Faculty Advisor or Committee Member

David C. Brown, Committee Member

Faculty Advisor or Committee Member

Lee A. Becker, Advisor

Faculty Advisor or Committee Member

Norman Wittels, Committee Member

Faculty Advisor or Committee Member

Stanley M. Selkow, Committee Member

Faculty Advisor or Committee Member

Micha Hofri, Department Head




As the world becomes smaller through advances in telecommunications, the need for communication between speakers of different languages becomes greater. Concerns about cultural and economic hegemony argue against the use of any natural language, and machine translation is not yet perfected and available to speakers of all languages. With the technological developments of the last decade, such as powerful computers, graphical interfaces, and the World Wide Web, an excellent opportunity has been created for a computer-mediated visual interlingua to meet this need. An iconic language could be designed to take advantage of the technology. People would be able to communicate with an iconic language without the need to draw pictures themselves, since they could choose these pictures from the screen. This dissertation describes VIL, an iconic visual interlingua based on the notion of simplified speech. Similar to pidgins, languages arising from the prolonged contact between people speaking two or more languages, VIL utilizes features that are in the 'greatest common denominator' of features in different languages. This allows its complexity to be significantly reduced; for example, it has no inflection, no number, gender, or tense markers, and no articles. VIL has no linear order. This is possible because it was designed as a visual language, in contrast to written languages which are the result of a transfer to visual modality of spoken language, which evolved in the context of auditory modality where sequencing and ordering is critical. After reviewing previous research on universal languages that are artificial, non-artificial, and visual, VIL is described in detail, including its parts of speech, its grammar, and its organization for verbs, nouns, and adjectives. Throughout the discussion a set of principles is proposed, some of which are relevant to any universal language, others specific to visual or iconic languages. The development of a set of icons is also presented. Finally, the evaluations of the icons, language, and the system itself are described.


Worcester Polytechnic Institute

Degree Name



Computer Science

Project Type


Date Accepted





icons, pictorial, visual language, iconic communication, pidgins, interlingua, Linguistics, Language, Universal