Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Proposed by their inventor as an international visual-symbolic language, Blissymbols gained acceptance as a communication system for nonvocal handicapped populations. However, basic research has not kept pace with the rapid increase in application. The purpose of this thesis was to study the cognitive processing of Blissymbols to determine (a) the degree to which they represent their word referents, (b) the effect of this representativeness on learning and memory, and (c) the extent to which Blissymbols are processed like pictures and thereby concretize abstract concepts. The studies, conducted within the framework of Paivio's (1971) dual coding theory, began with collecting and validating normative data on the psychological attribute of representativeness. Next, studies were designed to examine the effects of representativeness on incidental learning and transparency of Blissymbols. Finally, two experiments made use of encoding procedures to examine the effects on learning and memory of Blissymbols varying both in representativeness and in concreteness of the concepts they represented.;The early studies established a corpus of 464 Blissymbols with ratings of representativeness and imagery. In addition, these studies demonstrated a positive correlation between representativeness and word attributes such as concreteness, imagery, printed familiarity, meaningfulness and Thorndike-Lorge frequency. Also, representativeness was shown to have a positive effect on naive subjects' learning of associations between symbols and concepts.;Results of memory studies using Blissymbols were consistent with those reported previously for comparable picture-word studies. That is, words to which knowledgeable subjects generated Blissymbols and words that were generated to Blissymbols were recalled better than words coded by synonym or copy tasks. Also, concrete and abstract words associated with Blissymbols in the encoding task were recalled with equal frequency whereas concrete words were recalled more frequently than abstract words in the synonym and copy tasks. These findings suggest that Blissymbols concretize abstract concepts and thus enhance their memorability.;The results suggest that Blissymbols are processed in a manner similar to picture processing and are capable of concretizing abstract concepts. Also, symbol representativeness appears to be an important attribute that needs to be considered in any experimental or clinical application of Blissymbols.



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