Blissymbolics Bibliography

Bliss, Charles Keisel. The Blissymbols Picture Book. Semantography Press: Sidney, 1984.

Bliss, Charles Keisel and Shirley McNaughton. The Book to the Film 'Mr. Symbol Man'. Semantography Press: Sidney, 1975.

Charles's work was discovered by Shirley McNaughton, a teacher in Toronto who was searching for a symbol system that could be used to give the tools of language to severely handicapped children. It turned out that Charles's language actually worked. Children could learn Blissymbolics more easily than learning to read and write their own native languages.

A documentary film was made about Charles and the work in Toronto, called Mr. Symbol Man. Charles produced this paperback, hoping to use the documentary to generate broader interest in Blissymbolics.

Bliss, Charles Keisel. The Book of Sincere Critiques. Semantography Press: Sidney, 1983.

Bliss, Charles Keisel. International Semantography. Semantography Press: Sidney, 1949.

Charles was a chemist in Vienna. He was captured by the Nazis and sent to the concentration camp at Buchenwald. He managed to get released and escaped to England. His wife was a German citizen, so could not join him there. The only place on earth that would accept both of them without documentation was Shanghai.

In Shanghai, Charles was a filmmaker. Some of his footage can be seen in the documentary Port of Last Resort. Then the Japanese took over Shanghai, and Charles and Claire were moved to the Hongkew ghetto.

Charles attempted to learn Chinese. He loved the pictographic and ideographic aspects of it, but was frustrated by its complexity. He got the idea to make a 20th century ideographic language that could be produced with a modified typewriter. It would be easy to learn, and could become an international second language. He called it World Writing.

After the war, they moved to Sydney. They loved Australia. In his spare time, Charles haunted the libraries, reading on language and semantics, and wrote the first draft of his book. Unable to find a publisher, he self-published the first draft in three volumes.

Bliss, Charles Keisel. The Invention and Discovery that will Change Our Lives. Semantography Press: Sidney, 1970.

Bliss, Charles Keisel. Julian Huxley and Semantography. Semantography Press: Sidney, 1953.

Bliss, Charles Keisel. Semantography (Blissymbolics). Semantography Press: Sidney, 1965.

This is a reprint in one volume of International Semantography, with some new material and an index.

Bouissac, Paul (Editor). The Encyclopedia of Semiotics. Oxford University Press, 1998.

Blissymbolics signs depicting objects of the perceptual world are clearly what Mieczyslaw Wallis (1975) would have called "schemata" (outline) rather than "pleromata" (full) — that is, they depict relatively few perceptual properties of the objects in question. Martin Krampen (1988) observes rightly that there is a continuous scale from highly schematic to highly pleromatic pictures and that this scale is independent of the one going from high degrees of iconicity to total conventionality, as are the corresponding processes of historical change. It should be noted, however, that decreasing pictoriality does not necessarily mean decreasing iconicity.

In addition to mere depictions, Blissymbolics contains at least two types of iconic signs. It is possible, for instance, that the figures signifying man and woman, like similar figures employed to indicate men's and women's washrooms, do not so much depict trousers and skirts — just as some prehistoric petroglyphs do not show a penis and a vagina, respectively — but exemplify generally perceived properties of masculinity and femininity. Indeed, rounded, closed shapes as well as triangles pointing upward have been shown universally to indicate femininity, whereas the opposite shapes stand for masculinity. (Sonesson) [Pages 86-88]

I find it surprising that a well respected encyclopedia for a discipline which has its origin in the science of signs is almost completely devoid of illustrations. In this article, Sonesson has three columns in which to present Blissymbolics. He does not show any blissymbols. Instead we get a petroglyphic penis and vagina, respectively, and an argument between Wallis and Krampen, who I am sure are fine scholars, but I can't find any evidence that they are knowledgeable about Blissymbolics.

Crystal, David. The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language. Cambridge University Press, 1997.

Blissymbolics is a visual supplement to speech developed in the 1970s by Charles Bliss (1887-1985). Bliss, a chemical engineer, aimed to devise a set of symbols that could be "translated" into any language (as could the symbols of chemistry). Some of these symbols are illustrated below on a standard chart, along with the written words. The approach as been used with a variety of clinical populations, including the cerebral palsied, mentally handicapped, and autistic. [Page 282]

Bliss developed his system in the 1940s. The first edition of Semantography was published in 1949.

The illustration is not a standard chart. It does not contain blissymbols.

Dreyfuss, Henry. Symbol Sourcebook: An Authoritative Guide to International Graphic Symbols. John Wiley & Sons, 1972.

No book related to symbols would be complete without a bow to C. K. Bliss. In Semantography, a word conceived by his fertile imagination, he has developed a complete system which crosses all language barriers. The lines and curves of his symbols, reminiscent of actual objects and actions, are translatable into all tongues. Mr. Bliss is an intrepid pioneer; his words and ideas are proudly included in this book. [Page 23]

Dreyfuss generously gave Bliss two pages at the front of this book to introduce his symbol system. Bliss was not happy about this. He felt that the whole book should have been devoted to him.

He displays a good set of basic symbols and shows how they can be combined to make more. But he was careless in putting the display together. For example, he shows WATER and FIRE twice, and in the second appearance the symbols are flipped.

Bliss used the last half page to introduce his ethical science-religion, which caused some people to dismiss him as a crackpot.

