International Council on English Braille (ICEB)

Unified Braille Code Research Project

Report by the
Joint Session
of the
Objective II Committee
and the
Objective IV Committee

February 27, 2001

Section 1

This report covers the work of a Joint Session of Committees II and IV held 13 March through 10 August, 2000. During that period, the Joint Session primarily addressed the subject of braille code switches, i.e. indicators that would enable readers to identify any passages transcribed in a braille code other than UEBC.

For the period covered by this report, the members of the Objective II Committee were:

and the members of the Objective IV Committee were: For purposes of this joint session, anyone on either committee had one vote (but not two votes for those who happened to be on both).

For best viewing of the braille characters in this document: See the separate UBC Symbols List for information on settings and/or fonts that may be required.

Section 2

By motion adopted 10 August 2000, the Joint Session assigned the following UEBC symbols and symbol sequences:

subject to the following rules of interpretation ("reader rules"):

1. These symbols indicate text that is transcribed in a braille code other than UEBC, such as Music Braille, established codes for languages other than English, historical or proposed codes, etc., when the nature and extent of the non-UEBC transcription is not already clear from formatting or other context.

2. The first of these, i.e. the opening passage indicator, may be augmented by a short sequence of letters between the two symbols, i.e. before the dot 3, as an aid to identifying the specific braille code, when the alternate code is not obvious. For example,


could indicate that the immediately following text was in French braille. "mu" will normally designate music, and other two-letter sequences will normally designate major languages as listed in ISO standard 639 [see Appendix A], but the actual abbreviations and meanings in a given instance are chosen by the transcriber. A special symbols page or similar list provided by the transcriber will define any such abbreviations that are made up by the transcriber for the purposes of a particular transcription.

3. When the non-UEBC text occurs in the same line with UEBC text, the opening non-UEBC passage indicator (together with the abbreviation identifying the code, if any) immediately precedes the non-UEBC text, and the closing non-UEBC passage indicator immediately follows the non-UEBC text, without spaces except for those that occur in the text. In displayed material, that is when the non-UEBC text is deliberately presented on separate line(s), each of the passage indicators may be on a line by itself.

4. The effect of a non-UEBC passage indicator ceases at the next instance of any of these four indicators.

5. The opening non-UEBC word indicator immediately precedes the word to which it applies, and its effect is terminated at the next space or at the next non-UEBC word terminator, whichever comes first.

6. The non-UEBC word indicator cannot be augmented by an identifying abbreviation. If not otherwise obvious, the code is understood to be the same as for the next previous non-UEBC passage.

Section 3

While not part of the motion, the following associated guidelines for transcribers were drafted by the maker of the motion in order to assist in understanding how the code switching indicators would be used:

1. Use these symbols to indicate text that is transcribed in a braille code other than UEBC, such as Music Braille, established codes for languages other than English, historical or proposed codes, etc., when the nature and extent of the non-UEBC transcription is not already clear from formatting or other context. Preferably, do not use them when the nature and extent of the non-UEBC material is quite clear, as for example in a table where one column contains English words and the corresponding words in the second column are the French equivalents, and the columns are respectively labeled "English" and "French" (or the arrangement is otherwise obvious). In borderline cases, use these non-UEBC indicators.

2. When using the passage indicators: When the non-UEBC text is to be "displayed" on one or more lines separate from the UEBC text, you may place the passage indicators on separate lines by themselves. Otherwise, place the indicators at the exact point of change from UEBC to non-UEBC code or back, without adding any spaces not actually present in the text.

3. Use just the simple indicator symbols when the nature of the non-UEBC code is obvious from context, as would almost always apply when only one non-UEBC code is used within a particular text. In other cases, augment the opening passage indicator with a two- or three-letter mnemonic abbreviation identifying the code, e.g.:


to signal the beginning of material transcribed in French braille. When applicable, use "mu" for Music Braille, or the two-letter languages abbreviations listed in ISO standard 639A for the major languages. In other cases, make up a mnemonic abbreviation comprising letters (no contractions) that is unique within the text. Preferably, if practical and according to agency practice, include a list of all the augmented opening passage indicators used within a text, including both the standard ones and any that you make up, in a "transcriber's note page" or "special symbols page" or similar central reference.

