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RE: multilingual braille question

From: Joe Sullivan <joe@duxsys.com>
Date: Fri, 13 Nov 1998 10:10:24 -0500
To: "'WAI IG <w3c-wai-ig@w3.org>'" <w3c-wai-ig@w3.org>
Yes, Charles McCathieNevile's understanding is correct in that braille in many
(though not all) languages is abbreviated, and that the abbreviation system
varies quite naturally from language to language according to their common
letter groupings, pronunciation patterns and such.  Moreover, the appropriate
and customary braille treatment is not only a function of language but also of
context.  For instance, French braille in France is a little different from French
braille in Quebec, rather different again from French as done by the British
for English-speaking French students, and as you might guess the Americans
do it still a fourth way.  The result is that ambiguity is certainly possible,
though I would have to doubt that that fact commonly leads to a lot of confusion because
the human brain is wonderfully capable of sorting out, from the semantic
context, which of several theoretical possibilities actually makes sense in the
current instance.  You don't actually have to mix several languages to encounter
this phenomenon.  For example, in regular contracted English braille, the slash or stroke (/)
has the same braille representation as the letter-group "st".  The creates a
theoretical ambiguity, and I have indeed heard stories where the ambiguity
caused the reader trouble -- primarily when unfamiliar proper names, such as
for products or companies, were involved.  But in the overwhelming majority
of instances, it's obvious that "and/or" makes sense and "andstor" doesn't.
(But notice, special care would be needed to render that last sentence
intelligibly in braille.)  Present work in braille code design is in the direction
of removing these kinds of ambiguities, mostly because they can cause
problems in the context of technical notation.  See the work by the
Internation Council on English Braille towards a Unified Braille Code (UBC)
for English at


and note in particular that the UBC project is still debating the point as to whether
language switches should have an explicit signal in braille.
Received on Friday, 13 November 1998 10:11:01 UTC

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