Languages and Limits on Expressiveness

Since getting to the US a few years ago I often find myself frustrated with the lack of words or phrases for certain feelings or situations in the English language. Two examples come to mind.
  1. In the US, if someone sneezes you have a choice of things to say such as "Bless You" or "Gesundheit". However if someone is coughing their guts out there isn't a similar phrase a bystander can offer. The best I've come up with is "Are You OK?" which doesn't capture the sentiment I am feeling. In Yoruba the general purpose Pele O works well in this situation. (for the curious here's a link to a USENET post that describes the meaning of the word).

  2. When someone is hard at work (i.e. studying, doing household chores or some other productive activity) there is no general purpose phrase to encourage them. The closest I've come to in the English language is "Keep Up The Good Work" which is close but doesn't quite get the sentiment right. The Yoruba phrase Eku Ise O captures this a lot better.
With regards to my day job, I've recently been thinking about how XML schema languages limit the XML documents and content models one can describe. This started of after reading Gordon Weakliem's entry on Schematron and standards where he states
Now I realize that this is a bit of a straw man argument; why not just modify the document structure? The <MoreAvailInd> is superfluous, the presence or absence of the <MoreAvailQual> element is self-describing. My response is that this document already exists and it'd be easier to find a way to describe it rather than break all the existing clients. This got me to thinking though. It's pretty well accepted that one's language limits one's expressiveness; you can't think it if you can't say it. There are certain concepts that simply don't translate well between natural languages for this reason. I wonder if what will happen is that we (as in XML developers in general) will start constructing documents that can be fully described by WXS, because that's what WXS enables us to express. What will we lose if that happens?
I got to thinking about his post recently when a coworker who I consider to be a W3C XML Schema guru tried out RELAX NG and after his initial misgivings talked about how he now felt straightjacketed by some of the limitations of W3C XML Schema in describing XML documents.


Article Ideas in My Writing Queue

Below is a list of articles I want to write in the next month and a half in order of priority. It helps me in getting stuff done to outline them in this manner and public disclosure means there are people expecting the aricles which acts as a fire under my butt to get me writing.

  1. February Extreme XML Column: I need to write up how RSS Bandit works and release the 1.0 version of the source code. This article is outlined but no content written yet.

  2. Why is XML Important: This is an "XML Manifesto" style article for MSDN. It will share some ideas from the Architecture of the World Wide Web document's section on When to Use XML but will more likely be influenced by Don's Lessons from the Component Wars: An XML Manifesto

  3. On the GPL and the Devaluation of Software: I started on a K5 article about my thoughts on the GPL but decided to scrap it because I didn't want to deal with Open Source fanatics yelling "astroturf" as has been done in past articles I've written about Open Source.

    Recent comments by Joshua Allen and David Stutz have brought thoughts bubbling to the surface that have been dormant for months. I'm mind is buzzing with thoughts and I've decided to finish pouring out my thoughts on the GPL and the devaluation of software.

  4. The Problems With Using W3C XML Schema as the Basis for Strongly Typed XML: There has been some interest in the paper I outlined on the weaknesses of W3C XML Schema as a basis for describing and processing strongly typed XML. I've talked to a bunch of folks at work and they've all seemed interested in reading such a paper. I need to make sure I get it done in time to submit to Plan-X, that is if there is one this year.

  5. March Extreme XML Column: Since I have a number of other writing engagements [plus my day job] I'll be going with a guest columnist next month.

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Disclaimer: The above comments do not represent the thoughts, intentions, plans or strategies of my employer. They are solely my opinion.