The English Language (and most languages worldwide) use letters to represent phonemes, the smallest distinct units of sound the human voice can create. No intrinsic meaning is attached to these phonemes. In fact, in a phonemic language the sound components must remain meaningless. In English, only combinations of phonemes are assigned meaning. The sounds associated with the alphabet remain meaningless. In English the letters are designed to be interchangeable as well. A small b is simply a d facing the other direction. A p is the same shape upside down. A w is the same as an m. A small e is the same form as a c. The letters are visually interchangeable for a reason, it shows that they are components that only achieve meaning when arranged into systems. A “b” can be swapped out of the word “bad” to form the word “dad”.
It is a system that prizes efficacy and speed, so what is the problem with it? The problem is that it is essentially reductive. Think of the cognitive practice it sets up in the mind of its speakers. Phonemic language communicates the outlook that everything is made of components and that our goal is to discover how to break up these components and rearrange them for greater efficiency.
Dyslexia is a form of resistance to this outlook. A Dyslexic person actually processes visual similarities faster than someone who is not dyslexic. The d instantly becomes the b which instantly becomes the p. The dyslexic person has a higher level of visual acuity, so the problem is that the word “bad” instantly converts to the word “dad”.
Dyslexia resists the reductive view of phonemic language. The dyslexic person knows that phonemic language doesn’t create a usable picture of the human experience. Our experiences, even the mundane things we do every day can’t be dissected into components. Life is magical and everything happens as a whole. We can’t understand our experience by breaking it into components. Understanding only comes when we look at our experiences holistically. Our bad experiences, our losses and personal tragedies, will remain traumatic if we think of them as components. We isolate the impact of the bad experience, and the memory continues to damage us. If we see it holistically, if we consider our growth from the experience and the support we got from others, the event appears completely transformed. Yes the pain is still there, but in the holistic view we see it as part of a continuum that includes the good. The Holistic view allows us a broader field of vision and we observe, undeniably, that the good outweighs the bad. No matter what happens to us, we are each a part of the grand project of life, and we each have a role to play. If you have strength to share you will always find the opportunity to uplift someone else. If you need support in your life you will always find that there is someone to uplift you. You will see this interconnection only if you can see the whole picture. Only if you can see the world as a dyslexic does, as a complete system.
A language doesn’t need to be constructed around interchangeable phonemes. Chinese, for instance, is pictographic. This means that every character is a tiny picture of what it communicates. There is meaning at even the smallest level. Each character is whole, and can’t be separated into meaningless components. In pictographic language, a horse standing in a field will be represented by a tiny image. A horse running through a field would be a slightly different image. Pictographic languages are anti-reductive, which means that the more they are used for communication, the more the number of characters increases. Chinese has around 50,000 characters, but only a percentage of those are used in everyday communication. Perhaps western language is more efficient, but that doesn’t mean it is more beautiful and it doesn’t mean it’s a betta representation of our lives. A Chinese speaker might well envision each moment of their life as unique and un-repeatable- a string of characters growing infinitely longer as their life unfolds. Due to the model of western language, we are tempted to divide our experiences into repeatable components. All our work days seem the same. Which is the more accurate representation of life? Is life constructed of repetitive components, or is each moment irreplaceable, valuable and unique? Living through gratitude, we choose the latter.
Is it any wonder that Dyslexia can become a hidden power? Dyslexics see visual similarity before anything else and are able to visualize complete systems rather than broken components.
Christian Boer is a Dutch font designer who created an English typeface which addresses the problem of inter-changability of letterforms in phonemic alphabets. His font, dyslexie alters each letterform so similar letters have their own identity. The d is strikingly different from the b and the p. Clinical testing has shown that Dyslexie helps mitigate the interchangeablity problems of the English alphabet. You can download Dyslexie for free by following this link.