The language

The vocabulary of the Elephant's Memory is based more than 150 graphic elements (pictograms and ideograms) that have specific semantic and associative properties.Those properties define in which way the signs can be combined to create sentences. The syntax is based on these properties and on two parameters:

- the size of the signs.

- the position of the signs.

The actual meaning of a pictographic sentence is depending on the relationship between its components: the same group of five signs, associated in different ways, can produce different sentences. The signs can be associated just like atoms to create various types of molecules. This "molecular" syntax endeavors to develop a non linear visualization of language by creating very simple and recognisable graphic objects, intuitive ways to combine them, and a playful global environment.
The Elephant's Memory is an opened language providing a semantic skeleton that can be completed with other narrative elements. It is an evolving structure than will be possibly developed in different directions, while keeping the same organisationnal structure. It is made to be the basis of a graphic interface that will enable users to create messages by themselves, and communicate visually over the Internet. This creative environment will be supported by an integrated multimedia tutorial usable as an audio-visual dictionnary: it will illustrate the variable meanings of each signs by giving exemples of use, and teaching users how to put them into effects.

Learning the Elephant's Memory

The Elephant's Memory is an opened language providing a semantic skeleton that can be completed with other narrative elements. It is an evolving structure than will be possibly developed in different directions, while keeping the same organisationnal structure. Operating as a language-formulating kit, it should enable the users to formulate their own means of expression, and develop new ways of communicating ideas, emotions, and relationships. There are several levels of linguistic complexity, ranging from very basic sentences, to much more precise, complex, and abstract messages. Each one of these levels can be explored playfully by people of different ages: the grammatical exercises are designed to immerge the users step by step in the world of the Elephantęs Memory, stimulating a global approach without imposing a pre-defined path. One is free to build his own categories by discovering the inner connections between the pictograms. Since this language is based on very recurrent syntaxic structures, each sentence depicts global aspects of the whole system.
The Elephant's Memory searches for new ways of learning and thinking by considering language as an extended visual process: from poetry and story-telling to business contracts or education, this language offers a wide opened range of different possible uses, and defines itself as a transitionnal space of communication between people.

Since it was imagined as a international pictorial language for the Internet, the Elephant's Memory is based on very particular concepts:

-There is no sense of reading (unless it is specified by an indicative icon): the reading process can start and end on every icon of the sentence, and drive the reader along the network of associations that has been defined by the creator of the message.

-The pictograms are designed in a way that they can be printable, and drawable by hand, making their use and development possible out of any computer environment.

- There can be various ways of translating verbaly the content of a pictographic message, but its semantic content is unique. On the other hand, it is possible to express the same idea by different pictographic settings, which gives the user the possibility to choose the one he prefers and create his own style.

Aspects of a visual language

Elephant Here are some of the things that can be expressed in the Elephant's Memory:

- Assertion, negation and conditionnal statements.

- Location in time and space of objects and events.

- Different kinds of measurement: time, space, quantity, exchange value, frequency, emotional intensity, etc...

- Comparision between objects or events according to specified parameters.

- Association, dissociation, partition of objects and events, in relation with other objects and events.

-Addition, substraction, multiplication, and division.

- Relations and types of relations between objects or events.

- Initialisation, termination, continuity, interruption, and recurrence of events.

- Source, path and target of moving objects; directions.

- Causal links: generators, operators, and consequences of events.

- Family links and genealogy.

- Human relationships, including love, hate, friendship, indifference, desire, agreement, disagreement, etc...

- Interrogation and exclamation.

- Orders and imperative statement.

- Similarity and otherness.

- Perception.

- Gender and age

- Human feelings and emotions.

- Health.

- Human actions and facts, such as speech, thought, intention, rememberance, work, trade, justice, hierarchies.

- Natural environments such as forest, mountain, sea, etc...

- Living creatures, animals, plants.

- Human environments and creations: villages, cities, houses...

