Often misunderstood, Minspeak remains a valid method of representing language with symbols. It is different, but it delivers , as over 50, 000 users worldwide attest
Minspeak is a way of representing language in a communication device.
If you show people a picture of something simple, like an apple, they will naturally associate more than one idea with that picture. People usually say the most obvious idea first – "apple" – but then they start associating more ideas – "fruit," "red," "eat," "bite," and "hungry." Minspeak takes advantage of this natural tendency by using a small set of pictures to represent a large number of words in a communication device.
Minspeak is an effective and efficient language representation method that promotes independent communication.
With a small number of pictures – called icons – the person using Minspeak can independently communicate a large vocabulary without having to spell or to learn and navigate through a large set of pictures.
Minspeak® is a unique way of representing words via symbols. Devised by American linguist Bruce Baker in the 1980s, it a patented approach that only generates language once symbols are placed in sequences. Every other AAC system relies on matching one symbol with one word, or phrase/sentence. These other products, wherein selection of a single symbol immediately produces a single utterance, give rise to what is termed a page-based system of vocabulary.
Minspeak®, however, seeks to embrace many of the challenges faced by single-hit systems. Drawing upon knowledge of language acquisition & organisation, Dr Baker designed a radically different way of giving many non-verbal people access to independent, novel, spontaneous communication.
The concept of sequencing symbols, known in Minspeak® as icons, as they can represent many different meanings, allows the system to display one, static home-page of a relatively small number of locations. By combining icons through a specific sequence of selection for a specific word, the user is able to effectively produce thousands of words from the one page. This certainly gives easy, quick access to all the core words. Access to fringe words tends to be triggered by verb association & context.
Not only is there a single page of icons; the spatial position of those icons never changes, plus the icons themselves always remain the same, in the purest, simplest form of Minspeak®. Never having to leave the true home page means that a user does not have to exit & begin a hunt for vocabulary via a 3-D maze of pages & pages of words.
Generation of words in Minspeak® follows patterns of selection that mirror the various parts of speech. This encourages the development of motor plans over time that are akin to typing, dressing, playing a musical instrument, changing gears, etc. In turn this concept mimics the way in which we actually produce verbal speech ourselves: a unique motor plan of tongue, lips, cheek, teeth & breath to speak one unique word.
In real language words often have multiple-meanings depending upon semantic context. Pictures also produce multiple meanings (polysemy) as the mind is hard-wired to consider a range of possible relationships. This idea causes cognitive strain for the user of a single-icon single-meaning AAC system, yet in Minspeak® this becomes a strength as each icon by itself has no specific meaning. This is only achieved once a sequence of icons is put together.
Again, this delivers a big advantage to the user learning Minspeak®, as they only have to become familiar with a small, static set of icons (eg. 84), while those striving to learn an alternative system will have to memorise literally hundreds & then thousands of different symbols which often change location when repeated on different pages within the AAC software.
To be able to express oneself, it is imperative that you can easily, quickly access core words that form the structure & bulk of every sentence or phrase you will ever compose. Someone dependent upon AAC has the same need. Minspeak® users are able to generate words at a rapid rate with relatively few selections (or keystrokes). A lack of precision & speed when trying to communicate are huge sources of frustration for people using AAC as they try to engage & hold the attention of wider community members.
Minspeak® is a rule-driven, predictable language system, just as is English. Its consistency creates & reinforces the intuition of users as they explore the structure & learn what is expected. It is an approach that has to be learned, but its regularity permits orthodox teaching. This is achieved by repetitive practice that establishes motor plans, in an identical way to the way infants learn to speak.
Certain languages are far more regular than others, however. English, being derived from a multi-linguistic base, contains many conflicting rules of grammar. Also, the core words, especially verbs, tend to be irregular. By utilising spatial patterns of selection to zero in on particular verb tenses & adjectival degrees, precision can be taught clearly, avoiding intellectually demanding notions. Thus Minspeak simplifies morphology for students & imposes a more comprehendible set of instructions.
Core words are abstract in nature, preventing them from being represented in a concrete manner by symbols. In a single-symbol single-word system, it is quite arbitrary whichever symbol is chosen to represent a word like "that". No one such symbol is going to be any better at providing a possible cue to the user than any other. This is also a difficulty when it comes to depicting personal pronouns. Minspeak® neatly avoids this problem.
Even when it comes to fringe words (nouns) that can be termed "picture producers" the intended meaning can be misconstrued. As we saw above, the picture of the apple can still give rise to many interpretations. This is yet another cognitive strain upon a prospective device user as they have to memorise so many symbol's singular meaning without definite helpful visual cues.
With Minspeak, users can converse with confidence, employing excellent grammar & structure, & producing correct written text, though they may yet have to master literacy. Conversely, Minspeak is frequently used by fully-literate folk who are physically compromised, permitting them to increase the tempo of their communication while supplementing their discourse via spelling when necessary.