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Braille (// BRAYL, French: [bʁɑj]) is a tactile writing system used by people who are visually impaired. It can be read either on embossed paper or by using refreshable braille displays that connect to computers and smartphone devices. Braille can be written using a slate and stylus, a braille writer, an electronic braille notetaker or with the use of a computer connected to a braille embosser.
|See Category:French-ordered braille alphabets
|New York Point
|Brai (570), Braille
Braille is named after its creator, Louis Braille, a Frenchman who lost his sight as a result of a childhood accident. In 1824, at the age of fifteen, he developed the braille code based on the French alphabet as an improvement on night writing. He published his system, which subsequently included musical notation, in 1829. The second revision, published in 1837, was the first binary form of writing developed in the modern era.
Braille characters are formed using a combination of six raised dots arranged in a 3 × 2 matrix, called the braille cell. The number and arrangement of these dots distinguishes one character from another. Since the various braille alphabets originated as transcription codes for printed writing, the mappings (sets of character designations) vary from language to language, and even within one; in English Braille there are 3 levels of braille: uncontracted braille – a letter-by-letter transcription used for basic literacy; contracted braille – an addition of abbreviations and contractions used as a space-saving mechanism; and grade 3 – various non-standardized personal stenography that is less commonly used.
In addition to braille text (letters, punctuation, contractions), it is also possible to create embossed illustrations and graphs, with the lines either solid or made of series of dots, arrows, and bullets that are larger than braille dots. A full braille cell includes six raised dots arranged in two columns, each column having three dots. The dot positions are identified by numbers from one to six. There are 64 possible combinations, including no dots at all for a word space. Dot configurations can be used to represent a letter, digit, punctuation mark, or even a word.
Early braille education is crucial to literacy, education and employment among the blind. Despite the evolution of new technologies, including screen reader software that reads information aloud, braille provides blind people with access to spelling, punctuation and other aspects of written language less accessible through audio alone.
While some have suggested that audio-based technologies will decrease the need for braille, technological advancements such as braille displays have continued to make braille more accessible and available. Braille users highlight that braille remains as essential as print is to the sighted.
Braille was based on a tactile code, now known as night writing, developed by Charles Barbier. (The name "night writing" was later given to it when it was considered as a means for soldiers to communicate silently at night and without a light source, but Barbier's writings do not use this term and suggest that it was originally designed as a simpler form of writing and for the visually impaired.) In Barbier's system, sets of 12 embossed dots were used to encode 36 different sounds. Braille identified three major defects of the code: first, the symbols represented phonetic sounds and not letters of the alphabet – thus the code was unable to render the orthography of the words. Second, the 12-dot symbols could not easily fit beneath the pad of the reading finger. This required the reading finger to move in order to perceive the whole symbol, which slowed the reading process. (This was because Barbier's system was based only on the number of dots in each of two 6-dot columns but not the pattern of the dots.) Third, the code did not include symbols for numerals or punctuation. Braille's solution was to use 6-dot cells and to assign a specific pattern to each letter of the alphabet. Braille also developed symbols for representing numerals and punctuation.
At first, Braille was a one-to-one transliteration of the French alphabet, but soon various abbreviations (contractions) and even logograms were developed, creating a system much more like shorthand.
In English, some variations in the braille codes have traditionally existed among English-speaking countries. In 1991, work to standardize the braille codes used in the English-speaking world began. Unified English Braille (UEB) has been adopted in all seven member countries of the International Council on English Braille (ICEB) as well as Nigeria.
Braille is derived from the Latin alphabet, albeit indirectly. In Braille's original system, the dot patterns were assigned to letters according to their position within the alphabetic order of the French alphabet of the time, with accented letters and w sorted at the end.
