braille square
Learning Braille

Braille - as I see it!

The Braille square

10 patterns of dots

Creating the letters

Developing the invention

Look-alike letters
Louis Braille (1809-1852) invented his alphabet for the blind sometime between 12 and 15 years of age. How the boy did it is a mystery. Does anyone know? Were the dots a mere random choice by Louis? That seems unlikely for he would hardly need so much time to develop it by that method. Do the dot-shapes of the braille alphabet form a sequence? If so, that would suggest Louis Braille used a plan or geometrical pattern to invent them?

The first 10 letters are formed using the top two dots of each column only. The next 10 letters are easily formed by using the original 10 letters, in the same order, with one extra dot (3) added to each. The remaining five letters U V X Y Z are formed just as easily by using the first five letters of the original 10 but with two dots, (3) and (6), added to each.

Those first 10 letters are the key to everything! But how did Louis Braille derive them? That is the challenge! Only four dots in the form of a square are used. Before we consider the dots, let us consider the underlying square on which they are built and see if that leads anywhere. The square is quite obvious, of course, and to it we can add two diagonals (see diagram). Now add dots to the corners of the square and then join the dots every which way you can:

Dot patterns   4 corner dots
  2 vertical lines
  2 horizontal lines
  2 diagonal lines
  1 square
  4 corners
Potentially, each of these 15 patterns could be used to define a letter but, as is quite obvious, the four single dots are indistiguishable from each other and, so, to avoid confusing the blind, only one dot can be used. By a similar argument, only one vertical line and one horizontal line can be used. After removing the duplicates, there are 10 individual shapes remaining. Here they are: