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Symbol Systems

Symbol Systems

The following information was provided by Gillian Nelms, ACE Centre, Oxford.


Blissymbols use nine basic shapes to represent 2,500 vocabulary items.
New vocabulary is constantly being developed throughout the world.
Many symbols are highly abstract, in order to sustain as consistent and inherent logic as possible.
The size orientation and position of the shapes determines the meaning.
There are symbols to mark all parts of speech.
'Special Symbols' enable users to create novel words and utterances without substantially adding to the total number of items in a user's communication system.
Blissymbols are visually and cognitively more demanding, but less 'visually busy' than more pictographic systems when displayed on a chart.


There are approximately 1,400 line drawings.
The pictographs are computer generated and some can appear highly stylised.
Important features of an object or concept are highlighted.
Abstract vocabulary is represented by text.
Compic is rarely used in the UK.

Makaton Vocabulary


There are about 800 Picsyms, with approximately 2,000 available as Dynasyms in the Dynavox.
The symbols can be pictographic or as abstract as needed.
The shape or manner of representation of a symbol provides a clue to the semantic category that item belongs to, e.g. action is represented by an arrow indicating the direction of the action.
There are guidelines for creating new vocabulary.
As yet the system is not widely used in the UK.
Many of the symbols look very visually 'busy'.

Rebus Symbols

There are about 7,000 Widgit Rebus Symbols available in black & white and colour.
Rebus symbols were devised originally to help develop reading skills.
They have since been extended and brought under a clear schematic design criteria which includes grammatical markers. The set is designed with for international use with the minimum use of text.
The vocabulary is being continually developed and extended.


Sigsymbols are meaning based.
Some symbols are signed linked.
There are guidelines for creating new vocabulary, e.g. if it is not possible to create a pictographic symbol, a sign linked one can be used.
Colour is used to highlight the focus of the symbol.


Text is immediately understood by most people.
Access to individual letters provides access to an unlimited vocabulary.
Text is perceived as more socially acceptable than symbols or pictures.
The user may not be able to spell everything they want to say if they are using a letter board.
Although a user may recognise a large number of words, they may not be able to spell additional words to expand their vocabulary.
Words tend to be viewed as having only one meaning, therefore the listener may not think as divergently with a text based user as a symbol user.
Paper and pencil are generally needed to write down what the user is saying, to provide a reinforcement for them and a memory jogger for the listener.

Graphics Systems - Picture Sets

Symbol Systems

Speech and Language Difficulties


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