Charles Barbier

Charles Barbier de la Serre (18 May 1767 – 22 April 1841) was the creator of night writing.

Charles Barbier
Born18 May 1767
Died22 April 1841(1841-04-22) (aged 73)

Charles Barbier de la Serre served in the French Army during the late 18th century. He invented various forms of shorthand, as well as a form of writing known as "Ecriture Nocturne" (night writing) using raised dots that became the basis for what is now Braille.[1]

Barbier's system was related to the Polybius square, in which a two-digit code represents a letter. In Barbier's variant, a 6×6 square includes most of the letters of the French alphabet, as well as several digraphs and trigraphs:

1 aiouéè
2 aninonuneuou
3 bdgjvz
4 ptqchfs
5 lmnrgnll
6 oioinianienionieu

A letter (or digraph or trigraph) was represented by two columns of dots, in which the first column had one to six dots denoting the row in the square and the second had one to six dots denoting the column: e. g. 4-2 for "t" represented by

As many as twelve dots (two columns of 6) would be needed to represent one symbol.

Barbier's system was not a simple encoding of the French alphabet. The system required the user to first encode the standard spelling into a quasi-phonetic rendering. Mellor[2] gives the following example:

Une femme était restée veuve avec trois garçons et ne subsistait que par leur travail (A woman had been widowed with three sons and was provided for only by their work.)

encoded as:

un fam étè résté veuve avec troi garson é n subsistè q d leur travall

Eventually Barbier introduced his concept to the blind at the suggestion of members of the French Royal Academy of Sciences. In 1821, students at the Royal Institution for Blind Youth in Paris assembled for a demonstration of Barbier's system. It was favorably received, because the older system of embossed Latin letters with its curves and straight lines was much harder for blind people to understand than the simple patterns of dots, and they could not use the system to write or take notes. Barbier also provided a system by which the students could write his symbols, using a special writing board and a pointed tool to make the dots.

Louis Braille, who was a boy studying at the institution at the time, was interested in Barbier's method. Braille reduced the number of dot positions from 12 in 2 columns to 6 in 2 columns, which was easier to scan with the fingers. Later, Braille transformed night writing, which Barbier had invented, and turned it into a system used to this day: Braille.

See also


  1. "What is Braille?". American Foundation for the Blind. Archived from the original (web) on 2007-11-19. Retrieved 2008-04-02.
  2. Mellor, C. Michael (2006). Louis Braille: A Touch of Genius. Boston, MA: National Braille Press. ISBN 0-939173-70-0.
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