Unlike print, which consists of mostly arbitrary symbols, the braille alphabet follows a logical sequence. The first ten letters of the alphabet, a–j, use the upper four dot positions: ⠁⠃⠉⠙⠑⠋⠛⠓⠊⠚ (black dots in the table below). These stand for the ten digits 1–9 and 0 in an alphabetic numeral system similar to Greek numerals (as well as derivations of it, including Hebrew numerals, Cyrillic numerals, Abjad numerals, also Hebrew gematria and Greek isopsephy).
Though the dots are assigned in no obvious order, the cells with the fewest dots are assigned to the first three letters (and lowest digits), abc = 123 (⠁⠃⠉), and to the three vowels in this part of the alphabet, aei (⠁⠑⠊), whereas the even digits, 4, 6, 8, 0 (⠙⠋⠓⠚), are corners/right angles.
The next ten letters, k–t, are identical to a–j respectively, apart from the addition of a dot at position 3 (red dots in the bottom left corner of the cell in the table below): ⠅⠇⠍⠝⠕⠏⠟⠗⠎⠞:
Derivation (colored dots) of the 26 braille letters of the basic Latin alphabet from the 10 numeric digits (black dots) a/1 b/2 c/3 d/4 e/5 f/6 g/7 h/8 i/9 j/0 k l m n o p q r s t u v x y z w
The next ten letters (the next "decade") are the same again, but with dots also at both position 3 and position 6 (green dots in the bottom row of the cell in the table above). Here w was initially left out as not being a part of the official French alphabet at the time of Braille's life; the French braille order is u v x y z ç é à è ù (⠥⠧⠭⠽⠵⠯⠿⠷⠮⠾).
The next ten letters, ending in w, are the same again, except that for this series position 6 (purple dot in the bottom right corner of the cell in the table above) is used without a dot at position 3. In French braille these are the letters â ê î ô û ë ï ü œ w (⠡⠣⠩⠹⠱⠫⠻⠳⠪⠺). W had been tacked onto the end of 39 letters of the French alphabet to accommodate English.
The a–j series shifted down by one dot space (⠂⠆⠒⠲⠢⠖⠶⠦⠔⠴) is used for punctuation. Letters a ⠁ and c ⠉, which only use dots in the top row, were shifted two places for the apostrophe and hyphen: ⠄⠤. (These are also the decade diacritics, at left in the table below, of the second and third decade.)
In addition, there are ten patterns that are based on the first two letters (⠁⠃) with their dots shifted to the right; these were assigned to non-French letters (ì ä ò ⠌⠜⠬), or serve non-letter functions: ⠈ (superscript; in English the accent mark), ⠘ (currency prefix), ⠨ (capital, in English the decimal point), ⠼ (number sign), ⠸ (emphasis mark), ⠐ (symbol prefix).
The first four decades are similar in respect that in those decades the decade dots are applied to the numeric sequence as a logical "inclusive OR" operation whereas the fifth decade applies a "shift down" operation to the numeric sequence.
Originally there had been nine decades. The fifth through ninth used dashes as well as dots, but proved to be impractical and were soon abandoned. These could be replaced with what we now know as the number sign (⠼), though that only caught on for the digits (old 5th decade → modern 1st decade). The dash occupying the top row of the original sixth decade was simply dropped, producing the modern fifth decade. (See 1829 braille.)
Historically, there have been three principles in assigning the values of a linear script (print) to Braille: Using Louis Braille's original French letter values; reassigning the braille letters according to the sort order of the print alphabet being transcribed; and reassigning the letters to improve the efficiency of writing in braille.
Under international consensus, most braille alphabets follow the French sorting order for the 26 letters of the basic Latin alphabet, and there have been attempts at unifying the letters beyond these 26 (see international braille), though differences remain, for example, in German Braille. This unification avoids the chaos of each nation reordering the braille code to match the sorting order of its print alphabet, as happened in Algerian Braille, where braille codes were numerically reassigned to match the order of the Arabic alphabet and bear little relation to the values used in other countries (compare modern Arabic Braille, which uses the French sorting order), and as happened in an early American version of English Braille, where the letters w, x, y, z were reassigned to match English alphabetical order. A convention sometimes seen for letters beyond the basic 26 is to exploit the physical symmetry of braille patterns iconically, for example, by assigning a reversed n to ñ or an inverted s to sh. (See Hungarian Braille and Bharati Braille, which do this to some extent.)
