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2.4 Minspeak

Minspeak is a visual language designed for use in augmentative communication. It was developed by Bruce Baker around 1980 and has been further developed by linguists, clinicians, and people who rely on augmentative communication. Handicapped people, who can not use speech or hand signs with unfamiliar communication partners, rely on aids such as pointing to letters or symbols on a board. However if composing a sentence requires many `keystrokes' the communication is slowed down significantly. Thus simple pointing devices can not be used as efficiently or naturally as speech or might be even impractical for everyday use. Minspeak reduces the number of symbols by use of semantic compaction.

Semantic compaction is the systematic use of secondary iconicity to reduce the number of symbols in a conceptually-based selection set for the representation of natural language.[BRB94]

This needs some more explanation. Natural language refers to spoken languages such as English or German. Natural languages consist of hundred of thousands words, each of which can be encoded in a sequence of characters. The set of possible characters is called the alphabet, which usually consists of 26 letters.

A selection set is a set of symbols. Conceptually based symbols are symbols which encode a concept rather than representing phonetics. An example for a phonetically based system is the alphabet.

Every image or sound evokes notions. The primary iconicity describes the notion of to what degree a particular graphic or sound resembles its referent. Secondary iconicity describes the notions evoked by the image or sound. An example is shown in Figure 2.4. The primary iconicity of that figure is ``cup''. The secondary iconicity of that figure would include ``drink'', ``thirsty'', ``dishes'', or ``white''.

Figure 2.4: A Cup

Now that the terms are defined, let us review the definition of semantic compaction. By systematic use of secondary iconicity of symbols, we can reduce the number of symbols needed to represent natural language. As stated above, natural language consists of many thousands words. Thus it is impossible to find a unique symbol for every word. On the other hand, if the 26 letters of the alphabet are used, one needs many keystrokes or selection operations to write a word. By exploiting the multiple notions an image creates we are able to encode different meanings with one image. Which meaning is the `proper' meaning of the image is based on the context this image is used in.

As Baker puts it, Minspeak is just the commercial name of semantic compaction. A typical Minspeak system such as ``Language, Learning, and Living'' by Tony Jones has a set of approximately one hundred icons, which represent some thousand words and morphologies by icon strings never exceeding four in length.

Minspeak does not enforce one set of given symbols. In fact, everyone can create a set of symbols (and their meanings) on their own. But as this is a time consuming task, there are many predefined Minspeak systems available. These systems may be further enhanced and customized though.

2.4.1 Examples

These examples are given in the Minspeak FAQ [CMV98].

Lindsay is five years old and uses the Liberator (a commercial Minspeak speech device). It has 32 pictures on its overlay. In her system she uses nothing but two icon sequences. These sequences produce either words or complete sentences. Figures 2.5 and 2.6 show two examples. In Lindsay's system the first picture always codes the topic, and the second one codes the specific idea.

Figure 2.5: Lindsay's Minspeak System: When Are We Eating?
[height=2cm]images/questionmark3 [height=2cm]images/happy-apple

Figure 2.6: Lindsay's Minspeak System: The Color Red
[height=2cm]images/rainbow [height=2cm]images/happy-apple

Thus in Figure 2.5 the question mark codes the idea of questions, and the apple represents meal. In Figure 2.6 the rainbow codes the idea of color, and the apple represents the color red.

Sara, who is 22 years old, has one, two, and three icon sequences. Her system consists of approximately 60 icons, which represent about 800 words or phrases according to part of speech (for example: noun, verb, adjective). Figure 2.7 shows different meanings of the symbol apple.

Figure 2.7: Sara's Minspeak System: Four Different Meanings of Apple
\includegraphics[height=1.5cm]{images/happy-apple} + NOUN = food

\includegraphics[height=1.5cm]{images/happy-apple} + VERB = eat

\includegraphics[height=1.5cm]{images/happy-apple} + ADJECTIVE = hungry

\includegraphics[height=1.5cm]{images/happy-apple} + \includegraphics[height=1.5cm]{images/thermometer} + VERB = cook

next up previous contents
Next: 2.5 Bliss Up: 2. Visual Languages Previous: 2.3 Decisions During Design   Contents
Arno Hollosi 2001-01-09