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1 Introduction

Blisssymbols are a kind of pictographic language

According to Wikipedia, Blissymbols or Blissymbolics was conceived as an ideographic writing system called Semantography consisting of several hundred basic symbols, each representing a concept, which can be composed together to generate new symbols that represent new concepts. Blisssymbols also have been used to teach disabled people to communicate.

I want to go to the cinema

According to a Unicode font proposal, “Blissymbolics form an ideographic writing system, like Chinese, with its own grammar and syntax. This language is, today, primarily used by people with physical and cognitive handicaps of various kinds (for instance, those associated with cerebral palsy), and is promoted by the organization Blissymbolics Communication International.” Interestly, they also make the following statement: “Blissymbolics were developed in the middle of the twentieth century by Charles Bliss as a “universal” language that (he hoped) could cut across national boundaries and facilitate international communication and peace. Like other utopian languages, Blissymbolics’ popularity fell short of the designs of their creator – although their present-day use as the primary language of people who might otherwise have no means of communicating at all is more of a blessing to them, their families, and their communities, than any utopian language could hope to be.”

2 Architecture of the language

Vocabulary and Semantic Architecture

“The grammar of Blissymbols is based on a certain interpretation of nature, dividing it into matter (material things), energy (actions), and human values (mental evaluations). In an ordinary language, these would give place respectively to substantives, verbs, and adjectives. In Blissymbols, they are marked respectively by a small square symbol, a small cone symbol, and a small V or inverted cone. These symbols may be placed above any other symbol, turning it respectively into a “thing”, an “action”, and an “evaluation” [...] When a symbol is not marked by any of the three grammar symbols (square, cone, inverted cone), they may be a non material thing, a grammatical particle, etc.” (Wikipedia, oct 2015).

Blissymbolics Communication International provides a similar definition: “Blissymbolics makes use of core symbols (Bliss-characters), many of which are intuitive and pictographic. They can be arranged to produce Bliss-words that can represent complex and abstract, yet easy-to-understand meanings. There are around 100 basic symbols, which can be combined endlessly to form new concepts. Nouns can be changed into verbs or adjectives with the addition of an indicator, and there are also simple past and future tenses. Bliss has simple, elegant, logically based rules, that make it ideal as a non-phonetically based language.”

In other words, bliss words are made from a limited symbol graphical language that includes pictograms (look what they represent), idographs (representing abstract ideas) plus other symbols. E.g. the blisssymbol for an airplane, includes two blisssymbols: a wheel plus wings. The "want" word is represented as "heart" plus a "serpentine" modifier" plus an "action indicator".

According (oct. 2015), “the total number of generally agreed upon Bliss Symbols is about 6,800. These fall into different categories like: 650 basic nouns, 960 verbs. 566 adjectives and 14 indicators. Other categories are: 580 simple symbols containing one or two simple graphical elements, animals (211), body parts (79), colours (27), countries & regions (55), days (34), devine symbols (233), languages (19), months (13), numbers (19), occupations (226), question words (10), relatives (16), sports (116), things (246), time (71), vehicles & movement (145)”

Graphic architecture

The fundamental rules of Blissymbolics: creating new Blissymbolics characters and vocabulary, document describing the basic structure of the Blisssymbolics language, is a fairly complex read that explains both the logic of the bliss language and detailed graphic aspects. The shorter Blissym Code for Information Interchange explains the fundamental compositional graphics principles for creating a bliss font: “Blissymbols are composed on a grid”. There are 5-8 vertical zones (depending on how they are counted) defined by 5 lines and 4 or more horizontal zones. Compositional fonts can make use of this.

3 Fonts

Bliss symblos are standardized in ISO/IEC 2022 (a registry of character sets) and in ISO 15924. However, there is no official Unicode font yet (i.e. you cannot find Bliss fonts on a standard computer). However, inclusion is underway.

According to the unicode font proposal, “Graphically, Blissymbols are built out of a relatively small set of shapes (lines, curves, and dots) which are combined in a strictly controlled matrix in the x and y axes. Relative position (vertical height and horizontal distance) is important for their recognition as well as their construction. The “earthline” and “skyline” form the reference points for vertical distinctions. Blissymbols are written from left to right. Blissymbolics do not benefit from the use of a wide variety of fonts. Consistency is the æsthetic striven for, rather than variety. It is proposed that the encoding for Blissymbolics in the UCS be ideographic, like Chinese. Blissymbols combine with one another in the horizontal plane, with a small set of combining characters which serves to give verbs tense, identify plurals, and to differentiate nouns from verbs and adjectives.”

But there are unofficial fonts that can be installed.

  • Blissymbolics were standardized as ISO-IR 169 a double-byte character set in 1993 including 2384 fixed characters whereas the BCI Unicode proposal suggests 886 characters that then can be combined.
  • includes TTF fonts and a Metafont. Under Windows, the TTF fonts seem to work well in Word. To install these, download to a writable directory and click on the file name. Under Ubuntu, Firefox will directly open the font installer. Open Office seems to work with the font. In both cases (Word/win and LibreOffice/Ubuntu, you have to find a way to enter the characters. In LibreOffice, use Menu Insert->Insert special character. Under Windows, either use the Character Map acessory (preferable) or Menu Insert; Select Symbol, More Symbols (to the right of the Panel).
  • the SuperSemantic font. Clicking on this link should install the font that you then can use in a browser or other tool. E.g. see this page (you may have to force your browser to display Unicode). However, this font cannot display everything correctly.

Fonts on the Internet

Current Blisssymbols fonts only will display if they are either installed on your system or shipped with the web page in the form of a WOFF file.

Test for system fonts (using the fonts we introduced above):

  • Test of "feeling symbol" using the SuperSemantic font: [] You should see a heart symbol between the brackets.
  • Test of "feeling symbol" using the Blisssym8 font: [ ]. You also should see a heart.

Telling people to install fonts is not a good solution. You can ship fonts with CSS using WOFF fonts. There is also a MS proprietary EOT standard, e.g. used in the otherwise useful Blissym Code for Information Interchange page.

To translate TTF to WOFF, use one of the tools listed in Wikipedia's WOFF page. A simple example is in our WOFF article.

To display such fonts in a Wiki, one cannot use scoped CSS, but editing Mediawiki:Common.css would do the trick....


  • Bliss Editor (Win, commercial)
  • Bliss tools is a multipurpose tool for composing sentences, drawing new words, searching by components, etc. As of oct. 2015 it's alpha, i.e. a prototype, but usable. Available as Java *.jar file, i.e. runs on any computer that has Java installed.

Symbol list

4 Links

4.1 Overviews

4.2 Specification

4.3 Online tutorials

4.4 Home pages

5 Bibliography

  • Lane, V. W., and Samples, J. M. (1981). Facilitating communication skills in adult apraxics: Application of blisssymbols in a group setting. Journal of Communication Disorders, 14, 157-167.
  • Claudia Wood, Jinny Storr, Peter A. Reich, eds. 1992. Blissymbol Reference Guide. Toronto: Blissymbolics Communication International. ISBN 0-969-05169-7 ISO-IR 169. Codes for the Blissymbol Graphic Character Set.
  • McDonald, Eugene T. 1980. Teaching and using Blissymbolics: written for use by instructors of communicatively impaired persons. Toronto: Blissymbolics Communication Institute. ISBN 0-9690516-8-9
  • McNaughton, Shirley, ed. 1985. Communicating with Blissymbolics. Toronto: Blissymbolics Communication Institute. ISBN 0-9690516-3-8