4. In rare cases where the closing passage indicator could be misread as a symbol within the non-UEBC code itself, use an opening passage indicator instead, augmented by "en" (implying that UEBC is resuming) or other suitable augmentation as determined by the transcriber. Do this only when the projected misreading is a realistic concern, not when it is merely a theoretical possibility. In borderline cases, use an augmented opening symbol.

5. In those cases where one non-UEBC code is immediately followed by another non-UEBC code, omit the closing passage indicator between the two. In other words, the second opening symbol has the effect of closing the first.

6. Use the non-UEBC word indicator immediately before individual words that are transcribed in a code other than UEBC, when the nature of the code is obvious or the same as a non-UEBC passage preceding the word within the same paragraph. In all other cases, use the opening passage indicator, even for a single word.

7. Use the non-UEBC word terminator when the non-UEBC transcription reverts to UEBC at a point other than at a space--e.g. when a punctuation mark, transcribed in UEBC, is appended immediately after a non-UEBC word.

Section 4

The subject of braille code switches had been expected to be a fairly easy one, as from the beginning there seemed to be a majority of participants who agreed upon the need for such switches. It therefore appeared that the only work to be done was to make the actual switching symbol assignments, and assignments for seldom-used symbols are usually not too controversial. In fact, the debate proved to be lengthy and the final vote was close, 5 in favor and 4 opposed, with 4 of the 13 voting members abstaining. The following are the principal minority points that were raised, and the corresponding points that eventually appeared to be the majority view:

1. A few of the members questioned the need for code switches at all, preferring the concept of UEBC being used directly when possible, even for some excursions into other languages, and transcriber's notes or transcriber-assigned symbols being used for cases where foreign braille codes were unavoidable. But on this point the clear consensus did remain in favor of having code switches, partly because UEBC is not designed for reasonable representation of languages other than English (e.g. every Greek letter would require two cells), and also because English-speaking students of a foreign language would be better served by having foreign passages presented in braille similar to that which would be encountered in materials prepared by native speakers of that language.

2. While all the members would have preferred a shorter "closing" indicator for a non-UEBC passage, most accepted that some of the short and simple symbols that were considered were problematic in other ways for this particular purpose. In particular it was observed that the closing indicator should ideally be unambiguous not only in UEBC but also in the particular non-UEBC code as well. Some felt that it is the responsibility of the UEBC user who chooses to initiate a non-UEBC passage to ensure that a safe return is possible -- if necessary, by adding a prefix to a standard UEBC symbol (which itself could then be relatively light), or by some other method to assure nonambiguity while remaining sensitive to the design of the non-UEBC code. With this approach, either the individual UEBC user or the UEBC community, not necessarily the designers of the non-UEBC code, could make the special provision if one is needed. However, the prevailing view on this point was that there are so many non-UEBC codes -- in fact, the category is completely open-ended -- that it is not realistic to expect that such a process would be workable for all of them, and so it is safer and simpler to choose a symbol that is unlikely, by reason of length, to have sensible meaning within other codes.

3. There was consensus, at least among those who thought that switching indicators were needed at all, that at times it would be helpful for the opening non-UEBC passage indicator to indicate specifically which non-UEBC code was coming. Such times could include cases where several non-UEBC codes were being used in near proximity. But the committee was not unanimous as to the manner in which to convey that information. Some members would have preferred a "family" of individual UEBC symbols that could be allocated by the transcriber to the various non-UEBC codes in use in a given work. There was also opinion to the effect that the "list" of identifiers, i.e. ISO 639 for languages plus "mu" for music, being known to be incomplete subject to possible misinterpretation, should be abandoned in favor of transcriber-devised identifiers in all cases. The prevailing view was that the mnemonic clue provided by the identifiers was useful, and that the given list was at least a start, based upon an established standard, that would cover the most common cases while still allowing for transcriber augmentation when necessary.

