Braille: a definition with explanatory notes

Merriam-Webster gives the following definition of braille:

“a system of writing for blind people in which letters are represented by raised dots”

I’d like to add a few notes to the above definition:

  • Braille is not just for blind people who do not have any sight at all. A braille reader might not see with his eyes at all; or she might be able to see some distinction between light and dark; or he may be able to see a miniscule piece of the area in front of him, but that piece is not big enough to make reading by sight practical. Braille is useful to anyone for whom it is more practical to read by touch than by sight.
  • The “letters” that are represented by raised braille dots include all the letters of the English alphabet and all the punctuation of the English language, but that’s not the end. Some braille symbols represent words or groups of letters that are very common. For example, instead of using four symbols to represent the word “said”, Unified English Braille uses just two: “sd”, and that stands for the whole word “said”. Braille is a bit like shorthand (which court stenographers use) in this way.
  • A print text is transcribed into braille, not translated, because the content of the text is the same in the print and the braille versions. An example of transcription, as opposed to translation, is taking spoken language and changing it into written language. The words and meaning of the spoken phrase are the same when it’s written down, even if it loses some of its fine nuances.
  • Braille is not actually a language. It is a code for representing language. (You can read an official statement of this from the Braille Authority of North America.)

Obviously, the above information isn’t all there is to know about braille. If you wish to read more about braille, I would suggest the following sites:


American Foundation for the Blind logo

National Federation of the Blind logo

logo of the Braille Authority of North America

The logo of PharmaBraille

logo of the national braille press

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