Mathematical systems theory

, Volume 13, Issue 1, pp 1–27 | Cite as

An order-algebraic definition of knuthian semantics

  • Laurian M. Chirica
  • David F. Martin


This paper presents a formulation, within the framework of initial algebra semantics, of Knuthian semantic systems (K-systems) which contain both synthesized and inherited attributes. The approach is based on viewing the semantics of a derivation tree of a context-free grammar as a set of values, called an attribute valuation, assigned to the attributes of all its nodes. Any tree's attribute valuation which is consistent with the semantic rules of the K-system may be chosen as the semantics of that derivation tree.

The set of attribute valuations of a given tree is organized as a complete partially ordered set such that the semantic rules define a continuous transformation on this set. The least fixpoint of this transformation is chosen as the semantics of a given derivation tree. The mapping from derivation trees to their least fixpoint semantics is a homomorphism between certain algebras. Thus, the semantics of a K-system is an application of the Initial Algebra Semantics Principle of Goguen and Thatcher. This formulation permits a precise definition of K-systems, and generalizes Knuth's original formulation by defining the meaning of recursive (circular) semantic specifications.

The algebraic formulation of K-systems is applied to proving the equivalence of K-systems having the same underlying grammar. Such proofs may require verifying that a K-system possesses certain properties and to this end, a principle of structural induction on many-sorted algebras is formulated, justified, and applied.


Computational Mathematic Original Formulation Precise Definition Algebraic Formulation Attribute Valuation 
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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag New York Inc. 1979

Authors and Affiliations

  • Laurian M. Chirica
    • 1
  • David F. Martin
    • 2
  1. 1.Computer Science DepartmentUniversity of CaliforniaSanta BarbaraUSA
  2. 2.Computer Science DepartmentUniversity of CaliforniaLos Angeles90024

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