International Auxiliary Languages

Blissymbolics or Blissymbols were conceived of as an ideographic writing system consisting of several hundred basic symbols, each representing a concept, which can be composed together to generate new symbols that represent new concepts. Blissymbols differ from all the world's major writing systems in that the characters do not directly correspond to the sounds of any spoken language.

They were invented by Charles K. Bliss (1897-1985) after the Second World War. Bliss wanted to create an easy-to-learn international auxiliary language to allow communication between people who do not speak the same language. He was inspired by Chinese ideograms, with which Bliss became familiar while in Shanghai as a refugee from Nazi anti-semitic persecution. His system World Writing was explained in his work Semantography (1949). This work laid out the language structure and vocabulary for his utopian vision of easy communication, but it failed to gain popularity. However, since the 1960s, Blissymbols have become popular as a method of Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) for non-speaking people with cerebral palsy or other disorders, for whom it can be impossible to otherwise communicate with spoken language. Practitioners of Blissymbolics (that is, speech and language therapists and users) maintain that some users who have learned to communicate with Blissymbolics find it easier to learn to read and write traditional orthography in the local spoken language than do users who did not know Blissymbolics.

It should be noted, however, that linguists such as John DeFrancis and J. Marshall Unger have argued that genuine ideographic writing systems with the same capacities as natural languages do not exist, but it is likely that they have not examined Blissymbols, hence the claim that Blissymbols may in fact be the exception that proves the rule.

Blissymbolics Communication International is an international group of people who act as an authority regarding the standardization of the Blissymbolics language. They have taken responsibility for any extensions of the Blissymbolics language as well as any maintenance needed for the language. BCI has coordinated usage of the language since 1971 for augmentative and alternative communication. BCI received a licence and copyright through legal agreements with Charles K. Bliss in 1975 and 1982. Limiting the count of Bliss-characters (there are currently about 900) is very useful to help the user community. It also helps when implementing Blissymbolics using technology such as computers.

An example of Blissymbolics is:

blissymbols I want to go to the cinema


Blissymbolics was first used in 1971 helping children at the Ontario Crippled Children’s Centre (OCCC, now the Bloorview-MacMillan Children’s Centre) in Toronto, Canada. Since it was important that the children see consistent pictures, OCCC had a draftsman named Jim Grice draw the symbols. Both Charles K. Bliss and Margrit Beesley at the OCCC worked with Jim ensuring consistency. In 1975, a new organization named Blissymbolics Communication Foundation directed by Shirley McNaughton led this effort. Over the years, this organization changed their name to Blissymbolics Communication Institute, Easter Seal Communication Institute, and ultimately being named Blissymbolics Communication International.

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