A third principle was to assign braille codes according to frequency, with the simplest patterns (quickest ones to write with a stylus) assigned to the most frequent letters of the alphabet. Such frequency-based alphabets were used in Germany and the United States in the 19th century (see American Braille), but with the invention of the braille typewriter their advantage disappeared, and none are attested in modern use – they had the disadvantage that the resulting small number of dots in a text interfered with following the alignment of the letters, and consequently made texts more difficult to read than Braille's more arbitrary letter assignment. Finally, there are braille scripts that do not order the codes numerically at all, such as Japanese Braille and Korean Braille, which are based on more abstract principles of syllable composition.
Texts are sometimes written in a script of eight dots per cell rather than six, enabling them to encode a greater number of symbols. (See Gardner–Salinas braille codes.) Luxembourgish Braille has adopted eight-dot cells for general use; for example, it adds a dot below each letter to derive its capital variant.
- Character encoding that mapped characters of the French alphabet to tuples of six bits (the dots).
- The physical representation of those six-bit characters with raised dots in a braille cell.
Within an individual cell, the dot positions are arranged in two columns of three positions. A raised dot can appear in any of the six positions, producing 64 (26) possible patterns, including one in which there are no raised dots. For reference purposes, a pattern is commonly described by listing the positions where dots are raised, the positions being universally numbered, from top to bottom, as 1 to 3 on the left and 4 to 6 on the right. For example, dot pattern 1-3-4 describes a cell with three dots raised, at the top and bottom in the left column and at the top of the right column: that is, the letter ⠍ m. The lines of horizontal braille text are separated by a space, much like visible printed text, so that the dots of one line can be differentiated from the braille text above and below. Different assignments of braille codes (or code pages) are used to map the character sets of different printed scripts to the six-bit cells. Braille assignments have also been created for mathematical and musical notation. However, because the six-dot braille cell allows only 64 (26) patterns, including space, the characters of a braille script commonly have multiple values, depending on their context. That is, character mapping between print and braille is not one-to-one. For example, the character ⠙ corresponds in print to both the letter d and the digit 4.
In addition to simple encoding, many braille alphabets use contractions to reduce the size of braille texts and to increase reading speed. (See Contracted braille.)
Braille may be produced by hand using a slate and stylus in which each dot is created from the back of the page, writing in mirror image, or it may be produced on a braille typewriter or Perkins Brailler, or an electronic Brailler or braille notetaker. Braille users with access to smartphones may also activate the on-screen braille input keyboard, to type braille symbols on to their device by placing their fingers on to the screen according to the dot configuration of the symbols they wish to form. These symbols are automatically translated into print on the screen. The different tools that exist for writing braille allow the braille user to select the method that is best for a given task. For example, the slate and stylus is a portable writing tool, much like the pen and paper for the sighted. Errors can be erased using a braille eraser or can be overwritten with all six dots (⠿). Interpoint refers to braille printing that is offset, so that the paper can be embossed on both sides, with the dots on one side appearing between the divots that form the dots on the other.
Braille has been extended to an 8-dot code, particularly for use with braille embossers and refreshable braille displays. In 8-dot braille the additional dots are added at the bottom of the cell, giving a matrix 4 dots high by 2 dots wide. The additional dots are given the numbers 7 (for the lower-left dot) and 8 (for the lower-right dot). Eight-dot braille has the advantages that the case of an individual letter is directly coded in the cell containing the letter and that all the printable ASCII characters can be represented in a single cell. All 256 (28) possible combinations of 8 dots are encoded by the Unicode standard. Braille with six dots is frequently stored as Braille ASCII.
