[Crm-sig] Changes in natural language

Øyvind Eide lister at oeide.no
Wed Apr 24 21:06:33 EEST 2019

Dear all,

The discussion of man or human is connected to a larger discussion about changes in natural language.

CRM is meant to have a long life span. Thus, it will see a number of changes in the technologies and artificial languages in which it is expressed, as we discuss regularly, and which we generally adopt to outside the standard itself.

But CRM also makes an anchoring to the human lifeworld through natural languages. The meaning of those languages change over time. We might argue whether the meaning of man in English has changed the last decades or not, but the fact that words change remains. Two examples from my own lifetime:

”Lap” used to be a neutral scholarly and general term for what is now called ”Sami.” Today ”Lap” is more or less exclusively used as a derogatory term.

Until a few decades ago a German term ”Fräulein” referred to an unmarried woman. Today it is never used, at least among the people I meet. I naturally refer to 17 year old female students as ”Frau.” My using ”Fräulein” would at best be seen as a misplaced attempt to be funny or a mistake from an uninformed foreigner. 

This means that over some decades the natural language text of CRM will change even if the characters remain the same. Furthermore, we cannot know which words will fare as ”Lap” and ”Fräulein” did. Thus, I suggest that we will, from time to time, come in situations where we have to change the wording of the standard. CRM is, after all, not a novel which should be read in its original language form.

While the case of man vs. human can be attributed to the somewhat unclear term ”political correctness,” others cases will not. They will just be examples of words changing meaning or ceasing to be part of one of the natural languages in which CRM is expressed. 

In most cases this will occur in places where it does not matter much, but from time to time it might also happen to labels. This is a cost of using natural language (which we have to) and of the long time span of the CRM (which is one of the points with the whole thing).

All the best,


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