Morse code, not a language itself, but a system of simple signs

In a book about the brain science of languages, sign language was described as a kind of natural language. It first attracted my attention since it delivers information for communication with visual signs of facial expression, movements of arms and so forth as Morse code does with auditory stimuli. I was wondering what was going on with Morse code from the standpoint of brain physiology and was expecting analogy or comparability between sign language and Morse code.

But Morse code was not the case of natural language. Because it has no grammer or no wide diversity like sign language does. It is just replacement of alphabets into auditory signs composed of combinations of dit and dash. Morse code reception is just a reflective perception process from auditory stimulus. Just one- to one correspondence.

Another interesting finding is that Morse code is handled by the brain part responsible for reading, as a study of modern brain physiology suggested while sign language is thought to be handled by the  center of sound speech in the brain. Morse code is essentially "read" by brain.

The another question is what Morse code means as one of the simplest signs in human auditory perception. The study in Morse code reception might give insight into the scientific epistemology. I know there are some researchers being engaged in this issue. I would follow what they say with the modern technology of brain science. It might be stimulating to us.


  1. Shin,
    Thank you for posting about this interesting aspect of Morse Code. Your third paragraph about Morse Code being handled by the portion of the brain responsible for reading stood out to me. I find that to be true for the vast majority of those who have been trained to receive Morse Code. However, from what I've been able to determine, there is a very small portion of that trained population who use the part of the brain devoted to speech recognition. I count myself as one of that small percentage.

    Rather unknowingly, decades ago I trained myself to copy Morse in my head using the speech portion of my brain. I assumed for years that everyone who copied in their head did it this way. It wasn't until early 2010 while participating in a discussion on the SKCC email reflector about head copy that I realized everyone else was using the visual portion of their brain. I proceeded to detail this technique, which I later coined as "The Phonic Method" in a write-up on the SKCC Forum, found here:
    To summarize, it uses phonology as opposed to the symbology that most use for Morse reception. I suppose it's similar to the Japanese Katakana code which represents phonetic sounds (from what I understand).

    To date I have only detailed how I use the Phonic Method in the SKCC write-up. I would like to do further research on this, and perhaps develop a method for teaching it. Can you point me to any good resources (books, websites, studies etc) that touch on the subject of phonological vs symbolical comprehension?

    In short, Morse Code is definitely not a system of simple signs for me. It may not be a full up language either, but don't try telling my brain that! Using the Phonic Method, the dividing line between a simple code and a language seems to have blurred a bit. :)

    I hope we get a chance to work each other on the air some time to discuss further.
    73 Paul N6EV

  2. Paul,

    Thanks for the interesting comment. I haven't followed up the discussion in SKCC site yet. Here is a study which tells us CW copying is handled at the same center in the CNS as reading. Considering of complexity of the perception of auditory stimuli as communication tool, this is a finding about Morse code reception but not a definite conclusion yet.

    quote ~~~~~

    Neurosci Lett. 2004 Jul 8;364(3):185-8.

    Reading with the ears.

    Maier J, Hartvig NV, Green AC, Stodkilde-Jorgensen H.

    Department of Diagnostic Imaging, Aalborg University Hospital, Denmark. jensmaier@dadlnet.dk


    We studied the cortical networks of Morse code reading with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). Four expert radio telegraphists performed two closely matched reading experiments, one in binaurally presented high speed Morse code and one in print. Performance was equal for both conditions. Reading single nouns in Morse code resulted in predominantly left-sided activation of the frontal and temporal perisylvian language areas, prefrontal cortex, and premotor cortex. In a within-subject comparison between reading Morse code and reading print, the activation pattern in the left temporoparietal association cortex was similar for both forms of reading, suggesting that reading Morse code shares part of its cortical networks with reading print.

    ~~~ unquote

    I don't think Morse code is a kind of language as I briefly mentioned in my article. This conclusion made my question a little bit clearer.

    In the discussion of SKCC site, I would study what Phonology vs Symbology means in this context.

    Morse code is one of the simplest method of communication. But it is not very simple how we percieve and understand it in brain. Even though brain science is making a rapid progeress, it wont't deal with Morse code reception as the object of its research for itself. We should paraphrase the latest findings of perception of auditory stimuli as communication tool into Morse code reception. I am not a specialist on this issue but would like to go on studying about it with research papers etc.

    Your further comments or ideas are welcomed here. Thanks again.


  3. Hello,
    I am presently immersing myself into head-copying Morse Code. I've "known" code for years, but never sat back and let it become comprehensible without pencil and paper until a few months ago. My goal is to be able to comprehend text sent between 30 and 40 words-per-minute.
    In so doing, I've generated an interest in the history of Morse Code as well and have delved into Samuel Morse's life. A question that mystifies me is this. Did Samuel Morse intend his code to become a language? Or was it simply a simple and effective form of communication. There are high-speed CW operators out that that boast being able to comprehend Morse Code at speeds upwards of 70 wpm. How could Samuel Morse have envisioned these speeds when the actual sounds of code, in its infancy, was similar to clicks and buzzes versus the more modern "tone" produced with radio?
    Any comments would be welcome.


  4. By the way, just for your own interest, I am also a musician/trumpet player. I've taught music in middle school for 35 years. I've always been interested in the musical connection to Morse Code.

  5. Craig,

    Thanks for the comment.

    I don't think S. Morse was intending to compose a system comparable to a language. In his era, there were not enough knowledges as for what makes a communication tool a language. The language is characterized with its grammer as well as diversity. Morse code itself doesn't have either characteristics. Each code is just reflective of each character in simple one vs one correspondence.

    Head copying requires you to convert each code and groups of codes into character and words, respectively. In that process, you may need prospect, based on your understanding the words and sentences sent in the past, what will follow to it. For amateur ham, it is most important to understand what the other says with the code. It is the point different from the professional R/O. Concentrationg on understanding the message is the key point to go QRQ, in my view.

    It is good that you are a professional musician. Yes, I am always wondering if the talent in music is related with the high ability of Morse code communication, even if the relationship is not a strict rule.

    Any further comment will be welcomed.


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