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The Many Changes UEB Makes to EBAE for Literary Braille

UEB provides both changes and extensions to EBAE's rules for literary braille. This article documents all the case of which I am aware where UEB makes changes to current EBAE rules; it does not document UEB extensions to EBAE. The changes below are likely to affect the majority of literary braille transcriptions made with UEB instead of EBAE. Braille users and transcribers may be surprised by the large number of changes in addition to the elimination of sequencing and of certain contractions.

Table of Contents

I. BANA Statement on Changes

The Braille Authority of North America (BANA) has recently published a three-part article titled The Evolution of Braille: Can the Past Help Plan the Future?. The following brief extract is the only information the three-part article provides concerning specific differences between EBAE and UEB. [The extract has been annotated with additional information. Cf. the rest of this article for details.]

A full discussion of all characteristics of any code would be beyond the scope of this article. However, the primary changes in UEB from the current literary code used in the U.S. are:

  1. Spacing: Words that are currently written together such as "and the" must have a space between them as they do in print.
  2. Less ambiguity: Nine contractions are eliminated: "ally," "ation," "ble," "by," "com," "dd, "into," "o'clock," and "to" because of translation difficulties and confusion with other symbols.
  3. Punctuation: A few [actually 11; cf. Sec. V.2] punctuation marks are different (for example, parentheses are two-cell sequences of dots 5, 1-2-6 and 5, 3-4-5). This change follows a new systematic pattern developed for creating symbols in UEB. In addition, symbols are included for different types of brackets, quotation marks, dashes, and others to show the braille reader exactly which symbol is used in the original text. [The UEB default for quotation marks is not to show the reader what is used in the original text but to use generic quotation marks unique to UEB. This tactic avoids the need to reflect the use of different quotation mark symbols in different locales.]
  4. Indicators: Bold, underline, and italics each have their own indicators. [Also the symbols for the italics indicators and the rules for their use are changed.] There is a method using three capital signs to show a long passage of uppercase text.[The method for indicating partial emphasis involving either typeform or capitalization indicators is changed.]
  5. Math symbols: Numbers are shown in the upper portion of the cell as they are now in literary braille; operational symbols such as plus and equals, which do not exist in current literary code, have been added and are different from those in the Nemeth code. [This change necessitates the use of the number sign in spatial arithmetic and, of course, numerous others to braille mathematics outside the scope of the present article.]
  6. [UEB makes dozens of other changes to literary braille.]

II. Summary of Other Changes

UEB makes multiple other changes to literary braille BANA apparently did not consider as "primary changes." This next list calls your attention to some of the other changes UEB makes to literary braille. These and the remaining changes to literary braille are detailed in Section V of the present article.

  1. UEB mandates using standard contracted braille for embedded computer items and uncontracted braille for displayed computer items. (See Section V.3.)
  2. UEB is less strict than EBAE in allowing contractions to bridge syllables. The official UEB list of "problem words" will thus introduce a lot of changes to the customary braille spelling used in the United States.(See Section V.1.4.)
  3. UEB changes the rules for using shortforms as parts of words. It also allows shortforms to be used as parts of words in proper names in certain cases. (See Section V.1.3.)
  4. UEB changes the rules for numbers in literary text. One change is that the Numeric Indicator has to be repeated after the separator if two numbers are separated by a colon, hyphen, or the two-cell slash symbol. Another change is that contractions may not be used in ordinal numbers such as 1st and 4th. (See Section V.6.)
  5. UEB uses the alphabetic wordsigns for the musical notes do and so.(See Section V.1.5.)
  6. Any print styling and/or quotes used for letters that mean letters is retained; however UEB also enforces the EBAE requirement to insert a dots-56 cell (called a grade 1 mode indicator in UEB instead of a letter sign) before letters other than a, i, or o. (See Section V.6.) Letter signs are not required before the latter three letters (and not used in the Rulebook examples) since UEB apparently views that the only purpose of the letter sign is to avoid confusion with alphabetic wordsigns.(See UEB Rule 1.5.)
  7. Alphabetic word signs may be used in abbreviations such as Can. for Canada and It. for Italy.(See Section V.1.5.)
  8. In abbreviations like US for United States that are read as individual letters it is preferable to avoid contractions. However it is not incorrect to use an alphabetic wordsign when it is unclear whether or not the item is that type of abbreviation and/or a word rather than an abbreviation.(See Section V.1.5.)
  9. UEB requires a much greater use of indicators than EBAE does in constructs such as spelled-out words, vocal sounds, stammered words, and speech hesitations where individual letters are separated by hyphens.(See Section V.7.)
  10. The UEB rule for stammered words has several differences from EBAE Rule II.13. including allowing contractions immediately after a stammer. Thus in EBAE the gh contraction is not used in g-g-ghost but in UEB it is.(See Section V.7.5.)
  11. UEB requires that multi-cell symbols be used for all occurrences of modified Latin letters in English texts, even for leisure reading. (See Section V.9.)
  12. UEB rules state to "use signs from the indigenous foreign language braille code" rather than its modified letters when "a signficant knowledge of a foreign language is presupposed or is being taught." (See Section V.12.)

