They were invented by Charles K. Bliss (1897-1985) after the Second World War. Bliss wanted to create an easy-to-learn international auxiliary language to allow communication between people who do not speak the same language. He was inspired by Chinese characters (which are not ideograms), with which Bliss became familiar while in Shanghai as a refugee from Nazi anti-semitic persecution. His system World Writing was explained in his work Semantography (1949). This work laid out the language structure and vocabulary for his utopian vision of easy communication, but it failed to gain popularity. However, since the 1960s, Blissymbols have become popular as a method of augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) for non-speaking people with cerebral palsy or other disorders, for whom it can be impossible to otherwise communicate with spoken language. Practitioners of Blissymbolics (that is, speech and language therapists and users) maintain that some users who have learned to communicate with Blissymbolics find it easier to learn to read and write traditional orthography in the local spoken language than do users who did not know Blissymbolics.
Whether Blissymbolics constitutes an unspoken language, whatever its practical utility may be, is a controversial question. Some linguists, such as John DeFrancis (The Chinese Language 1984, Visible Speech 1989) and J. Marshall Unger (Ideogram 2004) have argued that genuine ideographic writing systems with the same capacities as natural languages do not exist.
Blissymbolics Communication International is an international group of people who act as an authority regarding the standardization of the Blissymbolics language. It has taken responsibility for any extensions of the Blissymbolics language as well as any maintenance needed for the language. BCI has coordinated usage of the language since 1971 for augmentative and alternative communication. BCI received a licence and copyright through legal agreements with Charles K. Bliss in 1975 and 1982. Limiting the count of Bliss-characters (there are currently about 900) is very useful to help the user community. It also helps when implementing Blissymbolics using technology such as computers.
An example of Blissymbolics is,
I want to go to the cinema.
Blissymbolics was first used in 1971 to help children at the Ontario Crippled Children’s Centre (OCCC, now the Bloorview-MacMillan Children’s Centre) in Toronto, Canada. Since it was important that the children see consistent pictures, OCCC had a draftsman named Jim Grice draw the symbols. Both Charles K. Bliss and Margrit Beesley at the OCCC worked with Grice to ensure consistency. In 1975, a new organization named Blissymbolics Communication Foundation directed by Shirley McNaughton led this effort. Over the years, this organization changed its name to Blissymbolics Communication Institute, Easter Seal Communication Institute, and ultimately to Blissymbolics Communication International.