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Subject: Re: [dita] proposal on "vocabulary" terminology

Erik Hennum wrote:

> To resolve these concerns, Michael and I would like to propose the
> following enhancements to the formal DITA terminology:
> *  Where the formal terminoloy currently uses "vocabulary" instead use
> "vocabulary shell"

New proposal to replace "vocabulary shell": "encompassing vocabulary".

Justification and discussion:

In the con call on Tuesday, I raised an issue with the term "shell" in 
this context.

My primary concern is that going forward we, as users and practioners 
creating DITA-based applications (that is, use-specific XML applications 
that either specialize the DITA-defined modules or use the DITA 
architecture mechanism to specialize from some other base), need a way 
to talk clearly about both modules from which one specialize, as well as 
the fully-realized XML document types created by combining modules and 
specializing from them. Currently we have no good term for this, 
certainly not one that is clearly distinguished from a particular 
syntactic expression of the document type.

That is, it's easy to talk about a "shell DTD", which is a set of DTD 
declarations that syntactically pull together a set of DTD modules to 
form a single *syntactic* document type declaration. It's quite another 
to talk about the abstract thing that the syntactic DTD is an 
implementation expression of.

In my normal practice I use "DTD" or "declaration set" to refer to the 
syntactic DTD declarations and "document type" to refer to the 
abstraction. But in this context "document type" is both too generic and 
too overloaded to be reliably understood in this precise way.

Thus my concern that we get this terminology correct. Note that in this 
discussion I have essentially zero concern for existing DITA users and 
the terminology they currently use--they are sophisticated and their 
numbers are small. My concern is entirely for future users of DITA.

My reasoning is thus:

1. The thing being described is the (conceptually) *abstract* set of 
element types formed by combining one or more architectural modules to 
form an "encompassing" document type. [The term "encompassing documen 
type" is taken from it's use in the HyTime standard, where we defined it 
to mean a document type that is intended to account for all the element 
types to be used in a given document instance, as opposed to a document 
type that is intended to account for a subset of the types that would be 
used in a document. In the DITA context, the "concept" document type is 
encompassing, the "concept" module is not.]

2. The word shell was originally used to describe a *syntactic* 
construct, the actual .dtd file used to pull together the relevant 

3. The thing being described is distinct from any of its possible 
syntactic expressions, which could include DTD declarations, WSD 
schemas, etc.

4. Therefore, "shell vocabulary" could be taken to imply a syntactic 
construct when it is not intended in that way.

5. We need a clear term by which we can talk about the set of types 
distinct from any syntactic definition of them. For example, the 
DITA-defined "concept" document type is an instance of what Erik has 
proposed calling a "vocabulary shell".

I proposed "concrete vocabulary" as a possible alternative for 
"vocabulary shell" but I'm not particularly happy with that.

I chose the word "concrete" to emphasize that the set of types is 
intended for use with document instances, rather than being intended 
only as a base for specialization.

However, it is a fact that any concrete set of types could also be 
specialized, so there is potential for confusion with concrete/abstract 
in this context, which is entirely a function of use and context, and 
concrete/abstract in the context of object-oriented programming, where 
classes can be declared as "abstract", meaning that they can only be 
used for specialization, they cannot be used for class instances.

Terms like "module collection" or "module set", while accurate, are not 
particulary descriptive.



W. Eliot Kimber
Professional Services
Innodata Isogen
9390 Research Blvd, #410
Austin, TX 78759
(512) 372-8122


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