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Friday, Nov. 18, 2005

Kids around world chat in pictures


Staff writer

Children who speak different languages can be friends if they can find a way to communicate.

News photo
A sample message in pictorial symbols, "I am wondering about what I should wear tomorrow," is displayed on a computer.

A nonprofit organization in Tokyo will officially launch a project Sunday based on this notion, connecting children in different countries over the Internet through a language of pictograms.

Using a special computer network and new software, 23 Japanese kids in Tokyo and 13 South Koreans in Seoul will send each other messages written in pictorial symbols and share their art and music.

Sunday's exchange will take place at an office in Tokyo's Shibuya Ward and Kyoung Hee University in Seoul.

Pangaea, a Tokyo-based NPO, has developed the computer software, which has a dictionary with 200 pictograms it calls "pictons." The pictons were designed by about 30 people, including students at Tama Art University in Tokyo.

In the language, the symbol of a human face means 'I' and a heart shape means 'like."

Together with another symbol of a TV game, the three pictorial symbols form the sentence, "I like TV games."

In addition to sending pictorial messages, the system enables the children to introduce themselves through pictures and share their art and music online, according to the NPO.

The NPO has tested the system already in a few public elementary and junior high schools in Tokyo's Shibuya Ward, according to Pangaea President Yumiko Mori.

In January, computers will be set up at a private school in Kenya and a public facility for children in Austria. The group aims to increase the number of bases to 200 by 2008.

Mori, a visiting scientist at the Media Laboratory at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, first had the idea of connecting children globally after seeing prejudice against Muslims and Arabs in the U.S. following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the U.S.

If children have the opportunity to get to know people in other countries through the Internet, they will form personal bonds and not stereotype people, which will lead to peace in the world, Mori reckoned.

"I thought children could overcome such barriers as language, culture and distance if I offered a universal playground for them," she said.



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