04 April 2010

Some tricks that Blissymbolics misses

Very short introduction to Blissymbolics

Blissymbolics is a visual language. It consists of stylized ideograms. It looks like this:

  • http://www.blissymbolics.us/phraseguide_images/bph013.gif
  • http://www.blissymbolics.us/phraseguide_images/bph004a.gif

Introducing it is not my point, so here endeth the short introduction. For more info see http://www.blissymbolics.us/ or http://www.blissymbolics.org/WebTraining/NewResourceHTMLCSS/index.php

Some neat tricks that Blissymbolics misses

As a conlanger, I noticed a few opportunities that Blissymbolics misses.


Blissymbolics personal pronouns come in the typical 3 flavors, {first, second, and third} person times {singular and plural}. The first, second, and third persons are denoted by the subscripts "1", "2", and "3" respectively.

But why stop at 3? They haven't run out of numerals. How easy it would have been to provide 6 additional placeholder pronouns.

Why would I want such a thing? Consider this ambiguous English phrase from Handel's Messiah:

He trusted in him that he would deliver him; let him deliver him if he
delight in him.

How much less ambiguous it could be if only a fourth-person pronoun were allowed.

Gapping and more expressive relativizers

For relativizers, Blissymbolics has just one symbol (double-quote marks)(Relativizers are words that make a sentential into a restrictive clause with a gap, eg "that" in "The house that Jack built", also "which", "who", "where", "when"). That feels a bit underexpressive.

With such a visual language, it seems easy to indicate the relativized gap explicitly. Perhaps it could build on the previous idea and annotate the personal pronouns and their variants with a reserved symbol. I would suggest "?" but I understand it is already taken by the WH-words, which are almost literal translations of English WH-words.

Connecting verbs to their arguments

I'm not suggesting that little lines must be drawn between each verb and all of its arguments. But with such a visual language, it's too bad there is no provision at all for explicitly indicating the connection of a verb and its arguments. Sometimes that would be convenient.


Blissymbolics has classifiers. The ones they choose seem as if they belong in a philosophical language. The problem with philosophical language classifiers (and other similar regularities) is that when utterances focus on some sub-topic, the classifier gets repeated and repeated. One ends up with monstrosities like:

The medical-vehicle (ambulance) rushed the
medical-heart-bad-situation (heart attack)
medical-person-who-is-acted-on (patient) to the medical-building

I doubt Blissymbolics would accept a less philosophical system of classifiers. So ISTM they need some means of omitting the repeated classifiers. Some possible approaches:

  • A means of applying one classifier to a larger grouping, so the repeated classifiers are unneccessary. Maybe along the lines of namespaces.
    • Con: It still makes the topic unnaturally explicit, and now it's intrusive. It's as if doctors had to say "Now I'm going to talk about medical things" before each utterance.
  • A use-then-abbreviate system, basically like pronouns. So the previous example might be more like:

The medical-vehicle (ambulance) rushed the it-heart-bad-situation
(heart attack) it-person-who-is-acted-on (patient) to the
it-building (hospital).

That's a little neater, but there ought to be a better way.

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