Semantography - English Dictionary

Click here if you want to go to the current working version of the Symbol-English Dictionary


Apart from the symbols themselves, I was always most intrigued with the idea of a Symbol-English dictionary. In a couple of publications, Charles makes brief references to this project, but on the whole he does not provide much information on how it would be constructed.

In my meetings with Charles, and in my correspondence with him, I frequently asked him questions on how the dictionary was to be constructed. I quickly found that he had no appetite for the project, as he was preoccupied with his troubles regarding the implementation of his work. I also realized that if I was to get anywhere with this project I would have to ask very specific brief questions and then, hopefully, over time put all the pieces together.

That was over 40 years ago. With Charles' passing I shelved everything. Now when I go back to the material I find I have lost many of the threads. I have summary notes that both I and Charles wrote. I also have typed material, where I formalized what Charles was saying. But it is hopelessly incomplete. Also, there I times when I do not know if it is Charles speaking, or me interpreting what I remembered him saying.

This page is, as far as I can tell from all my dealings with Charles Bliss and from reading his books, a description of the manner in which Charles envisioned how the symbol-word dictionary should be formed. There are still many difficulties to be worked out, and I am sure that the following will be revised many times before the dictionary is finally completed. However, it is at least a beginning, on an otherwise difficult and complex topic.

As mentioned, a symbol-English dictionary was often a topic of discussion when Charles was passing through Vancouver en route to Toronto or Sydney. As part of these discussions I received a letter from Charles which became the most detailed description of the dictionary. Please click here to view the letter. It is the only comprehensive explanation that I have in my posession. Everything else is notes.

We will start with excerpts from Semantography Blissymbolics, page 744. and another excerpt from The Book to the Film Mr. Symbol Man, page 181, both concerning the formation of the symbol-word dictionary. This is all there is written in all of his books.

Excerpts from "Semantography Blissymbolics", page 744 and "The Book to the Film Mr. Symbol Man", page 181

In the dictionary of Semantography, the first symbol element will be the dot; consequently the first line will show the dot, which concludes a sentence. The second line will show two dots, the colon (:) and its explanation. The third line will show three dots (.:) which means dust, powder , etc. Additional related symbols or reference to other pages will accompany each line.

After the dot, the next symbol element will be the comma, and in succeeding lines, the little stroke ('), will be shown, in different positions, first as a comma (,), in the next line as apostrophe ('), then the double comma, as the quotation mark ("), etc. Note: this sequence was subsequently changed to have the apostrophe first (highest) and the comma second (lowest). See Sequence rule 2.

The next group would be combinations of the dot and comma, as for instance semicolon (;) and as exclamation mark (!).

Then the lines will be arranged, first the horizontal, then the vertical and oblique straight lines. After these lines and their combinations will come the curved lines, etc. Considering the complicated characters of Chinese writing, the Semantography dictionary would be very simple in comparison, and easy to operate after a short training.

Note: Here we have a major contradiction between Semantography Blissymbolics (paragraph above) and the Book to the Film Mr. Symbol Man (see below). In Semantography Blissymbolics Charles has the horizontal line preceding the vertical. In the Film book he has the vertical line first. In subsequent correspondence Charles places the vertical line before the horizontal, so I will utilize the description in the the Film book.

We agree on the following sequences of all symbols which show first:

  1. dot
  2. vertical straight line
  3. oblique lines from upper right to lower left
  4. horizontal line
  5. oblique lines from lower right to upper left
  6. then follow the curved lines

You discern already a pattern: we go clockwise from 1 to 5. And this sequence will guide us in the way the symbols are shown like the words are shown in a normal dictionary from a to z.

The Sequence and Accompanying Rules

This list is taken from all sources available to me.

  1. Generally speaking there are two sizes to all symbol elements, therefore the first rule is: smaller symbol elements will come before larger symbol elements, i.e. mouth will precede sun.
  2. The second rule deals with the symbol element position within the two lines of Semantography: excluding the indicators, we will have the highest symbol element coming first, followed by those that come in the middle and lower line, i.e. apostrophe will come before the comma.
  3. The third rule deals with more complex symbols: In order to find the place of a complex line symbol in the dictionary, you drop a vertical line down to the point of intersection, at the same time extending a horizontal line across to the symbol. The symbol with the highest intersect point of these two lines will come first.

    Some examples:

    Dictionary position comes before: Dictionary position

    Dictionary position comes before: Dictionary position

    Sequence of these four symbols:

    Dictionary positionDictionary positionDictionary positionDictionary position
  4. This is the sequence order:
    1. dot
    2. comma
    3. vertical line, short
    4. vertical line, long
    5. 60 line from upper right to lower left, short
    6. 60 line from upper right to lower left, long
    7. 45 line from upper right to lower left, short
    8. 45 line from upper right to lower left, long
    9. horizontal line, short
    10. horizontal line, long
    11. 45 line from lower right to upper left, short
    12. 45 line from lower right to upper left, long
    13. 60 line from lower right to upper left, short
    14. 60 line from lower right to upper left, long
    15. shallow curves, small
    16. shallow curves large
      Dictionary position
    17. quarter circles
      Dictionary position
    18. half circles, small
      1. ear
      2. heart (double ear)
    19. half circles, large
      Dictionary position
    20. three-quarter circle
    21. circle small
    22. circle, large
    23. numbers and letters in their numerical and alphabetical sequence

Note 1: The question mark is a special curved line and is incorporated only in the section of combinations of the dot. Susequently, it comes early in the dictionary.

