About Bliss

Blissymbolics is a communication system originally developed by Charles K. Bliss (1897-1985) for the purpose of international communication. It was first applied to the communication of children with physical disabilities by an interdisciplinary team led by Shirley McNaughton at the Ontario Crippled Children’s Centre (now Holland-Bloorview) in 1971.

The Blissymbolics language is currently composed of over 6,000 graphic symbols. Each symbol or Bliss-word is composed of one or more Bliss-characters which can be combined and recombined in endless ways to create new symbols. Bliss-words can be sequenced to form many types of sentences and express many grammatical capabilities. Simple shapes are used to keep the symbols easy and fast to draw and because both abstract and concrete levels of concepts can be represented, Blissymbolics can be applied both to children and adults and are appropriate for persons with a wide range of intellectual abilities.


  • are quick and easy to learn
  • can be used at a pre-reading level but are sophisticated enough to allow expression of thoughts, ideas and feelings
  • can be expanded as ability grows

Some symbols are pictographs – they look like the things they represent:

house wheel sun electricity
blissymbol for "house" blissymbol for "wheel" blissymbol for "sun" blissymbol for "electricity"

Some symbols are ideographs – they represent ideas:

mind giving knowledge
blissymbol for "mind" blissymbol for "giving" blissymbol for "knowledge"

Blissymbols can be combined to create additional meanings:

wheel and sun equals machine
blissymbol for "wheel" blissymbol for "sun" blissymbol for "machine"

Why Bliss?

The system of Blissymbolics has several features which makes it a preferred means of communication for nonspeaking persons, for persons with limited literacy skills, and for persons who are ready and eager to use Bliss to communicate with persons whatever their language background may be.

Blissymbolics is a language with a wide vocabulary, a grammar which allows for sentences in past, future and present tenses, and markers for possession, plurality, questions and commands.

There are many strategies within the system of Blissymbolics which enable the user to create new symbols. It is a totally generative system with each new symbol interpretable by the receiver through analysing the component parts. In the same way that letters represent sounds that are used to create words in print, meaning-based Bliss units are sequenced to define the meaning of each compound symbol. Since there are a limited number of elements, called key symbols, the learner need only master the meaning of approximately 100 elements.