The Man Who Tried to Eliminate All Words, But Never Met a Smartphone
Friday, February 28, 2014 - 04:00 AM
This is a story of heroic effort, decades of toil and a man obsessed with a utopian dream: to replace the written word with symbols.
Charles Bliss, a Jew living in Austria, is forced to flee Nazi occupation and ends up in Shanghai, China. There, awash in a new language, he's inspired by possibility.
Bliss dreams of a linguistic opportunity that could transform humanity: What if everyone on earth could share the same written language, no translation needed? A language so intuitive that it would be almost instantly understandable? Symbols were the key, he thought.
"You would be able to communicate with anyone in the world. Kids wouldn't be illiterate," goes the dream, as explained by computational linguist Richard Sproat who writes about the Bliss story in his book Language, Technology and Society.
Sproat, a research scientist at Google, has studied what came to be known as Blisssymbols along with other efforts to communicate graphically throughout history.