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Chapter 15. XML > Languages and Metalanguages

15.1. Languages and Metalanguages

A language is comprised of symbols that we assemble in a meaningful way to express ourselves and pass along information in a way that is intelligible to others. For example, English is a language with rules (grammar) that define how to put its symbols (words) together to form sentences, paragraphs, and, ultimately, books like the one you are holding. If you know the words and understand the grammar, you can read the book, even if you don't necessarily understand its contents.

An important difference between human and computer-based languages is that human languages are self-describing. We use English sentences and paragraphs to define how to create correct English sentences and paragraphs. Our brains are marvelous machines that have no problem understanding that you can use a language to describe itself. However, computer languages are not so rich and computers are not so bright that you could easily define a computer language with itself. Instead, we can define one language—a metalanguage —that defines the rules and symbols of another language.


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