The first 25 braille letters, up through the first half of the 3rd decade, transcribe a–z (skipping w). In English Braille, the rest of that decade is rounded out with the ligatures and, for, of, the, and with. Omitting dot 3 from these forms the 4th decade, the ligatures ch, gh, sh, th, wh, ed, er, ou, ow and the letter w.
(See English Braille.)
Various formatting marks affect the values of the letters that follow them. They have no direct equivalent in print. The most important in English Braille are:
That is, ⠠⠁ is read as capital 'A', and ⠼⠁ as the digit '1'.
Basic punctuation marks in English Braille include:
⠦ is both the question mark and the opening quotation mark. Its reading depends on whether it occurs before a word or after.
⠶ is used for both opening and closing parentheses. Its placement relative to spaces and other characters determines its interpretation.
Punctuation varies from language to language. For example, French Braille uses ⠢ for its question mark and swaps the quotation marks and parentheses (to ⠶ and ⠦⠴); it uses the period (⠲) for the decimal point, as in print, and the decimal point (⠨) to mark capitalization.
Braille contractions are words and affixes that are shortened so that they take up fewer cells. In English Braille, for example, the word afternoon is written with just three letters, ⠁⠋⠝ ⟨afn⟩, much like stenoscript. There are also several abbreviation marks that create what are effectively logograms. The most common of these is dot 5, which combines with the first letter of words. With the letter ⠍ m, the resulting word is ⠐⠍ mother. There are also ligatures ("contracted" letters), which are single letters in braille but correspond to more than one letter in print. The letter ⠯ and, for example, is used to write words with the sequence a-n-d in them, such as ⠓⠯ hand.
Most braille embossers support between 34 and 40 cells per line, and 25 lines per page.
A manually operated Perkins braille typewriter supports a maximum of 42 cells per line (its margins are adjustable), and typical paper allows 25 lines per page.
A large interlining Stainsby has 36 cells per line and 18 lines per page.
An A4-sized Marburg braille frame, which allows interpoint braille (dots on both sides of the page, offset so they do not interfere with each other), has 30 cells per line and 27 lines per page.
Braille writing machine
A Braille writing machine is a typewriter with six keys that allows the user to write braille on a regular hard copy page.
The Stainsby Brailler, developed by Henry Stainsby in 1903, is a mechanical writer with a sliding carriage that moves over an aluminium plate as it embosses Braille characters. An improved version was introduced around 1933.
Braille printers or embosser were produced in the 1950s. In 1960 Robert Mann, a teacher in MIT, wrote DOTSYS, a software that allowed automatic braille translation, and another group created an embossing device called "M.I.T. Braillemboss". The Mitre Corporation team of Robert Gildea, Jonathan Millen, Reid Gerhart and Joseph Sullivan (now president of Duxbury Systems) developed DOTSYS III, the first braille translator written in a portable programming language. DOTSYS III was developed for the Atlanta Public Schools as a public domain program.
In 1991 Ernest Bate developed the Mountbatten Brailler, an electronic machine used to type braille on braille paper, giving it a number of additional features such as word processing, audio feedback and embossing. This version was improved in 2008 with a quiet writer that had an erase key.
In 2011 David S. Morgan produced the first SMART Brailler machine, with added text to speech function and allowed digital capture of data entered.
Braille is traditionally read in hardcopy form, such as with paper books written in braille, documents produced in paper braille (such as restaurant menus), and braille labels or public signage. It can also be read on a refreshable braille display either as a stand-alone electronic device or connected to a computer or smartphone. Refreshable braille displays convert what is visually shown on a computer or smartphone screen into braille through a series of pins that rise and fall to form braille symbols. Currently more than 1% of all printed books have been translated into hardcopy braille.
The fastest braille readers apply a light touch and read braille with two hands, although reading braille with one hand is also possible. Although the finger can read only one braille character at a time, the brain chunks braille at a higher level, processing words a digraph, root or suffix at a time. The processing largely takes place in the visual cortex.