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Symbol writing project

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Joined: Nov 03, 2005
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Posted Feb 16, 2005 at 7:55:50 AM
Subject: Symbol writing project


My name is Oliver Cox, I have worked with people with Learning Difficulties for 6 years. I have used software like Clicker and Widget and found them very effective. I say very effective but in reality, only when I could get access to a copy. The user license for these programs seem unreasably high, and small charities, community groups and individuals often have trouble affording one license let alone one for all those who need access to such software.

Anyway after some ranting and raving about what to me seams like commercial opportunism, I have decided to develop a free solution for creating accessible documents.

However, although in my head I am all things great, in the real world I am but a simple man. Heres where you can help, I would like to find a symbol database that allows you to ditribute it freely. My research would suggest that there is not one. Widget does say that will give permission for most uses of there symbols but given the nature of this project they will not aggree in this case.

I am determined to see this through and will consider developing a new datadase if an existing one is not available. I don't however wish to reinvent the wheel and would really rarther use an existing resource. The idea is to first produce something that will generate word to symbol matching and exand from there. Thus allowing charities and community groups to produce accessible letters, leaflets etc....

As an example, I have worked recently with an advocacy charity who will often recieve letters from clients in symbol format. This is great as it gives control of the communication to the client and not thier carer. However the letters of response are sent back in word format meaning that some clients will need the support of thier carer in order to read the document. The charity says it just canot afford the sofware, there advocates often work from home and thus they would need several licenses. I canot believe that there is no free solution in this case, but canot find one. I think it's about time this was rectified and so do those I talk to.

If anyone has any suggestions or knows of any other forums with discussions that would be of help, please email me or reply to this post.

If you have any questions about this project, email me or reply to this post.

I am in the process of setting up a online community to support this project and will post details as and when.

Thankyou for reading this post and thanks to anyone who contributes.

Oliver Cox

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Joined Jun 13, 2003
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Posted:Feb 16, 2005 10:42:40 AM


I had to look up Widget software. Although the name symbol language is proper and fitting, I had never heard it called that. I have heard it called "rebus language" or "rebus symbols."

I can not help you. I don't personally use rebus and and not aware of what is available. I just wanted to post so that others who know this as rebus might be able to help.

Maybe rebus vs symbol is a regenal thing?

You might want to contact Richard, the webmaster at ldresources.com He is very involved with assisted technoldge and generally is very helpful.

Good luck to you. This sounds like an excellant project.


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Posted:Feb 17, 2005 2:06:33 AM

Oliver -- how large is your symbol set, ie how many symbols are you planning to use?

If you have a small number of symbols, no more than 100 or at most 200, this can provide a method of communication that is feasible but limited.

If you go over 200 symbols, you have just re-invented Egyptian hieroglyphics or Chinese pictograms.

It is a fact of history, proven over and over again, that symbolic/hieroglyhic/pictographic writing systems are deeply attractive to human thinking styles, and are terribly inefficient and impossible to manage once the language gains any complexity.

It becomes hard or impossible to memorize all the symbols, the symbols *have to* be more complex and detailed so you can tell the hundreds of them apart, and you have just re-invented all the dificulties of teaching reading. PLUS, using symbols instead of an alphabet, every time you add a new word or a new concept, you add a new different symbol so the set just grows and grows, as does the difficulty of reading it.
You may think you have avoided this problem by using rebus symbols for sounds -- well, the Egyptians and Babylonians did that four thousand years ago and the Chinese have been doing it for a few thousand years, and no, it just adds a double layer of complexity, having to learn whether an eye means "I" or whether it means vision, and sometimes extra symbols are added for that problem making the whole system even more cumbersone.

In English with a very imperfect alphabetic system we expect children to learn to read in two to three years, to read thousands of words, and to teach themselves new words independently. In more consistently spelled languages all the basics are taught in one year and reviewed in a second, and reading is mastered.
In contrast, symbolic languages such as Chinese and Egyptian hieroglyphics take/took ten years *just* to attain reading mastery; and people who do not practice all the time can forget how to read. Students are entirely dependent on the teacher to learn anything new.

Again, if you limit the number of symbols strictly, a useful limited system can be set up.
Before you work on inventing a new system of reading and writing, it would be a good idea to do some library research on what has been done and how it works.

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Joined May 25, 2018
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Posted:Feb 17, 2005 6:31:25 AM


Thanks for your posts,

bgb: Your right Widget does use a Rebus symbol set developed by Widget Software LTD. There are two more symbol sets I am familiar with:-

PCS develop by Meyer-Johnson LTD.

Makaton- developed by Makaton Vocabulary Development Project.

All three of these have commercial grade copyright.

You say you do not use Rebus, is this because you use something else or are not involved in this side of things?

Victoria: With the aim of the project being first to provide a method of writing word to symbol letters and leaflets ect. The symbol set would need to be fairly large. That's why an existing symbol set is the key here, not only would a new set be complicated to develop but it would take years to develop peoples understanding of the symbols and concepts.

Do I take it that you would be interested in principle of allowing for the free use of your symbol set?. If using an established set is going to be impossible I would plan to set up a community to develop one, in this case a small symbol set with simple concepts would be a great platform upon which we could develop.

Your advice of reading is of course sound, I have studied communication for 5 years now and learn more each day, with every conversation, letter I write or book I read. I would be really interested as to whether you have any suggested reading in order to understand communicating with symbols better?

I am currently looking at how much the three symbol sets would cost to use in the way I plan. And then look at whether I could get any funding from an established charity. Given that one license for the entire Makaton database would be around £200, (I don't no what that is in dollars but quite a bit) I am not sure this will be possible. If there is a very rich person out there who thinks this project is worth funding let me know hey!

I take from the constructive nature of your posts that this project is something you consider worth while?

Thankyou both again for your posts


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Joined Jun 13, 2003
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Posted:Feb 17, 2005 10:09:49 AM

Hello Oliver.

I'm not involved in this type of thing.

I still see if as useful though and hope you get something off the ground.


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