Shorthand is a writing method that can be done at speed because an abbreviated or symbolic form of language is used. It is commonly used by court stenographers. The word stenography comes from the Greek stenos (narrow/close) and graphy (writing).
Many forms of shorthand exist. The method was more popular in the past, when anything needing transcribing had to be written in real-time. This was a valuable skill to secretaries and journalists. Shorthand is basically a way of writing that represents common words, phrases and sentences in symbols or abbreviations that the writer can write faster, to allow people to write as fast as people speak.
Shorthand writing was revived, after being absent through the Middle Ages, with the 1588 publishing of Characterie; An Arte of Shorte, Swifte and Secrete Writing by Character by Timothy Bright introducing a system with 500 arbitary signs resembling words. In 1602, a publishing of an alphabet shorthand followed with John Willis's Art of Stenography. Shorthand later in the century received recognition from its use by Samuel Pepys in his famous accounts of such events as the Great Fire of London in 1666.
The Pitman Shorthand was first introduced in 1837 by Isaac Pitman and later improved several times. It was, starting in 1837, the first subject taught by correspondence. The system was introduced to Australia by Isaac's brother Jacob and to the USA by another brother, Benn, that used it in the 1865-67 trial of the conspirators behind the 1865 assasination of Abraham Lincoln.
The Gregg Shorthand was first introduced in 1888 by John Robert Gregg.
Resemblance to standard writing system
Some systems have signs that are not based on the Latin alphabet, whereas other systems are explicitly intended to resemble the Latin alphabet. Some consider that strictly speaking, only the former are shorthand. There are between one and two dozen examples of the latter in the United States, such as Stenoscript, Stenospeed, and Forkner, which use both symbols and alphabetic characters, to one extent or another.
It is useful to classify the shorthand systems according to the way in which vowels are represented:
- 'Normal' vowel signs (no distinction between vowel signs and consonant signs), e.g. Gregg.
- Other ways of expressing the vowels:
- expression of the first vowel by the height of the word in relation to the line, e.g. Pitman;
- optional expression of the vowels by diacritics added to the word, e.g. Pitman;
- expression by the width of the joining stroke that leads to the following consonant sign, the height of the following consonant sign in relation to the preceding one, and the line pressure of the following consonant sign, e.g. in most German shorthand systems;
- no expression of the vowels at all except for a dot before the word for any initial vowel and a dot after the word for any ending vowel, e.g. Taylor.
The basic shapes of shorthand systems such as e.g. Taylor are straight lines, circles and parts of circles. They are placed strictly horizontal, vertical or diagonal. These shorthand systems are the older ones. The first English shorthand system of the 16th century were of this kind. They are sometimes called geometrical shorthand systems.
There are other shorthand systems that try to resemble cursive handwriting. This method was first used in the German Gabelsberger shorthand in the early 19th century, and it is common in all more recent German shorthand systems. The best known English system of this kind is the one of John Robert Gregg, who knew Gabelsberger's system.
Common English shorthand systems
One of the most widely known forms of shorthand is the Pitman method, developed by Isaac Pitman in 1837. Issac's brother Benn Pitman, who lived in Cincinnati, Ohio, was responsible for introducing the method to America. The method has been adapted for 15 languages. The system is phonetic as it is the word sounds that are written rather than the letters. For this reason, the system is sometimes known as phonography, meaning 'sound writing' in Greek. One of the reasons this method allows fast transcription is that vowel sounds are optional when only consonants are needed to determine a word. Pitman's system replaced the system developed by Samuel Taylor in 1786, the first English shorthand system that succeeded to be used all over the English speaking world.
Although Pitman's method was extremely popular at first (and is still commonly used, especially in the UK) its popularity has been superseded (especially in the United States) by a method developed by John Robert Gregg in 1888. Gregg's system, like Pitman's, is phonetic, but has the advantage of being "light-line". While Pitman's system uses thick and thin strokes to distinguish related sounds, Gregg's uses only thin strokes and makes some of the same distinctions by the length of the stroke.
Some shorthand systems
Dutton Speedwords is a method of shorthand that had the dual function of also being an international auxilary language.
Other names for shorthand
Other names for shorthand include brachygraphy, tachygraphy and, most commonly, stenography.
abbreviation, Captioned Telephone, closed captioning, court reporter, Gregg Shorthand, Pitman Shorthand, stenomask, stenotype, transcript, Shavian alphabet, Quickscript, Tironian notes, Shorthand Language
Pitmans College (1975). Shorthand. Hodder and Stoughton. (ISBN 0340056878).
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