Towards a ‘Real Character’ for the Computer Age

Ian Maun 1 ,
Author Information & Copyright
1University of Exeter
Corresponding Author : Ian Maun, University of Exeter Graduate School of Education University of Exeter St. Luke’s Campus EXETER EX1 2LU United Kingdom. Phone: 01626-772114; Email:

Copyright ⓒ 2016, Sejong University Language Research Institue. This is an Open-Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial License ( which permits unrestricted non-commercial use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

Received: Jan 30, 2013; Revised: Feb 25, 2013; Accepted: Mar 11, 2013

Published Online: Jan 01, 2017


This paper deals with the theory of a ‘Real Character,’ that is to say, a form of writing which conveys ideas, rather than sounds, and the possible application of such a system to computer- mediated communication. The need for increasingly efficient international communication is noted and the idea of ‘iconicity’ is incorporated into the argument, together with the narrower idea of the ‘symbol’ as defined by the semiotician Charles Sanders Peirce. Historical antecedents from the seventeenth century onwards are examined, as are present-day artificial languages. Modern research into semantic primes is linked to work on visual primes. The notion of ‘the sentence-as-character,’ is proposed, a format which dispenses with the need for linear syntax. The question of metaphorical meaning is discussed in the light of theories of embodiment. In order to facilitate speedy reading, on-screen Rapid Serial Visual Presentation of texts with animation, colour and 3-D is proposed. Technological issues of computer implementation and further development are raised, ways forward are examined, and cultural and linguistic problems tabled for further consideration.

Keywords: character; icon; pasigraphy; prime; syntax



Barker, P. & P. van Schaik. 2000. Designing and Evaluating Icons. In M. Yazdani & P. Barker (eds.), Iconic Communication. Bristol: Intellect Books.


Baron, D. 2009. A Better Pencil: Readers, Writers, and the Digital Revolution. Oxford: Oxford University Press.


Berlin, B. & P. Kay. 1969. Basic Color Terms. Berkeley & Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press.


Bliss, C. 1949. International Semantography: A Non-Alphabetical Symbol Writing Readable in All Languages. Sydney: Institute of Semantography.


Carus, P. 1904. Pasigraphy: A Suggestion. The Monist 4.14, 565-582.


Chao, Y. 1968. Language and Symbolic Systems. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


Charteris, L. 1972. Paleneo: A Universal Sign Language. London: Hodder & Stoughton for Interlit A.G.


Comrie, B. 1981. Language Universals and Linguistic Typology. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.


Couturat, L. & L. Leau. (1903) 2012. Histoire de la langue universelle. Paris: Hachette. Kessinger Publishing reprint on demand.


Crow, D. 2006. Left to Right: The Cultural Shift from Words to Pictures. Lausanne: AVA.


Crowder, R. 1982. The Psychology of Reading: An Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press.


Crystal, D. 1987. The Cambridge Encyclopaedia of Language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


Crystal, D. 2008. Txting: The gr8 db8. Oxford: Oxford University Press.


Dalgarno, G. (1661) 2001. The Art of Signs. In D. Cram & J. Maat (eds.), George Dalgarno on Universal Language. Oxford: Oxford University Press.


DeFrancis, J. 1984. The Chinese Language: Fact and Fantasy. Honolulu, HI: University of Hawaii Press.


Dondis, D. 1973. A Primer of Visual Literacy. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.


Eco, U. 1995. The Search for the Perfect Language. Oxford: Blackwell.


Feldman, L. & W. Siok. 1997. The Role of Component Function in Visual Recognition of Chinese Characters. Journal of Experimental Psychology, Learning, Memory, and Cognition 23.3, 776-781.


Frutiger, A. 1989. Signs and Symbols: Their Design and Meaning. London: Studio Editions.


Goddard, C. 1998. Semantic Analysis: A Practical Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press.


Goddard, C. 2010. NSM. Available at URL < au/humanities-languages/school-languages-linguistics/research/ natural-semantic-metalanguage-homepage>.


Grabe, W. 2009. Reading in a Second Language: Moving from Theory to Practice. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


Haag, K. 1902. Versuch einer graphischen Sprache auf logischer Grundlage. Stuttgart: W. Kohlhammer.


Hankes, E. 1992. Ehmay Ghee Chah: A Universal Second Language. Minneapolis, MN: The Hankes Foundation.


Helfman, E. 1981. Blissymbolics: Speaking without Speech. New York: Elsevier.


Hesse, H. 1943. The Glass Bead Game (Das Glasperlenspiel). Translated by R. Winston & C. Winston. Harmondsworth: Penguin.


Hofstadter, D. (1979) 1999. Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid. 20th anniversary edition, with a new preface by the author. Harmondsworth: Penguin.


Horton, W. 1994. The Icon Book: Visual Symbols for Computer Systems and Documentation. New York: Wiley & Sons, Inc.


