As a technical communicator, I find it fascinating to learn about ways of communicating without using words. Often a diagram or drawing is more effective than a sentence, and can cross barriers of language, education, learning styles and ability.
At 6 am this morning, with my first cup of coffee in hand, I couldn’t remember which symbol means ‘on’ and which means ‘off’ on a power switch. I found a website called Symbols – a sort of Wikipedia for symbols – where the Power Symbols group contained the symbols I was looking for, along with a symbol for unicorn, as unicorns represent power as well as purity in Celtic mythology. The Media Control category includes the power symbols as well as symbols for the Committee to Protect Journalists, the Divide and Conquer symbol and the Play symbol for audio and film devices. So both Power and Media Control are used in different contexts – an example of how in language, one word can have many meanings.
Usually I’m pretty focussed when I’m using the internet, but I couldn’t resist looking up more symbols, and I came across Blissymbols.
Blissymbolics is a semantic graphical language that is currently composed of more than 5000 authorized symbols - Bliss-characters and Bliss-words. It is a generative language that allows its users to create new Bliss-words as needed. It is used by individuals with severe speech and physical impairments around the world, but also by others for language learning and support, or just for the fascination and joy of this unique language representation.
Simple shapes are used to keep the symbols easy and fast to draw and because both abstract and concrete levels of concepts can be represented, Blissymbolics can be applied both to children and adults and are appropriate for persons with a wide range of intellectual abilities.
The search on Blissymbols also led to an article about a study comparing them to manual symbols (such as sign language), which found that the 7- and 8-year-old children tested were able to learn and remember them equally well.
As I’ve been observing my 1-year-old granddaughter learning to communicate with signs over the past 9 months or so, I’m keen to find out whether we can teach her to communicate with Blissymbols as well, before she learns to speak understandably. I’ve been amazed at how well she can communicate with us with only 3 words but a dozen or more signs. I remember the frustration when my daughter was preverbal and couldn’t tell me what she needed or why she was upset, and I can imagine the difference it would make to communication with older children and adults who cannot speak understandably, or cannot use written words.
"On Off Symbol." Symbols.com. STANDS4 LLC, 2019. Web. 16 Apr. 2019. <https://www.symbols.com/symbol/on-off-symbol>.
"Unicorn Mercat Cross." Symbols.com. STANDS4 LLC, 2019. Web. 16 Apr. 2019. <https://www.symbols.com/symbol/unicorn-mercat-cross>.
"Committee to Protect Journalists." Symbols.com. STANDS4 LLC, 2019. Web. 16 Apr. 2019. <https://www.symbols.com/symbol/committee-to-protect-journalists>.
Blissymbolics Communication International
Learning of Blissymbols and Manual Signs, Diane Bristow and Macalyne Fristoe, Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, v.49 Issue 2, May 1984 pp 145-151.