > than programs:
> Because a language belongs to its lexicographers, not its people, 
> right?  Really, it is difficult to discuss things with people who 
> apparently advocate two contradictory positions.

You're putting words in my mouth. I'm not advocating two contradictory
positions; rather, I'm trying to show you how lexicography can't give
you all the answers, since it's not a mathematical science.

If you're blind to that, it's not my fault.

> [...]
> > My suggestion of adding a note to the DFSG or the SC isn't changing
> > anything of it either -- it's just clarifying. I'm not sure I
> > understand why you're opposed to that suggestion.
> The English version does not need it.

It does, sorry. This document is way too important for anyone to
misinterpret it; and especially the word 'software' is crucial.

> Maybe some of the translations do.

AFAIK, none of them do, but I can't be expected to read and understand
them all.

> Maybe a fully annotated version with all meanings has value for 
> 2L speakers, 

There's no need to fully annotate it either. There's proven confusion,
which I want to get rid of. If *you* want a fully annotated version, I
suggest *you* get it done. I'm only suggesting to define the word
'software' for the context of the DFSG, and I'm not willing to push it
any further.

> which is why I suggested it, but it doesn't necessarily 
> mean that the original document itself is ambiguous.

I wasn't suggesting the *document* is ambiguous. I'm only suggesting the
meaning of *one* *specific* word *could* be ambiguous to some, and that
it's *our* job to make sure people understand it correctly, not that of
those who read it.

Wouter Verhelst
Debian GNU/Linux -- http://www.debian.org
Nederlandstalige Linux-documentatie -- http://nl.linux.org
"An expert can usually spot the difference between a fake charge and a
full one, but there are plenty of dead experts." 
  -- National Geographic Channel, in a documentary about large African beasts.

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