EBU Otsuki Award
"Vocabulary"
Antonio Martín Figueroa (56, male, Spain)
photo: Antonio Martín Figueroa

By then my fingertips had begun to detect a few little dots on that cold, glassy brass surface.
A few days later many more dots gradually emerged in a host of combinations, adopting different forms.
At such a young age, I hadn't had the opportunity to learn the normal alphabet, so those combinations of dots were the first letters I ever learned. Nor had my mind grasped the form and structure of words written with the lines and circles used by sighted people. Later, when I discovered that sighted writers could impress their own personality on their script, I thought: that's not possible in Braille. The most we can do is to shorten the distance between dots or use different types of paper to change their quality. I've always regretted the narrowness of that constraint.
Many a notorious initiative has sought to proclaim the most beautiful word, or one with a given sensitivity, or that needs to be preserved for want of use. Highlighting any of these peculiarities leads to a vision fraught with subjectivity not, however, inattentive to reference to the predominant meaning.
When I think about a specific word, its length, form and structure, I imagine it written in Braille, with its portion of dots arranged in the series established by convention. Thus conceived, I naturally find each word to hold more or less charm. Nearly always when we analyze a letter or a word, we unconsciously pronounce its sequence of sounds that denote its special characteristics. That is something to which those of us who learned the Braille code first relate very closely: the tactile sensation perceived from a structure that can only be touched, discovering with the tip of our index finger the slenderness of the letter L, the vigour of the R, the breadth of horizons of the S, the firmness and consistency of the V, the free and open X, the stillness of the Z, always observed from the west as we read.
As a child, I used to turn my geography studies into pleasure reading. I would entertain myself with what I conjured up when I came across cities that I regarded to be remote and exotic, coffering their names in one of the many tiny vaults of my incipient memory. I found it amusing to try to pronounce them and would copy them down to better remember them.
I was fascinated by the letter K, a sound characteristic of foreign place names, for its exquisite aristocracy (Helsinki, Reykjavik, Samarkand), so very different from the simple C, which is little more than a common dash. Siberian cities transported me to deep, unfathomable regions such as in Afanasyev's fairy tales (Verkhoyansk, Krasnoyarsk, Vladivostok). Coincidentally, I recently ran into a talking book that described a spectacular journey on the Trans-Siberian train. I would have enjoyed the Braille version even more, because of the many names riddled with the letter K at the beginning, middle and end. Unfortunately, they weren't spelled out in the recording, nor was I able to retain them.
And what about accented vowels? Devotees of Braille in Spanish or French, for example, cannot tolerate deficient transliterations that fail to include written accents where they're needed. We're annoyed by such deformed words, but when they're correctly accented they're a pleasure to the touch. Such vowels afford elegance, style, solemnity. How can we not find beauty in the accented character when we half expect to find its more common, unaccented cousin? And much the same can surely be said of letters with diacritics in Portuguese, Polish, Hungarian...
Perhaps Louis in his infinite wisdom was able to foresee the lack of interest in such marks brandished by today's generations, so strongly influenced by the fashion imposed by information and other contemporary technologies that scorn these details. For that reason he gave each diacritic its own specific personality, so that at least the community of fervent admirers of this reading-writing system would not let them fall by the wayside, but would vindicate their proper use.
In the late nineteen fifties when I was just beginning grammar school, my small world extended no further than my town, or at most my province. Hence the name of any city that stood out in my books because it was preceded by a capital letter came wrapped in special charm. The upper case sign was like a gate that led into a place that I'd never visited and that surely merited a position of privilege in my memory from that time on. And a similar sensation was prompted by other proper nouns that we can't conceive, when they come to mind, without the dignity accorded by those two little dots crowded up against them. If they have an accented vowel besides, their refined elegance is the more superb. In Braille, in languages like Spanish, if it weren't for the amplitude of the Y, "Tú" (you) and "Él" (he) would be more important than "Yo" (I), although "I" boast of no such magnificence. But all that is nothing compared to a word ending in the magical rhombus constituted, in Spanish Braille, by an accented E followed by an N (e.g., "Rubén"), or the labyrinthine trapezium formed by an accented E preceding a Z (as in Alézar).
My name, as a substantive and individual part of my persona, is unique and will be with me for as long as I live. I touch it, while pronouncing it in a hushed voice, and that exclusive articulation of sounds in conjunction with the representation of the arrangement of letters that appears in my mind makes it absolutely personal and incomparable to any other name.
When a watchman unexpectedly appears, it tells us that we're at the gate to the fortress of numbers, bold figures. From its position of gymnastic repose, it not only warns us that the following row of dots has donned new apparel, but conveys all manner of details about our sacred dates.
Fingertips that caress a text, moving from line to line, can be likened to pulmonary respiration. If dots symbolize pebbles on the path and words are rows of dots, my fate as a permanent Braille user is linked to the new universe created by my mind through my sense of touch. What I contribute to that universe is embodied in my unmistakable style in carving those rounded pebbles. Louis Braille has eased my breathing, taught me to walk, to detect and step over the stones, to apply technique so that the words chiselled in my mind become a work unique in form and structure. Bless him!

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