I try to explain braille, sort of.

This started from a Facebook post where I posted a bunch of stuff in pseudo-contracted braille, i.e. /& = (st sign)(and), ‘stand’. So I decided to try to explain how braille works, kind of. I figured it deserves a more permanent home, so here it is.

OK, more braille, but for you sighties this time! The basic braille cell looks like this. I’m using the [ and ] to give space, ignore them and focus on what’s inside of them.

[..]
[..]
[..]

Or:

[14]
[25]
[36]

So now we can talk about dots like so:

[. ]
[ ]
[ ]

That is dot 1, or the letter ‘a’. If you want to make that an ‘A’, capital ‘a’, it looks like this:

[ ][. ]
[ ][ ]
[ ][ ]
[ .]

That represents two cells:

[..][..]
[..][..]
[..][..]

So you can see that in the first cell we have dot 6, which is the capital letter sign, and in the second cell we have dot 1, the ‘a’. Now suppose you want to make the number 1. There are two ways of doing this. Both start with the number sign:

[ .]
[ .]
[..]

Now we can either use the letter ‘a’, or we can use Nemeth code, which is for math. The numbers 1-0 are the first ten letters, a-j, but lowered by one dot. So instead of being dot 1, it is now dot 2, like so, first using the normal letter ‘a’:

[ .][. ]
[ .][ ]
[,,][ ]

Now using Nemeth code:

[ .][ ]
[ .][. ]
[..][ ]

Are you confused yet? I sure as hell hope not because we’re nowhere near done. Dot 2 is also the comma. You can go look up the braille alphabet and such on your own, now that you should have the basic idea, because we’re moving on to grades now. You know dot 2 is a comma normally because if it’s a number, it should have a number sign before it or be embedded in a number, e.g.:

[ .][ ][ ]
[ .][. ][.]
[..][. ][ ]

That’s #21. OK, so, grade I braille is every single thing written out. All the letters are written one by one, and so on. Grade II has contractions. Some of these are single letters, so: b=but, c=can, d=do, e=every, f=from, g=go, h=have, j=just, k=knowledge, l=like, m=more, n=not, p=people, q=quite, r=rather, s=so, t=that, u=us, v=very, w=will, x=it, y=you, z=as. Some of them are double letters, e.g. ab=about, bl=blind, cd=could, ll=little, yr=your. Some are triple letters, brl=braille, yrf=yourself.

Hey you haven’t passed out have you? Well wake the hell up, we’re still not done! Remember when I said that dot 2 could be a one in some contexts or a comma in others? Yeah well, take a look at this:

[ .][ ]
[. ][. ]
[. ][ ]

Notice in the first cell we have dots 2-3-4. That’s the letter ‘s’. Notice in the second cell we have dot 2. So that’s ‘s,’, right? Nope. In grade II dot 2 is the contraction for ‘ea’, although you typically don’t use it at the end of a word like that to avoid ‘s,,’, i.e. is it ‘sea,’ or an ‘s’ followed by two commas? However, this is perfectly fine.

[ .][ ][ .][ ]
[. ][. ][..][. ]
[. ][ ][. ][ ]

So in the first cell, dots 2-3-4, our good buddy ‘s’. In the second cell dot 2. In the third cell, dots 2-3-4-5 or ‘t’, and in the fourth cell, dot 2 again. That’s ‘seat,’. You know one is ‘ea’ and the other is a comma because one is embedded in a word and the other has a space after it. Now try to work this one out for yourself, because I’m sick of keeping track of the graphics. Dot 5 followed by an ‘s’ is the contraction for ‘some’. Here’s one more. You remember the ‘2’ from our Nemeth code example of #21 above, so:

[ ][ .]
[. ][ ]
[. ][..] [

OK, so that’s 2 followed by something, right? Oh you poor poor fools, of course it isn’t! If that had a number sign before it, it would be ‘2+’. But since it doesn’t, we know we’re in grade II. So that first cell is the contraction for ‘be’, so 2c=because, and the thing in the second cell, dots 3-4-6, is the contraction for -ing, thus, ‘being’.

Enjoy your simple simple alphabet! And yes, I can read that too, whenever you write it plain and don’t try to smother it to death under ornamentation. I had to learn it and grade I braille at the same time, when I was five. As soon as I got good enough at that, I pretty much started learning grade II right away. Because yes, everything pretty much has to be fifteen times more complicated when you’re blind.

So whenever you think we’re amazing superheroes because we’re out walking the streets, you’re wrong. We don’t have twelve extra senses, well you mortals don’t anyway. We’re superheroes because we have to start out by learning at least three alphabets and two number systems, (upper and lower case print, print numbers, and letters and numbers in braille), and then move on to a crazed system of what is, essentially, shorthand that’s so complicated it makes most sighted people weep. And I haven’t even gotten into braille on both sides of a page, which even those of you who can read braille by sight can’t really read, because you can’t tell the sticky outy dots on one side of the page from the holes that make the sticky outy dots on the other side of the page.

Most people think braille is like some sort of alternative alphabet or maybe a code, but it’s kind of both of those things slammed together. It’s really a lot closer to a language than an alphabet, at least the way it works in America, I can’t speak to other braille systems in use around the world. There’s also a grade III braille to try to save even more space, with even more contractions, but I don’t know that one. I’m pretty sure one of the contractions is dot 5 followed by the letter ‘b’ for better, as opposed to grade II’s bett(er sign).

I’ve tried to give you a little bit of the flavor of it, and I’m sure there’s more stuff on the net with way better stuff than my horrible ASCII graphics, if you’re curious enough to poke around at it a little more. In fact I encourage you to at least look up some stuff, because you’ll probably need to in order to come back and read this in a way that makes sense. I guess what I’m saying is I didn’t really do the best job of it, but hey, cd y d gd at x & make p l x?

& =
[..]
[. ]
[..]

G d brl, h yrf a ll fun!

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