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Bharati Braille

Introduction

Bharati Braille is the adaptation of the six dot system for the languages of India. The history of Bharati Braille dates back to the period prior to India's independence. Schools for the blind had already been established in the country during the later part of the nineteenth century and Braille had found acceptance as an appropriate medium for educating the blind. The complexities of the writing systems of Indian languages had somewhat hindered the development of Braille specific to the Indian environment.

It is interesting to observe here that Braille can be viewed as a script for writing a language. Indian languages are based on a writing system which is essentially phonetic in nature. Hence some scholars had recommended Braille as one of the scripts that could be used for writing text in the different Indian languages. In fact India had made a recommendation to UNESCO to consider a universal standard for Braille, based on a Phonetic representation of sounds using the six dot system.

Background

At a conference held at Beirut in 1951, a body of world scholars examined the possibility of a phonetically derived system of six dots that could be used for most of the languages of India, pakistan and Sri Lanka. Bharati Braille was a result of this  exercise.

The languages of India are phonetic in nature in that the writing system employed is based on the sound produced by the consonants and vowels. In almost all the scripts used for Indian languages, the written shapes correspond to syllables, which may be just a vowel, a consonant vowel combination or a series of consonants and vowels. In practice, children in India are taught to recognize more than ten thousand individual shapes. Surprisingly all these shapes could be derived from a much smaller set of shapes and in practice,  about two hundred letters and ligatures would be adequate to represent more than fourteen thousand syllables in common use.

This idea was the basis of transliteration where Roman letters with specific diacritic marks i.e., symbols written above or below a letter, are used to write text in Indian languages. Roman transliteration had been in use for many years and the idea behind Bharati Braille was to use the 63 cells as a special script to represent text uniformly in all the Indian languages. 

A look at the languages and the writing systems of India tells us that in practice, up to sixteen vowels are required along with about thirty seven consonants. This is almost all the cells available to us in the six dot system, if we set apart line 5 for retaining the punctuation marks. Readers may want to review the basic principle behind the assignment of cells to the letters of the English alphabet to understand the concept of a line. In Bharati Braille, almost all the cells are required to represent the basic letters used in the writing systems of the country. Interestingly, since all the languages are based on a common phonetic system, Bharati Braille would be applicable to each language if the consonants and vowels used include the consonants and vowels across all the languages.

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Uniform scheme for all Indian languages

It turns out that Bharati Braille achieves this uniformity in remarkable way and the recommendations apply to all the regional languages of India along with Urdu and Sinhalese. The basic idea behind Bharati Braille may be  summarized as below.

1. The six dot system is viewed as another script to write the languages of India. The compromise effected is that a syllable will always be represented through its consonants and vowels by explicitly writing the consonants and vowels one after the other. Ligatures are therefore eliminated. True, this would mean that more cells would be required but considering the fact that one gets uniformity and grade-1 braille in English also follows this convention, the system is indeed viable.

2. Bharati Braille assigns the cells to the basic sounds of the Indian languages (these are called aksharas) in a  manner where vowels and consonants that find direct equivalents in English are given the same representation as in English. This way,  with minimal effort one would  able to read both English text and indian language text. This arrangement is essential if the visually handicapped are required to communicate with their counterparts in other countries.

3. Bharati Braille retains all the basic conventions relating to the representation of numerals, punctuation and special symbols just as in standard English Braille. 

There are no concepts in Bharati Braille like the lines in English Braille. One has to necessarily learn the cell assignments for the different vowels and consonants and hence the initial period of training has to be prolonged. Another point to keep in mind is that since all the Indian languages share the same Braille representation, it will be difficult to identify when a language switch is occurring in multilingual texts. This issue is still being examined and possibly one of the cells might be used to indicate a change of context. But for most persons,  bilingual text would be adequate where one of the languages will be English and the context would be sensed from the text itself. If needed, text in different languages may always put on separate lines on a printed page of Braille.

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The assignment of cells to the aksharas of Indian languages.
The aksharas of Indian languages are divided into vowels and consonants. Across the many different languages of the country, one finds up to sixteen vowels and about forty consonants. The assignment of the cells is therefore applicable across all the languages though it must be stated that a few cells have to interpreted based on the language. This is a consequence of the fact that we have only sixty three cells available to us and reserving ten cells for punctuation leaves us in a tight situation. Across the languages, fifteen vowels and thirty three consonants are common (with the exception of Tamil) and so the basic assignment in Bharati Braille corresponds to these.

Shown below are the vowels and consonants in Devanagari, along with the cell assignments. Please observe that many aksharas are assigned cells corresponding to the Roman letter that sounds close to the akshara.


Please observe that for some of the aksharas, two cells are required. Across the languages of India, there are minor variations in Bharati braille.

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Representing Syllables

In the Grade-1 equivalent of Bharati Braille, a syllable is written by breaking it into its consonants and vowels and the cells corresponding to each consonant and vowel are put in the same sequence of letters found in the syllable. One might remember here that the structure of a syllable in Indian languages conforms to one of the patterns shown below.

vowel alone
A consonant with the first vowel "ah"
A consonant with any of the other vowels
Two or more consonants with a final vowel

Bharati Braille assigns an individual cell to each vowel and a basic syllable consisting of a consonant with vowel "ah". A syllable made up of a consonant and any other vowel is assigned the cells for the consonant and the corresponding vowel in the syllable, the cell for the consonant comes first and is followed by the cell for the vowel. This assignment is almost similar to what one would find in English.

A syllable made up of more than one consonant is assigned cells as follows.

A special cell is assigned to denote that the consonant following the cell is without a vowel. This special assignment is known as the "halanth" character which, in Indian scripts  is a symbol attached to the shape of the consonant to indicate that it is a pure consonant without any vowel.

Thus syllables with two consonants and a vowel will be assigned the cells as

halanth consonant consonant vowel

Similarly syllables with more than two consonants will be assigned

halanth cons1 halanth cons2 .... final_consonant vowel

If the vowel in the syllable is the first vowel " ah" , the cell for the vowel is omitted since the cell for the consonant  assumed to be a combination with "ah". There will be no halanth before the final consonant.

Let us look at an example. Consider the word "priya" which is pronounced with a long "a" at the end. This has two syllables "pri" and "ya". The cells will be

halanth,pa,ra,i,ya,aah

Given below is an illustration of how text in Indian languages is seen in Bharati Braille.

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Contents
 
 
Introduction

Background

Uniform scheme

Cell assignment

Syllables

 

Detailed discussion of Bharati Braille is provided in a separate page

A reference chart for looking up the akshara corresponding to a cell is included here. The chart is useful not only for standard English Braille but also for Bharati Braille in all the Indian languages.

Using the IITM multilingual editor for preparing documents in Bharati Braille is explained in a separate page


There is an on-line quiz you can take to check your understanding of Braille codes. This quiz is available for standard English Braille as well as Bharati Braille in different languages.

Quiz English Braille

Quiz Bharati Braille


 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Bharati Braille codes for
Indian languages

Sanskrit
(Also Hindi)

Gurmukhi

Gujarati

Bengali

Oriya

Telugu

Tamil

Kannada

Malayalam

Urdu
____________________

Sinhala

Acharya Logo
Spectacular view of Sun's rays as he emerges from the peaks of the Annapurna, Machpuchchare (Fish tail) range in the Himalayas. The text in Bharati Braille reads "shreyo bhuyaat sakalajanaanaam" which translates into "May all people be happy and prosperous.

Today is Apr. 23, 2017
Local Time: 19 52 16


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