Introduction to contractions.

Contractions are simply shorthand for words and part-words. A contraction, by requirement, always uses fewer cells than the corresponding uncontracted form. This means that there are only two alternatives that provide for a print representation of contractions that is consistent with the layout of the braille cells: (1) characters that are smaller than the braille cells and (2) shorthand or references such as hyperlinks.

Braille uses contractions to faciliate reading—the speed of reading by touch is strongly correlated to the number of characters in a text—and also to reduce the bulk of embossed transcriptions. Braille symbols for contractions can use either one cell or several consecutive cells. There are two types of multiple-cell contractions: those that employ contraction indicators and those that do not. The braille symbols in the former case always use two cells.

Contractions are one of the most important features of braille and also the one aspect that creates the largest number of special situations for transcribing braille. In the first place, contractions are required in some contexts but not others. For example, names in word formulas such as "distance = rate x time" are never contracted nor are acronyms and abbreviations. (Cf. information on transcribing mathematical expressions in ordinary text.) Although obvious to a human, this type of distinction is difficult for an automated transcription system. Another problem for automation is that the rules for the use of part-word contractions are complex and context-dependent.

Numerous studies and proposals have attempted to address the problem of contractions. There have been studies to try to determine which contractions actually save the most effort in reading braille and in storing embossed braille and which contractions lead to the most difficulties of any type.

If you are a touch typist you can understand the problem of changing the rules: imagine how you would feel if someone decided to move some of the keys on your keyboard around. Of course, with a computer keyboard you could solve this problem with software and this may be what eventually happens with braille contractions. Print-on-demand embossing and refreshable braille displays may use some analog of style sheets where braille readers can customize their choice of contractions. This might require not merely require a change in a dictionary but also a change to the actual transcription rules. Volunteer Opportunity. Design a convenient interface for easily changing rules as well as (other) dictionary entries.

There is a bit of controversy associated with the teaching of contracted braille which is discussed in an excellent article by Ramona Walhof, the Secretary of the National Federation of the Blind (NFB). The article, titled "Braille Contractions: Are They Really So Hard?", is in the April 2001 issue of the Braille Monitor, a magazine which can be found online at the NFB website as well as subscribed to in several versions.

Contractions are generally much easier to learn—both for children and adults—and yet primary-school teachers of mainstreamed blind children are often more comfortable teaching the phonics and regular spelling with which they are familiar and may also find it convenient to keep the lessons for sighted and blind children similar by teaching uncontracted braille prior to contracted braille. Some sighted parents of blind children also feel more comfortable with uncontracted braille. Also, some blind adults who were taught contracted braille as children feel that they are poor (standard English) spellers as a result of using contractions.

My opinion is that learning to read and loving to read are the greatest gifts that anyone gets from an education and anything that facilitates this has to be best in the long run. I also think that, since tactile reading is slower than visual reading, the use of contractions puts a blind student on a more equal footing with sighted students. One of the goals of this website is to ensure that sighted persons don't reject contractions simply for their own convenience.

What is a whole-word contraction?

A whole-word contraction is shorthand for a whole word; a whole-word symbol can be either one cell or a sequence of cells.

Whole-word contractions need to be either memorized or looked up in a braille dictionary. You can get the full list along with the rules for when to use these contractions at the Braille through Remote Learning site. Automated transcription systems necessarily make use of dictionaries for the whole-word contractions.

Dotless Braille Tip! One way to learn these word contractions is to set the Auto-Correct feature on your word processor to replace the single-cell contractions and short-form words with the actual words. This saves typing and teaches you braille at the same time! (You might want to do this in a special template rather than your default one.)

Single-cell whole-word contractions

What is a single-cell whole-word sign? There are five cells that have as their primary meaning whole-words; these cells are the contractions for "and", "for", "of", "the", and "with". These signs can also be used as part words. (The two-letter part-word signs for "in" and "ed"—as in the name "Ed"—can also be used as single-cell whole-word contractions.)

What is a single-cell word contraction? A single-cell word contraction is the use of one cell, either a single-letter sign or a part-word sign, as shorthand for an entire word. (Note that when a single capitalization indicator precedes a single-cell word contraction, it means that only the first letter of the entire word is to be understand as being capitalized.)

What is a single-letter (word) contraction? A single-letter contraction is just what it says: an ordinary letter of the alphabet that is used as shorthand for an entire word. (Some single letters are also used as part-word contractions but this requires the use of contraction indicators to differentiate the useage from ordinary use as a letter.) In literary braille, 23 of the letters—all except for "a", "i", and "o"—are used as single-letter contractions; the letter "k", for example, is short for the word "knowledge".

What is a single-cell part-word sign full-word contraction? Six of the single-cell part-word signs—'ch', 'sh', 'th', 'wh', 'ou' and 'st'—are used as general full-word contractions for the words 'child', 'shall', 'this', 'which', 'out, and 'still', respectively. (Note that these cannot be used as part words since the signs are used as two-letter signs in that case.)

What are whole-word lower sign: Type 1 contractions? These are six lower-cell signs used as whole words that are always written with a space between them and the following word. The words are "in" (two-letter sign "in"), "enough" (two-letter sign "en"), "be" (same dot pattern as semi-colon), "his" (same as question mark or open quote), "was" (same as a period), and "were" (same as parentheses) are all used as words when written with spaces between the words.