4. Some expressed preference for switching symbols that would always be surrounded by spaces, and in fact the first version of the motion that eventually carried included such provisions. However, the eventual opinion was that this would create ambiguities as to which spaces were truly in the text, especially when a switch was needed at a place other than at a space in the text (e.g. for text within enclosing punctuation such as parentheses or quotes, if that punctuation is not itself to be expressed in the non-UEBC code).

5. Some felt it would be better always to close each excursion into a non-UEBC passage, i.e. to return to UEBC, before commencing another passage in a different non-UEBC code; others did not share that preference.

6. Some expressed dislike for the fact that, when the opening non-UEBC passage indicator does not contain any short letter sequence to identify the specific non-UEBC code, that is in the usual case where the two symbols that would otherwise bound the identifier are simply used in sequence as a "default" indicator, the resulting two-symbol sequence can be viewed as a cumbersome departure from the usual use of single symbols as indicators in UEBC. While shorter symbols are generally preferred, all else being equal, the proposed symbols were accepted as they provide consistency whether or not augmented by an identifier -- and there is no basic reason that symbol sequences cannot serve as indicators as well as individual symbols.


Code Language Name
AA Afar
AB Abkhazian
AF Afrikaans
AM Amharic
AR Arabic
AS Assamese
AY Aymara
AZ Azerbaijani
BA Bashkir
BE Byelorussian
BG Bulgarian
BH Bihari
BI Bislama
BN Bengali; Bangla
BO Tibetan
BR Breton
CA Catalan
CO Corsican
CS Czech
CY Welsh
DA Danish
DE German
DZ Bhutani
EL Greek
EN English
EO Esperanto
ES Spanish
ET Estonian
EU Basque
FA Persian (Farsi)
FI Finnish
FJ Fiji
FO Faroese
FR French
FY Frisian
GA Irish
GD Scots Gaelic
GL Galician
GN Guarani
GU Gujarati
HA Hausa
HI Hindi
HR Croatian
HU Hungarian
HY Armenian
IA Interlingua
IE Interlingue
IK Inupiak
IN Indonesian
IS Icelandic
IT Italian
IW Hebrew
JA Japanese
JI Yiddish
JV Javanese
KA Georgian
KK Kazakh
KL Greenlandic
KM Cambodian
KN Kannada
KO Korean
KS Kashmiri
KU Kurdish
KY Kirghiz
LA Latin
LN Lingala
LO Laothian
LT Lithuanian
LV Latvian; Lettish
MG Malagasy
MI Maori
MK Macedonian
ML Malayalam
MN Mongolian
MO Moldavian
MR Marathi
MS Malay
MT Maltese
MY Burmese
NA Nauru
NE Nepali
NL Dutch
NO Norwegian
OC Occitan
OM Afan (Oromo)
OR Oriya
PA Punjabi
PL Polish
PS Pashto; Pushto
PT Portuguese
QU Quechua
RM Rhaeto-Romance
RN Kurundi
RO Romanian
RU Russian
RW Kinyarwanda
SA Sanskrit
SD Sindhi
SG Sangho
SH Serbo-Croatian
SI Singhalese
SK Slovak
SL Slovenian
SM Samoan
SN Shona
SO Somali
SQ Albanian
SR Serbian
SS Siswati
ST Sesotho
SU Sundanese
SV Swedish
SW Swahili
TA Tamil
TE Telugu
TG Tajik
TH Thai
TI Tigrinya
TK Turkmen
TL Tagalog
TN Setswana
TO Tonga
TR Turkish
TS Tsonga
TT Tatar
TW Twi
UK Ukrainian
UR Urdu
UZ Uzbek
VI Vietnamese
VO Volapuk
WO Wolof
XH Xhosa
YO Yoruba
ZH Chinese
ZU Zulu

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Page content last updated: August 10, 2001