I see people mention it on social networks like Twitter & Facebook all the time. “Oh yeah, that lady is blind so she must use Braille language.” Or, “I want to learn the language of Braille.” It’s a common misconception amongst sighted people worldwide.
The fact of the matter is that Braille is not it’s own language. It’s actually a coded system for reading & writing that can be transcribed into many different languages and doesn’t require the use of sight. English, Spanish, French, Chinese, German, Arabic and Italian are just a few of the languages that have their own Braille system variations.
Sometimes I think it would make a lot more sense if there was a uniform Braille code that everyone could read regardless of what language they speak. Unfortunately that’s not really possible due to the numerous differences in alphabets and language complexities.
Throughout history there’s been several widely-accepted ways of transcribing Braille. The first of which was the acceptance of an international agreement (International Congress on Work for the Blind 1878) calling for countries to conform the best they could to the 26-letter French alphabet. The agreement was meant to be followed by countries whose languages where Latin-based. However, the idea didn’t work out too well because it never accounted for the languages that had an alphabet with more than 26 letters.
Attempts have been made at creating uniformity for letters beyond 26. Countries have worked together for hundreds of years to benefit their blind populations with a uniform Braille system but it seems as though no matter what they do there will always be slight differences. Total success is proving to be elusive.
On the bright side, at least they are trying!
Here in the USA; the Braille Authority of North America (BANA) is considered the top authority when it comes to promoting and facilitating the use, teaching, and productions of Braille. They are holding their fall 2012 meeting starting this Friday, November 2nd and running through the 4th. One of the main objectives during the meeting will be for members to take a vote that may very will set the course for the future of Braille code in the United States.
The direction under consideration is the adoption of Unified English Braille (UEB) while maintaining Nemeth Code for technical materials. The idea with UEB is to create a relatively uniform Braille code for all English-speaking countries. UEB would bring a lot of small changes to what Braille readers have become accustomed to here in America but I believe over time it’ll bring a hogher level of ease to English Braille readers all over the world. This way the same Braille document could be read by people whether they are in New York, London, Melbourne, Vancouver or Dublin.
If UEB is adopted by BANA with a majority vote, it will still be years for the changes to take full effect. Chances are Braille producers like us here at Braille Works will begin to implement UEB in drips & drabs rather than making a switch all at once. Reason being; a lot of end-user readers will have to learn the new changes UEB will bring before they are able to read it with full understanding. Eventually UEB would become the standard Braille system for all countries whose official language is English.
Here’s some more background info on Braille and how it’s produced:
Braille Transcribingis the process of converting printed text to Braille. This is often referred to as translation by many people but the term translation has the misleading connotation that Braille is a different language rather than merely a different system of reading and writing.
Braille is a technique for enabling blind and visually impaired people to read and write. Refined in the late 1800′s by Louis Braille, Braille was originally developed by a French army captain to enable officers to read battle commands in the dark without the aid of candle light.
Each Braille character or “cell” is made up of 6 dot positions, arranged in a rectangle comprising 2 columns of 3 dots each. A dot may be raised at any of the 6 positions, or any combination. There are a total of 64 combinations in all, counting the space in which no dots are raised.
Dot height, cell size and cell spacing are always uniform no matter what language is being trancribed into Braille. The literary Braille code for English and many other languages employ contractions that substitute shorter sequences for the full spelling of commonly used words. For example, “the” is usually transcribed as just one character in Braille. When contractions are used, the Braille code is referred to as “Grade 2″ in contrast to “Grade 1″ where all the words are spelled out letter-for-letter.
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