What are whole-word lower sign: Type 2 contractions? These are two lower-cell signs used as whole words that are never written with a space between them and the following word. These are the words are "to" (same dot pattern as an exclamation mark) and "by" (same as a close quote).

Multiple-cell whole-word contractions

What is the special contraction for "into"? The Type 1 contraction for "in" followed by the Type 2 contraction for "to" is a two-cell contraction for "into" that follows similar rules as a Type 2 whole word contraction.

What is an initial-letter (word) contraction? An initial letter contraction is a contraction for a word that is formed by preceding the single-cell sign for the initial letter or letters of a word by one of the three initial-letter contraction indicators. These same contractions can also be used as part-word contractions.

There are 33 of these contractions. Twenty-four use 18 of the letter signs, all of the letters except "a", "b", "g", "i", "j", "v", "x", and "z". Six use the two-letter signs "ch", "ou", "th", and "wh". Three use the whole-word sign "the". Examples are "c" preceded by dots 4-5-6 for "cannot"; "th" preceded by dots 4-5 for "those" and by dot 5 for "through"; and "the" preceded by dots 4-5-6 for "their", dot 5 for "there", and dots 4-5 for "these".

What is a short-form word contraction? A short-form word contraction is a contraction for a word that has been created in an ad hoc manner by removing unnecessary letters, especially vowels, from a full word. Literary braille uses about 75 of these short-form words including "brl" for "braille." Short-form contractions can also be used as part-word contractions.

What is a part-word contraction?

A part-word contraction is shorthand for part of a word, not necessarily corresponding to either a diphthong or syllable. There are approximately 70 part-word contractions used in literary braille. Single-cell part-word contractions use the two-letter and three-letter signs as well as some lower-cell signs. Some multiple-cell part-word contractions, such as the "less" in "Dotless" are formed by preceding various cells with one of the contraction indicators; short-form words can also be used as part words.

There are numerous special rules for the proper use of each different type of part-word contractions which are detailed at the Braille through Remote Learning site and, of course, in books about English braille. Please note that there is NOT enough information on this page to determine the proper use of these signs: determining the proper spelling of a contracted word using part-word contractions is one of the most difficult aspects of braille transcribing. Note that the rules are not arbitrary—as they might seem at first glance—but are related to being able to distinguish the context of the dot pattern, which is crucial because of the multiple meanings of any one dot pattern.

Single-cell part-word contractions

What is a major contraction using a whole-word sign? A major contraction is the use of one of the five whole-word signs "and", "for", "of", "the", and "with" as a part-word; these part-word signs can be used anywhere in a word.

What is a single-cell part-word sign? In literary braille, six of the cells used as contractions for so-called two-letter signs are usually grouped together. These are 'ch', 'sh', 'th', 'wh', 'ou', and 'st'. (These are also used as single-cell whole-word contractions.)

What is a "prefix/suffix" part-word sign? There are seven other cells used as contractions for two-letter and three-letter part-words that are usually grouped together. These are 'gh', 'ed', 'er', 'ow', 'ar', 'ing' and 'ble' . (The sign for 'ble' uses the same cell, dots 3-4-5-6, as the number sign.) Despite their name, these part-word signs can be used anywhere in a word. See above for the use of 'Ed' as a single-cell whole-word contraction.)

What is a lower-cell part-word sign? A lower-cell part-word sign uses one of the lower-cell signs that correspond to a downward shift of the dot patterns for the the first eight letters of the alphabet plus the letter "i". Dots 3-6, which is also used as a hyphen or minus sign, is included in this group.

What lower-cell part-word signs are used at the beginning of a word? The cells for "en", "in", "be" (same as semi-colon), "con" (same as hyphen), "dis" (same as a period), and "com" (same as a colon) are the ordinary lower-cell part-word signs. The signs for "en" and "in" can be used anywhere in a word while the other four can normally only be used at the beginning of a word. They can also be used in the middle (but not the end) of a word occurring at the beginning of a line because it has been hyphenated.

What are the "double-letter" signs used in the middle of a word? The cells for "bb" (same as "be" and semi-colon"), "cc" (same as "com" and a colon), "dd" (same as "dis" and a period), "ff" (same as an exclamation point) and "gg" (same as parentheses) can all be used as double-letter part words in the middle of a word. The sign "ea" (same as a comma) is also considered part of this group since it follows the same useage rules.

Multiple-cell part-word contractions

What is an initial-letter part-word contraction? The 33 initial-letter contractions can also be used as part-word contractions. The word "timely" uses the initial-letter contraction for "time". (These are called "initial-letter" because the first letter is a mnemonic, not because their use is restricted to the beginning of a word.)

What is an final-letter part-word contraction? There are 14 two-cell contractions for syllables that are formed by preceding one of eight single-cell letter signs—"d", "e", "g", "l", "n", "s", "t", "y"— by one of the three final-letter contraction indicators. Example are dots 4-6 followed by "n" for "sion", dots 5-6 followed by "n" for "tion", and dot 6 followed by "n" for "ation". (These are called "final-letter" because the final letter is a mnemonic, not because their use is restricted to the end of a word.)

What is a short-form part-word contraction? The short-form word contractions can also be used as part-word contractions. For example, the word "friend" is spelled "fr" and the word "friendly" is spelled "frly".