Structure and Interface

The graphic interface enabling the exploration and the use of the Elephant's Memory is based on recurrent navigating operations, so the useręs attention can rapidly focus on language learning. Particularly oriented towards children and people without any computer background, the system provides an integrated tutorial and a creation module, both based on the same structure.
The user can learn the language by selecting the exploration module (tutorial), or formulate his own sentences by selecting the creation module. On the left side of the screen, the pictographic menu lets the user rapidly apprehend the whole visual vocabulary by scrolling it up and down. Signs can then be selected individually by a simple clicking operation.

 In the exploration module(tutorial), the selection of a sign leads to a serial of exercises that demonstrate its functionnig: the user can associate the selected pictogram with a sample of 3 to 6 other signs, and listen the computer tell him what sentence he's been creating. This exercise lets him discover the syntaxic functionning of the selected pictogram while introducing him to some others he doesn't already know. He can afterwards choose the ones he is interested in and exercise himself with them. This arborescent organisation of the tutorial module enables a free and personalised discovery of the Elephant's vocabulary and syntaxic rules. By jumping from one exercise to the other, the user discovers progressively the whole language, and gets experienced enough to produce his own sentences.

 In the creation module, the user chooses the signs he needs to formulate a sentence: by scrolling up and down the pictograhic menu he calls the signs and associate them with one another. Their size can be reduced or enlarged, depending on the meaning and of the formulated sentence. There is no actual classification of the signs in the pictographic menu, but the user can reorganise them the way he wants by defining personalised groups. He can also create a library by storing small sentences or parts of sentences that can be used from one writing-session to the other. The sentences formulated in the Creation Module can be saved as individual files, and then edited as linear or arborescent sequences to create stories. They can also be printed and/or sended by e.mail. In the forecoming developments of the Elephant's Memory, there will be a pictogram creation tool, based on an articulated character that can take different positions and expressions, and have relationships with other characters and things. The user will be able to create his own signs, save them in his personal ressources, and/or make them available to other people by publishing them on the Internet.

The origins of the Elephant's Memory

As a student in the video/multimedia section of the ENSAD (Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Arts Décoratifs, Paris), I was interested in visual communication as much as in the social implications of the development of the Internet, and wanted to find a research field that would generate interesting questions, and provide a good learning exercise for multimedia and visual design. In november 1993, I came up with the idea to develop an entirely pictorial language for the internet, and immediatly started to work on it. My interest in epistemelogy, oriental cultures, and psychanalysis stimulated my research and drove me to experiment different ways of considering language in its visual aspects, before producing a first version of the Elephantęs Memory for my degree work in june 1995. After graduating in France, I was invited as a post-graduate guest student in the Kunsthochschule fur Medien (Koeln, Germany), and kept on developing the project intensively, vectorising the pictograms, and enriching the whole graphic syntax. I also started to imagine and build an interactive tutorial, and a storytelling module. I am now looking forward to find a new environment to develop the Elephantęs Memory and/or transform it in a new project by working with other people of various backgrounds and interest.

As an experimental utopian project, the Elephant's Memory is not enclosed in itself: it is opened and adaptable to every kind of specific purpose, and can be used as a thinking basis for other ideas and projects, such as, for example, pictorial programming languages, online trading interactive pictorial codes, online internationnal chating tools, natural and oral languages learning tools, visual memory exercises, and many different types of games.

Any suggections or propositions concerning the development of the Elephant's Memory are highly wecomed, please send mail or write to Timothy Ingen-Housz.

Physical address in France:
13, rue Carpeaux
92400, Courbevoie,
tel: 33 - 1- 47 88 15 31.

E-mail address at the Kunsthochschule fur Medien, Koeln, Germany:

mail to Timothy

Thank you for visiting the Elephantęs Memory.

©1994/1996 The Elephant's Memory

No use of the images and texts should be done without the author's agreement.
The Elephant's Memory is protected by the french instute of industrial property (INPI) and the french society of multimedia authors (SCAM).