III. References

EBAE rules are from English Braille American Edition 1994, Revised 2002, 2007 Update which can be obtained from the BANA site.

UEB rules are from The Rules of Unified English Braille, June 2010 (UEB Rulebook) which can be obtained from the International Council on English Braille (ICEB) Project Page. The UEB Rulebook was written primarily by UEB transcribers in Australia and uses a different format from our EBAE document. This makes it difficult to find all the differences from EBAE and I've likely missed some.

IV. Introduction

The present article documents all the cases of which I am currently aware where the latest UEB rules differ from the corresponding EBAE ones; it does not document extensions provided by UEB. However, the differences listed below will likely affect the majority of literary braille transcriptions based on UEB.

It appears that many UEB changes are intended to reduce the chances for translation errors in automated transcriptios. However, in many cases all that has been done is to change or eliminate certain rules so that what would be considered an error in EBAE is no longer an error in UEB. This strategy does not, of course, make the braille translation better any more than grade inflation has made students better educated.

As an example, in EBAE the letters a, i, and o are supposed to have letter signs when they are used to mean letters rather than words but UEB does not require lettersigns to be used for these letters when they mean letters. Another example is that in EBAE the musical notes do and so are supposed to be spelled out and not use the alphabetic contractions but in UEB they must use the alphabetic contractions. A third example is that in EBAE embedded computer items such as email addresses are supposed to use Computer Braille Code but in UEB they are supposed to use contracted braille. A fourth example is UEB's relaxing of the rule that shortforms should never be used as part-word contractions in proper names. One last example is that UEB requires a grade 1 word indicator, dots 5-6, 5-6, before a spelled-out word such as s-t-o-p whereas EBAE avoids the clutter of letter signs on the assumption that the reader can recognize a spelled-out word.

V. Details of All UEB Changes to Literary Braille

UEB makes numerous changes to EBAE. Some of these are difficult to find unless you are very familiar with EBAE since they only occur as examples in the UEB Rulebook.

V.1. Changes to Contractions and Sequencing

V.1.1 Contractions

UEB eliminates 9 contractions. It eliminates the contractions for ally, ation, ble, by, com, dd, into, o'clock, and to.

V.1.2 Sequencing

UEB eliminates sequencing or the omission of spaces between certain words. The elimination of the contractions for to, into, and by obviously eliminates the associated sequencing. Also sequences of two or more of the words a, and, for, of, the, or with can no longer be written unspaced.

V.1.3 Shortforms

The rules for the use of shortforms as parts of words are changed.

EBAE generally allows shortforms to be used as part word contractions in common words. UEB maintains an explicit list in its Appendix A of English words where shortforms may be used as part word contractions. It also provides rules for determining whether or not certain shortforms may be used as part word contractions in words not listed in Appendix A.

EBAE does not allow shortforms to be used as part word contractions in proper names. Per its Rule 10.9.3 UEB allows the shortforms to be used as part word contractions in proper names in some cases.

