Braille Languages Around the World

A language develops when a community of people is struggling to communicate, whether it is a mixed or pidgin language, or if part of the group chooses to learn the language of the other part. But what happens when the physiology of your body does not allow you to learn a language? You need to find a way to communicate with others.

A while back we blogged about the signed languages around the world, used by people with hearing loss or deafness. Another type of physiology difference that affects one’s ability to learn a language is the loss of eyesight. Unlike people who are deaf, those who suffer from blindness can speak and hear languages without a problem, but an important aspect of language is reading and writing. Those who are blind do not have the ability to read and write as others do, so they have adapted a language to help them do so.

In the early 1800s in France, Louis Braille lost his eyesight as a young child in an accident in his father’s workshop.  Before he was 5 years old, he was completely blind, but Braille was a creative and intelligent child, and eager to learn despite his disability. His parents helped him learn the world around him, navigating the streets with canes, and his teachers were impressed with his abilities.

Braille learned quickly that he could live in the world almost as well as the visually-able around him, but one thing was holding him back. He began attending the Royal Institute for Blind Youth, where they were taught to read using a system of raised Latin letters. This system was the best way at the time for the visually-impaired to learn to read, but it was expensive to make, and exhausting for the reader.  It also did not help the children learn to write.

In 1821, Braille learned about Night Writing, a system of dots and dashes developed for the military to use in silence and darkness. The writer could leave impressions in thick paper, which could then be interpreted using one’s fingers. Braille researched this system thoroughly, realizing its implications, and found that it was too complex in its original form, but it gave the basis for the system still in use today.  He finished the system in 1824, when he was only 15 years old. A revised version without the dashes was published in 1837 and soon it spread across the globe.

The French Braille script is the basis for more than 120 languages, including English Braille, German Braille, and Russian Braille. Bharati Braille is a script developed from English Braille in order to write 16 different langauges in India. There have also been efforts to unify the braille alphabets, but the varying letters and needs of different languages proved those efforts to be more difficult.

Thankfully, with the advent of modern technology, many visually impaired people have technology that allows them to listen to texts, emails, books, and more.  Although we don’t have Braille translators here at Lionbridge onDemand, we do provide voiceovers. For all our language services, check out our website.