Eco, Umberto. The Search for the Perfect Language. Blackwell, 1995.

There have been any number of proposals for visual alphabets, some quite recent. We might cite Bliss's Semantography, Eckhaardt's Safo, Janson's Picto and Ota's Locos Yet, as Nöth has observed, these are all cases of pasigraphy (which we will discuss in a later chapter) rather than true languages. Besides, they are based on natural languages. Many, moreover, are mere lexical codes without any grammatical component. [Page 175].

Semantography (Blissymbolics) does not belong to the class of visual alphabets that Eco is dismissing.

Frutiger, Adrian. Signs and Symbols. Watson-Guptill Publications, 1997.

The constantly revived notion of a return to a pictographic script for general purposes with the idea of overcoming the language boundaries, as proposed, for example, by the Australian C. K. Bliss in his "Semantography," seems to us to be completely unrealistic, in view of all the existing differences. [Page 342].

Hehner, Barbara (editor). Blissymbols for Use. Blissymbolics Communication Institute, 1980.

Blissymbols for Use is designed to meet the needs of a wide range of people who are interested in Blissymbols. The book offers the reader three approaches to gaining information about Blissymbols. It gives the reader the opportunity to find symbols and symbol meanings quickly; to learn more about a specific symbol; or to explore the semantic and structural relationships among symbols within the Blissymbolics system.

This is a beautiful book.

Helfman, Elizabeth. Signs and Symbols Around the World., 1967.

This delightful book has eight pages on Blissymbolics. This book led to the founding of the Blissymbolics Communication Institute in Toronto. Happily, it is now back in print.

Sadly, Elizabeth died on March 11, 2001.

Before she died, the she gave me permission to reprint the chapter containing Blissymbolics. Those pages can be seen here:

[page 149] [page 150] [page 151] [page 152] [page 153] [page 154] [page 155] [page 156] [page 157] [page 158] [page 159] [page 160] [page 161] [page 162] [page 163]

Helfman, Elizabeth. Blissymbolics: Speaking Without Speech. Elsevier-Dutton, 1981.

This book introduced me to Blissymbolics. It shows how Blissymbolics allowed severely handicapped children to communicate. It contains many examples of the children's symbol writing.

Horton, William. The Icon Book. John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1994.

Semantography is a system of visual writing developed by Charles Bliss. It consists of an "alphabet" of 100 fundamental symbols that are juxtaposed or superimposed to represent ever richer concepts. The fundamental set of symbols includes, besides numbers and mathematical symbols, simple geometric shapes. Many of these shapes are recognizable because they abstract familiar objects or are already used internationally.

In the 882 pages of his book, Bliss details how to combine these basic symbols to express thoughts that are more complex, more subtle, and more abstract.

Semantography shows how to represent many varied ideas by combining a few simple symbols. [Page 12]

Liungman, Carl G. Dictionary of Symbols. W. W. Norton, 1991.

Pages 73-74 contain a brief biography of Bliss and an introduction to his ideas.

Liungman, Carl G. Thought Signs. IOS Press, 1995.

Pages 632-633 contain a brief biography of Bliss and an introduction to his ideas.

McDonald, Eugene T. Teaching and Using Blissymbolics. Blissymbolics Communication Institute, 1980.

It is important to understand that Bliss did not anticipate that his symbols would be used by communicatively handicapped persons, including many who function at a low cognitive level. Adapting Blissymbolics, which was developed for mature and sophisticated language users, to the needs of communicatively handicapped persons has necessitated some revisions and additions to the symbols and symbol system. Such work was initiated at the Ontario Crippled Children's Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

McNaughton, Shirley. Communicating with Blissymbolics. Blissymbolics Communication Institute, 1985.

Blissymbolics has many characteristics that give it special advantages as an augmentative or alternative system of communication. It's a dynamic system, able to represent abstract concepts. The meaning of each symbol is learned in relation to the logic underlying the system as a whole. It allows for the production of varied types of utterances and is capable of continued growth. It is stimulating and rewarding not only for the user, but for those with whom the user communicates and those who provide instruction. In addition to permitting users to make their needs known and talk about objects in the environment, Blissymbolics enables users to express emotions, thoughts, and dreams. Users can explore concepts, produce new (combined) symbols and vary utterances to suit communication contexts. This makes for enjoyable language learning and the development of several styles of expression. Messages can takes the form of one-symbol and two-symbol utterances telegraphic or complete sentences, which follow the pattern of native language. The form selected is determined by the particular capabilities of the user and the total context in which the communication takes place.

Modley, Rudolf. Handbook of Pictorial Symbols. Dover, 1976.

Also outside the scope of this volume are experiential graphic languages, the two best known of which are Blissymbolics and LoCoS, although Jansen's Picto preceded them. [Page viii]

Modley introduced Elizabeth Helfman to Blissymbolics. Modley worked with Margaret Mead on the design of a glyphic international language.

Okrent, Arika. In the Land of Invented Languages. Spiegel&Grau, 2009.

And this changed their lives trendously. On my Toronto trip, I asked another of Shirley's former students how he used to communicate before he learned Blissymbolics. He typed out a one-word answer on his computer: "Kick."

Wood, Claudia and Jinny Storr and Peter A Reich. Blissymbol Reference Guide. Blissymbolics Communication Institute, 1992.

This is the successor to Blissymbols for Use. It lacks the charm and beauty of its predecessor.

To be continued.

Douglas Crockford