1.4 ICEB is planning to add an official list of "problem words" to the UEB Rulebook. Problem words are words that avoid the use of certain contractions for linguistic purposes such as not using a contraction where it would bridge syllables. UEB will introduce many braille spelling changes in comparison with EBAE practice since UEB uses contractions where they are typically not used in EBAE. See UEB Rule 10.11.5 for examples including the use of the "ed" contraction in "deduce" and the "en" contraction in "denote."

1.5 Greater use of alphabetic wordsigns.

V.2. Changes to Punctuation Marks

2.1 UEB changes the intending meaning of the EBAE one-cell symbols for opening and closing double quotation marks used as outer quotation marks in the United States. UEB uses these symbols to represent non-specific quotation marks, i.e. to represent the predominant quotation marks in a document. [Readers familiar with EBAE rules but not with UEB will be likely be unaware of this change in meaning when these symbols used.]

2.2 UEB changes the braille symbols for eleven punctuation marks:

V.3. Changes to Translation of Computer Items

EBAE mandates switching to Computer Braille Code (CBC) for translating both embedded and displayed computer items such as email addresses and file names. Per its Rule 10.12.3 UEB mandates using standard contracted braille for embedded computer items and uncontracted braille for displayed computer items. (Special rules limiting the use of shortform contractions in embedded computer items are designed to avoid ambiguity.) The UEB treatment of computer items is explained in more detail in the article titled Computer Braille.

V.4. Changes to Capitalisation Indicators

4.1 EBAE does not have a capitalisation passage indicator. UEB defines a capitalisation passage indicator and passage terminator indicator are used for capitalised passages of three or more words.

4.2 UEB changes the EBAE method for indicating partial emphasis involving capital letters or letter sequences.

V.5. Changes to Italic Indicators

5.1 UEB changes the symbols from those used in EBAE for the italic word, italic passage, and italic passage termination indicators.

5.2 UEB changes the location of the italic passage termination indicator to after rather than before the last word in the passage.

5.2 UEB changes the method for indicating partial emphasis involving italic letters or letter sequences.

V.6 Changes to Numbers in Literary Documents

Since both EBAE and UEB use upper numbers, persons familiar with EBAE may assume that the rules for numbers in UEB are the same as in EBAE. However, this is not the case. The starting point for understanding the differences is to realize that the UEB Numeric Indicator is not simply another name for the literary braille number sign.

In EBAE numbers are represented by inserting the dots 3-4-5-6 number sign before the first character of a numerical sequence. The effect of the number sign remains in force for six symbols in addition to the ten digits: colon (dots 2-5), comma (dot 2), decimal point (dot 4-6), fraction line (dots 3-4), hyphen (dots 3-6), and slash (dots 4-5-6, 3-4).

In UEB numbers are represented in UEB Numeric Mode which is set by the UEB Numeric Indicator. The Numeric Indicator always also establishes a special Grade 1 mode that is only terminated automatically when the Numeric Mode is terminated automatically by a space, hyphen, or dash. The UEB grade 1 symbol indicator (dots 5-6) thus needs to be inserted whenever a numeric sequence is immediately followed by one of the small letters a-j. Also, according to UEB Rule 6.5.3, while the grade 1 mode is in effect, "contractions may not follow a number."

The UEB Numeric Indicator is a two-cell symbol. The first cell is always dots-3456. The second cell is one of 14 other cells: one of the ten letters a-j, the full stop or decimal point (dots 2-5-6), the comma (dot 2), a second dots 3-4-5-6 cell, or a space. The only symbols in addition to the digits, full stop, and comma that don't automatically terminate Numeric Mode are the simple slash (dots 3-4), the dot-5 numerical space when it is immediately followed by a digit, and either of the two line continuation indicators. In particular, the UEB Numeric Mode is terminated by the colon, hyphen, and two-cell slash symbols whereas none of these three symbols terminates the effect of the number sign in EBAE. This means that the Numeric Indicator has to be repeated in the common situations where numbers are separated by a colon or hyphen.