Jackendoff, R. 1991. Parts and Boundaries. In B. Levin & S. Pinker (eds.), Lexical and Conceptual Semantics. Cambridge, MA: Blackwell.


Jenkins, G. 1965. Personalities of Language. London: Gollancz.


Kaku, M. 2008. Physics of the Impossible. Harmondsworth: Penguin.


Katz, J. 1972. Semantic Theory. New York: Harper & Row.


Knowlson, J. 1975. Universal Language Schemes in England and France 1600-1800. Toronto & Buffalo: University of Toronto Press.


Kress, G. & T. van Leeuwen. 1996. Reading Images: The Grammar of Visual Design. London: Routledge.


Lakoff, G. & M. Johnson. 1980. Metaphors We Live by. Chicago, IL & London: University of Chicago Press.


Lakoff, G. & M. Johnson. 1999. Philosophy in the Flesh: The Embodied Mind and its Challenge to Western Thought. New York: Basic Books.


Leach, E. 1976. Culture and Communication: The Logic by which Symbols are Connected. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


Leech, G. 1974. Semantics. Harmondsworth: Penguin.


Lewis, R. 2007. Language, Mind, and Nature: Artificial Languages in England from Bacon to Locke. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


Lidwell, W. et al. 2003. Universal Principles of Design. Beverley, MA: Rockport Publishers Inc.


Liungman, C. 1995. Thought Signs: The Semiotics of Symbols— Western Non-Pictorial Ideograms. Amsterdam: IOS Press.


Maat, J. 2004. Philosophical Languages in the Seventeenth Century: Dalgarno, Wilkins, Leibniz. Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers.


Maun, I. 2009. Scaffolds for Reading in French: Lessons from History, Guidance for the Future? Language Awareness 18.2, 198-214.


McNaughton, W. & L. Ying. 1999. Reading & Writing Chinese: Traditional Character Edition. Rutland: Tuttle Publishing.


Nieuwenstein, M. & M. Potter. 2006. Temporal Limits of Selection and Memory Encoding. Psychological Science 17.6, 471-475.


Okrent, A. 2009. In the Land of Invented Languages. New York: Spiegel & Grau.


Öquist, G. & M. Goldstein. 2002. Towards an Improved Readability on Mobile Devices: Evaluating Adaptive Rapid Serial Visualisation. In F. Paternò (ed.), Human Computer Interaction with Mobile Devices: Proceedings of 4th International Symposium (Mobile HCI 2012) 225-240. Berlin: Springer-Verlag.


Pope, M. (1975) 1999. The Story of Decipherment: From Egyptian Hieroglyphs to Maya Script. Revised edition. London: Thames & Hudson.


Robinson, A. 1995. The Story of Writing. London: Thames & Hudson.


Roget, P. (1852) 1992. Roget's Thesaurus of English Words and Phrases. Facsimile of the first edition. London: Blooomsbury Books.


Salmon, V. (ed.) 1972. The Works of Francis Lodwick. London: Longman.


Sassoon, R. & A. Gaur. 1997. Signs, Symbols, and Icons. Exeter: Intellect Books.


Searle, J. 1969. Speech Acts: An Essay in the Philosophy of Language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


Seuren, P. 1969. Operators and Nucleus: A Contribution to the Theory of Grammar. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


Simone, R. (ed.) 1994. Iconicity in Language. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.


Singer, T. 1989. Hieroglyphs, Real Characters, and the Idea of Natural Language in English 17th-Century Thought. Journal of the History of Ideas 50.1, 49-70.


Slaughter, M. 1982. Universal Languages and Scientific Taxonomy in the Seventeenth Century. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


Sproat, R. 2010. Language, Technology, and Society. Oxford: Oxford University Press.


Thompson, P. & P. Davenport. 1982. The Dictionary of Visual Language. Harmondsworth: Penguin.


Unger, J. 2004. Ideogram: Chinese Characters and the Myth of Disembodied Meaning. Honolulu, HI: University of Hawaii Press.


Wierzbička, A. 1996. Semantics: Primes and Universals. Oxford: Oxford University Press.


Wilkins, J. (1668) 1968. An Essay Towards a Real Character and a Philosophical Language. Reprint. Menston: The Scolar Press.


Wittgenstein, L. (1922) 1974. Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. Revised edition. London: Routledge.


Yaguello, M. 1991. Lunatic Lovers of Language: Imaginary Languages and their Inventors. London: The Athlone Press.


Yench, J. 2003. A Universal Language for Mankind. New York, Lincoln, NE, & Shanghai: Writers Club Press.

JUL Research Ethics Workshop

July 1-2, 2020   

For further detailed information, please contact us (

I don't want to open this window for a day.

JUL Research Ethics Workshop

January 8-9, 2020   

For further detailed information, please contact us (

I don't want to open this window for a day.