Language attributes- what are they?

John Cowan jcowan at
Sat Jan 1 10:14:26 CET 2005

Peter Constable scripsit:

> Where the boundary on "writing system" is uncertain for me would be
> with things like conventions for hyphenation or use of quotation
> marks. But something like date formats are IMO well outside the
> boundary. I sometimes write "12/31" and sometimes "31/12", but I'd
> say I don't ever change my writing system. I think a "writing system"
> is something that is generally very stable for a given individual,
> and even speaker communities (except when undergoing a transition).

But do you, qua Canadian in the U.S., consistently use either Canadian or
U.S. spelling, or do you occasionally use one and occasionally the other?
It seems to me that writing 12/31 and using Canadian spellings, or 31/12
and using U.S. spellings, is simply inconsistent writing, and that the
date format is as much part of the writing system as whether you write
"tire center", "tire centre", or "tyre centre".

> And are you really going to run a parser on the stuff I enter into
> a document manually?

It happens all the time.  After all, all data is entered manually at some stage.

> I doubt that's a common scenario. On the other
> hand, a very common scenario would be that you're requesting data from
> my server that you intend to parse, and you either need date strings
> to be in a particular format or you want to be told what the format
> is. That's an API: your process interacting with my process.

"want to be told what the format is":  that's a case for per-document tagging,
aka language-tagging.  If I request a document in either Welsh or English,
to take a more extreme case, I certainly want to be told which one you're
sending me, by the same token, and language tagging is appropriate.

You are a child of the universe no less         John Cowan
than the trees and all other acyclic  
graphs; you have a right to be here.  
  --DeXiderata by Sean McGrath                  jcowan at

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