The rules for using upper numbers in EBAE are simple as befits a literary braille code. However, as the designers of UEB discovered, when upper numbers are used in a unified code intended to represent mathematics as well as literary text, there is no way to avoid affecting the rules for the use of numbers in literary text. The two most notable effects are

  • the UEB Numeric Indicator has to be repeated when two numbers are separated by a colon, hyphen, or two-cell slash
  • contractions may not be used after numbers in a mixed item such as an ordinal number, e.g. 4th, or word-like item, e.g. houses4lease, because the special grade 1 mode set by the Numeric Indicator has not been automatically terminated by a hyphen or dash

    V.7. Changes to Translation of Words and word-like items with embedded hyphens

    Since the issue here is the use or non-use of letter signs it is necesary to understand that UEB has a somewhat different implementation for what EBAE calls a letter sign but the purpose is similar. UEB specifies four indicators: the grade 1 symbol indicator (dots 5-6), the grade 1 word indicator (dots 5-6, 5-6), the grade 1 passage indicator (dots 5-6, 5-6, 5-6) and the grade 1 terminator (dots 5-6, 3). These indicators are used set or terminate grade 1 mode. The grade 1 symbol indicator affects only the next symbol. The grade 1 word indicator can affect either a word and be terminated by the space after the word or a short sequence of symbols and be terminated explicitly by the terminator. The grade 1 passage indicator affects a passage of three or more words and is terminated by the terminator.

    The rules for translating the various semantically-distinct items consisting of letters and hyphens are rather complex in contracted braille. The goal is to ensure that individual letters aren't misread as alphabetic wordsigns. The general philosophy in EBAE seems to be to omit letter signs where they would introduce unnecessary clutter in cases where the intent should be obvious to the reader. An example is a spelled-out word, e.g., s-t-o-p.

    This section addresses some of these situations where the UEB rules appear to differ from the corresponding EBAE ones. These are mainly situations where one or more of the UEB grade 1 indicators is required in UEB but where EBAE does not use letter signs. The UEB approach follows directly from its "Standing Alone" rule which states that an item is considered as standing alone for several reasons including being preceded by either a space or hyphen and followed by eithr a space or hyphen. This approch reduces translation errors by avoiding the need to distinguish the different situations but at the expense of adding clutter.

    The exact choice of the UEB grade 1 indicator depends on which indicator is most appropriate. The details may be omitted and the term "letter sign" employed since the goal here is simply to point out the general differences between EBAE and UEB.

    V.7.1 Spelled-out words

    In EBAE spelled-out words such as c-h-e-e-s-e are transcribed character-by-character without the use of letter signs.

    (UEB 5.3)A spelled-out word with letters separated by hyphens requires a preceding grade 1 mode word indicator, dots 5-6, 5-6. A sequence of three or more spelled-out words requires a preceding grade 1 mode passage indicator, dots 5-6, 5-6, 5-6 and a grade 1 mode termination indicator, dots 5-6, 3.

    V.7.2 Abbreviated spellings

    In EBAE abbreviated spellings such as V-J are transcribed using the same procedure as spelled-out words

    UEB doesn't have a special rule for abbreviated spellings. I assume they follow the preceding rule.

    V.7.3 Speech hesitations

    Single letters in speech hesitations such as we-e-ek don't require letter signs in EBAE.

    UEB 10.12.14 For a word which shows speech hesitation, slurring or a vocal sound, follow the basic contraction rules of Sections 10.1 to 10.11. That is, isolated single letters in speech hesitations such as we-e-ell or we-e-ek do require preceding letter signs in all cases.

    V.7.4 Vocal sounds

    Single letters in vocal sounds such as br-r and hm-m-m don't require letter signs in EBAE. [Note however that per Rule XVI.47.h. a simple hm requires a leading lettersign to distinguish it from the shortform for hm. (This is also true in UEB.)]

    UEB 10.12.14 For a word which shows speech hesitation, slurring or a vocal sound, follow the basic contraction rules of Sections 10.1 to 10.11. That is, per UEB rules, isolated single letters in vocal sounds such as br-r-r do require preceding letter signs in all cases.

