Re: Initial Draft --Cascaded Speech Style Sheets

Scott E. Preece (
Wed, 14 Feb 1996 14:36:13 -0600

From: David Seibert <>

| ... The best way to achieve this unity is
| by making authors use descriptive rather than prescriptive tags, e.g.,
| <strong> rather than <b>, which can be rendered in whatever appropriate
| aural or visual styles are available to the UA. This requires a change
| in html, rather than in the style sheets, but it is not a difficult
| change. The simplest way to achieve this is to make the prescriptive
| tags redundant, giving them the value of the nearest equivalent
| descriptive tag, which would preserve the backward compatibility of html
| documents.


I agree with the idea of promoting descriptive markup; however, the key to getting better markup is to give authors the choice of more descriptive tags. <EM> and <STRONG> are really no better than <I> and <B>, in most cases; either way, the author is saying the text is distinguished for some unspecified reason.

While <EM> and <STRONG> do remove the implication of a specific visual style, there is NO rationale for using one or the other for any given piece of text other than imprecations (where the strength of the warning is intended). While their use for warnings *does* imply a way to distinguish them aurally, their use for anything else does not. Aside from that one use (which would be better conveyed by WARNING and STRONG-WARNING tags), they are just presentation markup, but without the virtue of convention to support them.

So, in general, there is no meaningful way to distinguish EM and STRONG in speech, either - they're just different. Which is also the only thing you could say about rendering <I> and <B> in speech.

If, in writing bibliographic citations, I use CITE for the title, STRONG for the volume number, and EM for the issue number, that just means I want them distinguished, it doesn't mean I want the volumne number shouted. There are typographical conventions that make it appropriate to use I and B for specific kinds of data; while it would be better to have descriptive tags for those kinds of data, EM and STRONG aren't those tags. There is no way it makes sense to code a foreign word (which would conventionally be set in italics) as EM.

Achieving descriptive markup requires adding a bunch of new, descriptive tags - things like PERSONAL-NAME, DATE, VOLUME, ISSUE, CHEMICAL-COMPOUND, etc. When you suggest that people hold their fingers in the sign of the cross and run off muttering about tag explosion.

|   ...
|   Any comments from the html group?  Would the possibility of unifying 
|   presentation styles (visual/aural/maybe even tactile and olfactory) be 
|   alluring enough to convince people to use descriptive rather than 
|   prescriptive tags, which is probably the biggest change that would be 
|   needed to implement this idea?

I think it's an excellent argument for descriptive markup; unfortunately, in the current mindset, the closest thing we're talking about to descriptive markup is the CLASS attribute, which is arguably less portable, less verifiable, and less easy to teach to authors than descriptive tags would be. And I don't really see a unification as sensible anyway, except in thte sense of using the same CLASS markup to select styling in both stylesheets, so the same document can be appropriately displayed in each mode.


scott preece
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