Lawyers hate it! Linguists love it! Never be confused by contradictory and confusing laws again, now that you have a fully logical legal annotation language, or “legal markup language.”

Background:

Misunderstandings of meaning are often encountered due to ambiguities in human language.

This causes problems in several ways, particularly in:

  1. Translation between languages
  2. Interpretation of laws

1) In regards to translation:

For any non-trivial translation between two languages, a human is still required in order to figure out the meaning of it and a sentence and translate it accordingly—despite the fact that the meaning is all (theoretically) already present in the text.

2) In regards to interpretation of laws:

Ambiguity in laws can cause much consternation. One famous example is the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which reads:

“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

The significance (or, alternatively, the lack thereof) of “a well regulated militia” continues to be debated. This confusion could all have been avoided by wording official documents in an unambiguous language.

Proposal:

We will create a new, exceedingly detailed form of annotation that will related human concepts in an unambiguously logical fashion.

This annotation will be more like an HTML-style markup language than a standard human language.

(A theoretically unambiguous language called “Lojban” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lojban) already exists, but it requires learning an entirely new language, whereas the proposal here is an extension of one’s existing language.)


Example #1: The Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution:

Original text: “Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.”

…and now a version in unambiguous annotated format:

  • Statement:
    • Forbid:
      • bail (noun, a specific payment for those awaiting trial, unspecified quantity)
        • only_present_if:
          • is also excessive (large in quantity)
      • fines (noun, payment required from an individual, 2+):
        • type: required / mandatory
          • required by: the government
        • only_present_if:
          • is also excessive (large in quantity)
      • infliction / imposition:
        • thing to be inflicted: punishments (plural, 2+)
        • only_present_if:
          • all_conditions_true:
            • is cruel (adj., see also merciless, evil)
            • is_not:
              • usual / common / standard / as expected

And when translated back to English:

The following 3 things are forbidden: 1) bail, only if excessive or too large in quantity, 2) fines, only if excessive or too large in quantity, and 3) infliction of punishment, only if both of the following conditions are met: the punishment is cruel or merciless, and also the punishment is also unusual or nonstandard.

See Fig. 1 for an example of the annotation format in flowchart form.


Unambiguous text - 8th amendment flowchart

Fig 1: The Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, rendered as a “diagrammed sentence”-style graph of logical concepts.


Example #2: Shakespeare, a famous soliloquy by Hamlet:

HAMLET: To be, or not to be—that is the question: 

Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer

The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune

Or to take arms against a sea of troubles

And by opposing end them.


…and now a version in unambiguous annotated format:

  •  Pose_Question:
    • type: posed abstractly
      • posed_to: abstract audience of indefinite nature (informal)
      • posed_by: Hamlet (male, singular, nobility, age_of_majority, informal)
    • option: Continued existence
    • option: Annihilation
    • requirement: select 1 option
    • evaluation criterion: none
  • var MY_ENDURE =
    • subject (noun): enduring / persisting:
      • the one who endures: a human (abstract, no number or gender specified)
      • the thing to be endured: injury (abstract)
        • a.k.a.: new var TROUBLE1
          • caused_by: projectiles (plural, 2+):
            • projectile_1: causative agent (plural, 2+): a sling
            • projectile_2: causative agent (plural, 2+): arrows
            • source (of projectiles): abstract_entity:
              • fortune / luck
  • var MY_RAISE_ARMS_CAUSE_END =
    • var RA1 = verb / action: raise arms / raise weapons / struggle
      • struggle against what: troubles / problems (plural, many)
        • a.k.a.: new var TROUBLE1
        • assert that: TROUBLE1 is identical to TROUBLE1 in MY_ENDURE
      • var RA2 = noun
        • end / cessation of TROUBLE1
      • action:
        • RA1 leads to RA2 (RA1 -> RA2)
        • frequency of action causing result: always
  • Pose_Question:
    • type: posed abstractly
      • posed_to: abstract audience of indefinite nature (informal)
      • posed_by: Hamlet (male, singular, nobility, age_of_majority, informal)
    • option: Continued existence
    • option: Annihilation
    • requirement: select 1 option
    • evaluation criterion: “is nobler” (is superior, is more admirable)
    • item to evaluate #1: MY_RAISE_ARMS_CAUSE_END
    • item to evaluate #2: MY_ENDURE

And when translated back to English:

HAMLET: I pose the following abstract question: Is continued existence preferred, or is the non-continuance of existence preferred?

HAMLET: I pose the additional abstract question: Is it preferable for an unspecified individual to endure troubles, specifically multiple injuries caused by abstract fortune / luck, where these injuries are inflicted by one or more arrows, and one or more unspecified projectiles sent by means of a sling, or is it preferable for that individual to by means of arming oneself or applying weapons, struggle against against the same troubles referred to earlier in this question, where this struggle also results in the end of the specified troubles.

 

Conclusion:

For laws, its interesting to see how verbose and incomprehensible even a single sentence can be in “unambiguous” format. As for Hamlet, it may lack the elegance of the original, but now it can be translated between languages by machine without loss of information!

This would probably actually work for very limited types of input: e.g. cookbook recipes, scientific methods / protocols, product warranties, instruction manuals, etc…

PROS: Machine translation will finally work right!

CONS: The “unambiguous” format is basically impossible to read.


 

Below are the above examples in image format, with color-coded sections to indicated corresponding text.

Unambiguous text - Hamlet

Fig 2: An excerpt from Hamlet: original -> unambiguous annotation -> back to English, in an image. See above for this information presented as selectable text. Note that the colors are supposed to match up regions of (mostly) identical information content.

 

Unambiguous text - 8th amendment text

Fig 3: The Eighth Amendment: original -> unambiguous annotation -> back to English, in an image. See above for this information presented as selectable text.


 

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