    V.7.5 Stammered words

    In EBAE stammered words such as w-w-will, and th-these follow a special algorithm. Stammered words do not use letter signs and are contracted normally with the exception that if part of what would be normally be contracted is stammered, then the associated contraction is not used. Thus in the stammer g-ghost the gh contraction is not used but the st contraction is used. This approach is presumably intended to be more natural and to make the stammer more obvious to the braille reader.

    UEB 10.12.16 For a word which is stammered, follow print and the rules of Section 5, Grade 1 Mode, and the contraction rules of Sections 10.1 to 10.11. In contrast to EBAE, UEB requires letter signs (actually called grade 1 symbol indicators) before individual letters in stammered words that could be mistaken for alphabetic wordsigns. In cases where there is a longer stammer, e.g. "d-d-d-don't" or "p-p-p-p-perishing" the Grade 1 word indicator (dots 5-6, 5-6) or passage indicator (dots 5-6, 5-6, 5-6) is used instead. In the latter case a passage terminator indicator (dots 5-6, 3) must be inserted in order to use any contractions in the remainder of the word. Also, in contrast to EBAE, UEB does not use the special EBAE prescription that "the letter(s) or contraction preceding and following the hyphen in stammered words should be identical."

    V.7.6 Syllabified words

    Per rule II.13.d. EBAE does not use letters signs in syllabified words. However, per its rule 5.7.1, UEB uses letter signs in syllabified words where a syllable consists of a single letter.

    V.8. Changes to rules for Letters that mean letters

    Per the examples in Rule 5.2.1 UEB requires a letter sign (or what it calles a "grade 1 mode indicator") before most letters that means a letter just as EBAE does. However, unlike EBAE Rule II. 12.a.(2), any italics or quotation marks used in print must be retained in a UEB transcription of a letter that means a letter.

    Letter signs are not required before the letters a, i, or o (and not used in the Rulebook examples of these letters) since UEB apparently views that the only purpose of the letter sign is to avoid confusion with alphabetic wordsigns. This is different from print where special styling is used for a letters used symbolically.

    V.9. Changes to Accented Letters

    EBAE uses a single-cell generic accent indicator before a Latin-like letter that is "modified" with some sort of mark such as a grave accent or cedilla. UEB replaces the generic accent with the appropriate indicator from a set of complex multi-cell explicit and transcriber-assigned modifier indicators. These new indicators must be used to indicate modified letters.

    This is a situation where EBAE by default doesn't provide enough information while UEB always provides too much. An EBAE transcription can of course include a Transcriber's Note providing the exact identification of modified letters when used in words. [NUBS allows for both options.]

    V.10. Required Phantom Enclosures

    Phantom enclosures are grouping symbols that are used in braille but not print. EBAE does not use phantom enclosures.

    UEB braille grouping indicators (phantom enclosures) must be used to ensure that a preceding indicator applies to several symbols. This can arise when a modifier indicator applies to more than one letter. [The UEB rules for mathematics make heavy use of these braille grouping indicators.]

    V.11. Changes to Diacritics

    There are various changes to diacritics that persons more familiar with these rules might wish to look at.

    V.12. Changes to Translation of Foreign Languages

    EBAE Appendix B prescribes special symbols to be used in certain foreign languages.

    UEB takes a different approach. Its Rule 4.2.7 states:

    Where a signficant knowledge of a foreign language is presupposed or is being taught, use signs from the indigenous foreign language braille code.


    A DRAFT version of this article was first posted May 14, 2012.
    The table of contents and Section VI on numbers as well as minor corrections were made to the version posted June 8, 2012.
    Section VI was corrected by adding the rule that contractions cannot follow numbers in UEB which means that ordinal numbers cannot use contractions. June 10, 2012.
    Mention of UEB's special rules affecting the use of shortforms in computer items was added to Section V.3. August 8, 2012.
    Contact author with feedback and corrections: info at dotlessbraille dot org