Procedure for writing words, music and plain-song using dots for the use of the blind and made available to them by L. Braille, Instructor at the Royal Institution Of Blind Youth.
Paris, 1829

Preface

The ease with which one can learn and put into practice the ingenious procedure for writing with dots, invented by Mr. Barbier especially for the blind, would have been more than enough reason for us to dispense with publishing an alternative procedure, if we hadn’t felt the need for a writing system in which the signs take less room than those of Mr. Barbier, were of sufficient number to represent all the characters in ordinary writing, and could be applied to music and plainsong.

In the procedure described in this work we have in mind avoiding the faults and obtaining the needed advantages: two of our signs take exactly the same amount of space as one of Mr. Barbier’s. We have more signs than are needed to represented simple and accented letters, punctuation signs, numbers and algebraic signs, and finally we have applied this procedure to writing music and plain song.

At the end of this work is a type of stenographic system in which twenty signs suffice for writing every word in the French language.

Three of these signs take exactly the same amount of space as one of Mr. Barbier’s.

If we have made much of the advantages of our procedure over that of Mr. Barbier, we must say in his honor that it is to his procedure that we owe the germ of the idea of our own.

Dotted writing for the use of the blind

This procedure depends on familiarity with ten signs that result from combining two columns, each composed of one or two dots, arranged parallel to each other and placed vertically on the paper.

We will call the first column the one that is to the left of the other, and the second column the one that is to the right of the first.

We will call the upper position in a column or a sign the part of that column or sign that is furthest from the writer or reader, and we will call the lower position that which is the closest.

Each sign is composed essentially of two columns of dots or the spaces they would occupy. If in the explanation that we are about to provide of each sign we sometimes speak only of one column or of a part of a column that is because the column or the part of the column of which we say nothing may remain empty.

Here is how to form the ten fundamental signs.*

The first sign consists of a dot placed in the upper position of the first column; the second by a dot in each position of the first column; the third, by a dot in the upper position of each column; the fourth, by a dot in the upper position of the first column and both positions of the second column; the fifth, by a dot in upper position of the first column and another in the lower position of the second column; the sixth, by a dot in each position of the first column and another in the upper position of the second column; the seventh, by a dot in each position of both columns; the eighth, by a dot in each position of the first column and another in the lower position of the second column; the ninth, by a dot in the lower position of the first column and another in the upper position in the second column; the tenth, by a dot in the lower position of the first column and another in each position of the second column. Look at the following table.

[Here Braille provides a graphic with each of the ten signs, numbered 1 through 10. Braille readers will recognize these as the first ten letters of the alphabet, a through j]

When combining the signs that we have just illustrated in the table with one or two dots, or a dash, we get nine series of signs each of which is composed of the ten fundamental signs with one of these three things added to it. Here is how to create the nine series.

The first series is composed of the ten fundamental signs; the second is denoted by a dot placed below the lower position of the first column of each sign; the third by a dot placed below the lower position of each column; the fourth by a dot placed below the lower position of the second column. The signs of the fifth series require a special explanation; we will explain this series after the final four. The sixth series is composed of a dash placed below the lower position of each sign; the seventh by a dash placed below the upper position of each sign. It should be evident that for the first and the third fundamental signs which are supposed to be part of the first and third signs of this and the following series, it will be necessary to substitute for the first, a sign formed by a dot in lower position of the first column, and for the third, a sign formed by a dot placed in the lower position of each column. The eighth series is marked by a dash placed between the two parts of each sign; the ninth by a dash placed below each sign of the fifth series.

The signs of the fifth series rest on a principle foreign to the rest of the procedure; here is how to form each of these signs.

The first is represented by a dash placed in the upper position of the sign; the second by a dash in the upper position of the sign and another dash in the lower position of the same sign; the third, by a dash in the upper position of the sign and a dot in the lower position of the first column; the fourth, by a dash in the upper position of the sign and a dot in the lower position of each column; the fifth, by a dash in the upper position of the sign and dot in the lower position of the second column; the sixth, by a dot in the upper position of the first column and a dash in the lower position of the sign; the seventh, by a dot in the upper position of each column and a dash in the lower position of the sign; the eighth, by a dot in the upper position of the second column and a dash in the lower position of the sign; the ninth, by a dot in the upper position of the second column; the tenth, by a dot in each position in the second column.**

Here is the explanation of the six supplementary signs; the first of these signs is marked by a dot below the first column; the second by a dot below each column; the third by a dot in each position in the second column and a dot below the first column; the fourth, by a dot placed in each position of the second column and another below each column; the fifth, by a dash in the upper position of the sign and a dot below the second column; the sixth, by a dash in the upper position of the sign and a dot in each position of the second column.

The dash that enters into the composition of the five final series can present some difficulty to many of those who will study this procedure; we are going to indicate another way of representing the signs of this series.

The fourth supplementary sign has the property of the property of raising to four degrees the series of the sign it precedes; thus if the fourth supplementary sign is found before the second sign of the third series, it becomes the second sign of the seventh.

We are going to offer a table of the signs of the letters, in which each letter is found below the sign that represents it.

See the attached table.

[Here Braille presents a graphic “Table of the signs of the nine series, with the letters, the numbers, the punctuation signs and the algebraic signs that correspond to them”]

We have also applied this procedure to writing music, by substituting for the letters and characters employed in the system used in the Institution for Blind Youth, the signs that correspond to them in the six first series of the preceding tables.