Note 2: The exclamation mark is a special tapered line. It would probably be treated like the question mark and be incorporated only in the section of combinations of the dot. Subsequently, it would come early in the dictionary.

Note 3: I am not absolutely certain of the ear, heart, number, and letter symbol sequence.

Dictionary Layout

  1. An English dictionary is organized based on the letters of the alphabet. If you want to find a word starting with "a" you look in the "a"section.
  2. The symbol-English dictionary will work the same way, but with two exceptions:
    1. The sections will be organized by the basic symbol elements using the sequence described in the previous section. So if you want to find a symbol that has a long vertical line in it, you go to the dictionary section on the long vertical line.
    2. The very first section will be of the symbol elements (with no combination with other symbol elements). This section acts as a kind of preface to the sections that follow.
  3. At the top of each page: will be
    1. the symbol element being discussed.
    2. a page reference, as in a regular dictionary
  4. Underneath the symbol and page reference, the page will be divided into columns. The headers for the columns will include all of the indicators: thing, action, evaluation, plural, and any others that may fit. Thus we will incorporate all of the different meanings of the symbol within the one page.
  5. The first several pages (this is the first section of the dictionary) will deal only with the basic symbol elements (dot, comma, line, etc.) in an uncombined form.
    1. Thus we will have the dot in the three positions, telling their meanings and if they do not have a meaning then saying so.
    2. Then we will combine only the dot (colon, powder). Then the comma in the three positions, and then only combining it with itself (quotation marks, ditto).
    3. Then the short vertical, its combination only with itself, etc.
  6. This will follow the complete sequence through so that all the elements will combine only with themselves and the reader will get an idea of how the dictionary is put together (with page references to other relevant symbols in the rest of the dictionary).
  7. When combining symbols, the simplest elements appear first. We start with all of the dot combinations of a symbol, then all the comma combinations, then the dot and comma combinations, then dot and small vertical line combinations, etc.
  8. What will happen is that the dot will be combined first, so that any symbol in Semantography that has a dot will be found in the section under the dot.
  9. Using the sequence rules described above we will proceed to the comma and then the small vertical line.
  10. In the case of the small vertical line we will start with all of the combinations of a single vertical line. When the single vertical line combinations are completed we then address all of the combinations of a double vertical line, then triple, quadruple, etc. until all of the small vertical lines are dealt with.
  11. Then we proceed to the long vertical line.

Column Layout

  1. Headings
    1. Column 1: Symbol
    2. Column 2: Blank
    3. Column 3: Blank
    4. Column 4: Thing indicator
    5. Column 5: Action indicator
    6. Column 6: Evaluation indicator
    7. Column 7: Plural indicator
    8. Column 8: Blank
  2. First Row
    1. Column 1: Actual symbol, which would be the dot
    2. Column 2: Blank
    3. Column 3: Blank
    4. Column 4: Blank
    5. Column 5: Blank
    6. Column 6: Blank
    7. Column 7: Blank
    8. Column 8: Blank
  3. Second Row
    1. Column 1: Blank
    2. Column 2: Dot on top line
    3. Column 3: Blank
    4. Column 4: No meaning
    5. Column 5: Blank
    6. Column 6: Blank
    7. Column 7: Blank
    8. Column 8: Blank
  4. Third Row
    1. Column 1: Blank
    2. Column 2: Dot in the middle
    3. Column 3: Blank
    4. Column 4: No meaning
    5. Column 5: Blank
    6. Column 6: Blank
    7. Column 7: Blank
    8. Column 8: Blank
  5. Fourth Row
    1. Column 1: Blank
    2. Column 2: Dot on bottom line
    3. Column 3: Blank
    4. Column 4: Sentence full stop or period.
    5. Column 5: Blank
    6. Column 6: Blank
    7. Column 7: Periods.
    8. Column 8: Blank

Symbol Elements section of the Symbol-English Dictionary

Final Comments

Although at first glance there appear to be only two sizes of lines there are, in fact, many sizes (for example the pointer incorporates smaller and thinner lines). This throws a spanner into our original premise (the first rule of sequence) but perhaps it can be gotten round by saying that all symbols half size and under are dealt with first, and all over half size come second. Always keep in mind that the smaller will be dealt with first, regardless of where they are found.

As far as each individual symbol goes, it will be divided into each of its basic parts, so that one can look up any part of the symbol within the dictionary. This will make the dictionary very large, as there will be many repeats throughout. But maybe there will be found a way in which the redundancy can be reduced once this stage of the dictionary is achieved. For example, the flag symbol could be found under long vertical, short vertical or short horizontal. Perhaps the combinations of each one could be placed in just one section of the dictionary, and be page referenced to other sections, thus reducing the amount of space required.

Many times, when I have worked with combinations, it has been seen that a certain symbol, due to its construction, could come at several spots during the combining sequence. Therefore, in order to reduce redundancy, I think that as long as the symbol is dealt with once it is sufficient. The symbol will be dealt with at is earliest possible stage, and then it will not be done again, even though the sequencing rules dictate that it be so.