So how far can we get without hitting the limits of our pre-existing symbolism? Roughly what percentage of core English already has pre-established symbols? For example, in that sentence right there, how many words can simply be replaced with a picture that more or less conveys the idea behind the word? Well, there are a few...


That's, like, five words out of ten. Of course, some of these might not work as well as others. Writing is traditionally in monochrome, so we probably can't use multicolored flags. A question mark conveys a question, but it won't tell us whether the question is specifically "who", "where", "why" or "when".

But it should give us a starting point.

Let's begin, as all great literature does, with the sentence, "It was a dark and stormy night."

"It was..."

The first thing to make clear is that we are not planning to strictly translate each individual word of English into an exactly equivalent glyph. Rather, as in all translation, we will adopt the translation to fit the rules and connotations of the target language.

For example, the "it" of "It was" doesn't literally mean "something that we've already mentioned but now we're replacing with a pronoun". "It was" is just the way the English language states that a condition existed.

Is there a visual symbol for this somewhere? Well, yes. In symbolic logic, they use a backward E to mean "There exists..."

"... dark ..." Is there a symbol for "dark" somewhere out there? Sort of. On the controls of your television and monitor, there's an icon for brightness control.
".... and ..." There's already a symbol for "and", right there on your keyboard: &
"... stormy..." On weather maps you can find plenty of standardized symbols, including one for "storm".
"... night ..." There's not really a symbol for "night" exactly, but if you're drawing a crude illustration of nighttime, there are some cultural conventions that are commonly used -- the crescent moon, some stars, a bed -- The problem is that stars, moons and beds are also used in various contexts and combinations to illustrate the sky, Islam, a month, the USA, the USSR, a hotel, outer space or an outhouse. We will have to standardize which combinations mean what.

Playing around with these (and adding some grammar), we might be able to translate "It was a dark and stormy night" as ...

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Last updated December 2004

Copyright © 2003-04 Matthew White