We have only changed the way of indicating the durations and the accidental notes.

The durations, to wit: the whole note, the half note, the quarter note, the eighth note, the sixteenth, the thirty-second, and the sixty-fourth note, are represented by the first seven signs of the seventh series, which is to say that the first sign of the series indicate the whole note, the second the half note, and so on.

The sharp is represented by the eighth sign of the seventh series; the flat by the ninth sign of this series and the natural by the tenth.

We have further simplified this procedure for less complicated music; such as plainsong.

The notes are represented by the ten signs of the first series of the preceding table, and by the ninth and tenth sign of the fifth series.

The durations are indicated in this way***: the whole note by a dash placed above the sign that represents the note; the dotted whole note, by a dash between the two parts of the sign (for notes affected by one of these durations one makes the substitution indicated for the first and the third of the seventh and the eighth series; and in place of the eleventh sign, one puts a dot placed at the lower part of the second column). The half note is represented by an empty place below the sign; the dotted half note, by a dash below the sign; the quarter-note, by a dot below the first column; the dotted quarter-note by a dot below each column; the eighth note by a dot below the second column.

Clefs in plainsong are indicated as follows: the alto clef, by the fifth sign of the fifth series; the bass clef, by the sixth sign of this series; the treble clef, by the seventh; and the tenor clef, the eighth sign of the same series.

The number of sharps or flats that should be at the clef are indicated by one of the signs of the fifth series followed by one of the letters “d” or “b”, depending on whether one wishes to indicate sharps or flats.

One indicates alteration of a note in the following manner: the note made sharp is preceded by a sign formed by a dot placed in the lower part of the second column that forms each sign; a flat is preceded by a sign formed by a dot placed in the lower part of each of the columns that form a sign; and a natural is preceded by a sign formed by a dash placed in the lower part of the sign.

The repeat sign is indicated by the first supplementary sign; and the star by the second supplementary sign.

One sees from all that we have said that the same sign can represent a letter, a musical note and a note in plain song; to avoid the confusion that can result from the triple use of each sign, one can precede words with the first sign of the ninth series; music with the second sign; and plain song, with the third sign of this same series. It will also be good to put at the start of each page the sign of which of the three things are found there.

Reading and writing according to this procedure require two distinct types of practice; since in making dots on paper they appear on the other side; and if for example one writes two signs such that the first is to the right of the second, it would be necessary to turn the paper over to see what had been written; the sign which in being written, was to the right of the other, will be found then at the left, and the first column of each sign, which was to the left of the second, will be found to the right.

To read from left to right it will be necessary therefore to write from right to left, and so that the first column of each sign is to the left of the second while reading, it will be necessary to place it to the right while writing.

The grated board which serves us for writing differs from that of Mr. Barbier only in that his has six concave lines on the surface, while ours has but three.

Place the board in a horizontal direction in relation to the writer; then place the paper between this board and the grating which covers it in such a manner that if the paper is wider than the board, the excess faces the writer.

The interior of each rectangle of the grating can enclose one sign: the first column of the sign is made by sliding the stylus along the right side of the rectangle, and the second is made by sliding the stylus along the left side of the same rectangle. The first sign is made in the rectangle that is the furthest right on the board; the second is made in the rectangle that is to the left of the first; the third in the rectangle to the left of the second, and so on.

When the stylus has thus passed through all the rectangles of the grating, the first line is finished; one then moves the paper toward the upper part of the board, so that the written line is no longer between the board and the grating, and one writes the second line like the first; it is the same for each of the others.

An alternative explanation of the ten fundamental signs:

If we represent by “a” the dot in the upper position of the first column; by “b,” the dot in the lower position of the same column; by “c,” the dot in the upper position of the second column; by “d,” the dot in the lower position of the same column, each sign will be formed as in the following table.

1 a
2 ab
3 ac
4 acd
5 ad
6 abc
7 abcd
8 abd
9 bc
10 bcd

An alternative explanation of the signs of the fifth series:

If we represent each of the dots by one of the letters a, b, c, d, and if we represent by “f”, a dash at the top of the sign and, by “g,” a dash at the bottom of the sign: each sign of the fifth series will be formed in the following table.

1 f
2 fg
3 fb
4 fbd
5 fd
6 ag
7 acg
8 cg
9 c
10 cd

Stenographic system

The vowels and consonants that form words in the French language may be represented by twenty signs provided one uses the same character to indicate sounds that are almost the same, such as “u” and “ou”; and the consonants that are little different, such as “b” and “p.”

The letters that represent these vowels and consonants are indicated by the signs of the first and fifth series.
See the following table

[Here Braille aligns the ten signs of the first series with the vowel sounds in French (not the letters but the sounds): a; é or è; i; o; u or ou; an; in or un; on; eu; oi. He then aligns the ten signs of the fifth series with the sounds of the consonants: b or p; d or t; g or q; j or ch; v or f; z or s; l; m; n; r]
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*See the end of this work for an alternative explanation of the ten fundamental signs.

**See another explanation of the signs of the fifth series at the end of this work.

***Although in plainsong the durations do not carry the same name as in ordinary music, and although in these two things they do not correspond exactly, we have nonetheless made use of the terms used in music for these durations; the durations of plainsong are: the double square which corresponds to the whole note; the square, to the half-note; the long, to the dotted half note or the dotted quarter note, the breve with no tail, to the quarter note; and the breve with tail, to the eighth note.


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