shorthand past present and future

Past, Present & Future
Shorthand – An Introduction
Shorthand is an abbreviated symbolic writing method that
increases speed and brevity of writing as compared to a normal
method of writing a language.
This process of writing in shorthand is called stenography.
It is derived from the Greek words
“stenos (narrow)” and
“graphē or graphie (writing)”.
It has also been called brachygraphy,
from Greek brachys (short) graphie (writing)
and tachygraphy,
from Greek tachys (swift, speedy), graphie (writing)
The characters used in shorthand systems tend to be based on two
main approaches,
script or cursive -- these systems use letters, signs or symbols
derived from normal handwriting or print forms based on the
Roman alphabet.
geometric -- These systems use an arbitrary alphabet of signs or
characters which may be derived from a geometric pattern such
as a circle or ellipse. The signs may be angular or they may follow
the slope of normal handwriting.
Similarly, there have been two principal abbreviation approaches;
Orthography -- systems based on the way words are spelled.
Phonography -- systems based on the way words sounds are
Early shorthand systems tended to use the orthographic approach
but most of the more successful systems from the eighteenth
century onwards have used the phonographic approach.
Shorthand was considered an essential part of secretarial training
as well as being useful for journalists.
In addition, shorthand has been used through the centuries as a
cultural tool:
George Bernard Shaw wrote his plays in shorthand;
Samuel Pepys recorded his diary in shorthand;
Cicero’s orations,
Martin Luther’s sermons, and
Shakespeare’s plays
were all preserved by means of shorthand.
Origin and Development
The earliest known indication of shorthand systems is from Ancient
Greece, namely the Acropolis stone (Akropolisstein) from mid-4th
century BC. The marble slab shows a writing system primarily based
on vowels, using certain modifications to indicate consonants.
Hellenistic tachygraphy is reported from the 2nd century BC
onwards, though there are indications that it might be older. It
consisted of word stem signs and word ending signs. Over a period,
many syllabic signs were developed.
The oldest datable reference is a contract from Middle Egypt,
stating that Oxyrhynchos gives his Greek slave to the
"semeiographer" Apollonios for two years to be taught shorthand
In Ancient Rome, Marcus Tullius Tiro (103 BC–4 BC), a slave and
later a freedman of Cicero, developed the Tironian notes so he
could write down Cicero's speeches.
The Tironian notes consisted of word stem abbreviations (notae)
and of word ending abbreviations (titulae). The original Tironian
notes consisted of about 4000 signs but new signs were
introduced so that their number might increase to as many as
After the decline of the Roman Empire, the Tironian notes were
not used any more to transcribe speeches and they were mostly
When many monastery libraries were secularized in the course of
the 16th century Protestant Reformation, long-forgotten
manuscripts of Tironian notes were rediscovered.
Sir Isaac Pitman
Isaac Pitman (b.1813-1897)
published his work
‘Stenographic Sound-Hand’
in 1837.
This marked a new era in the
development of phonetic
shorthand systems.
It is one of the most
important geometric systems
of shorthand.
Simple geometrical lines furnish the signs for the phonographic Alphabet. To each sign may
be appended hooks, circles and loops of two sizes, initial and final. Each sign may be
halved and the curves are halved and doubled in length and each sign may be used in three
In the Pitman method all words are written according to their
sounds and the consonant alphabet is based on the pattern uses
paired thick and thin strokes, shallow curves, circles, loops, hooks,
etc. A thick stroke represents the heavier sound of the similar
thin stroke, e.g. D is a thickened T.
Pitman's shorthand is a masterpiece of word abbreviation but has
a multiplicity of rules, alternatives and exceptions which makes it
somewhat difficult to learn. A hook precursor sign written in
different positions is used to indicate R and L. A final hook may
represent N, F or V depending on the preceding letter.
Vowels are indicated by inserting light and heavy dots or dashes
as diacritic marks. These are placed in any of three positions
before or after a consonant sign according to their sound and
where they occur in a word.
In addition, word outlines can be written in three positions, above,
on or below the line of writing, relating to the sound of the vowel.
Advanced writers can then omit most of the diacritic vowel signs
and rely on indicating the vowel sounds by the position of the
Pitman himself changed his sign alphabet and published numerous
editions of the method (these appeared yearly between 1871 and
1894. The complex system of word abbreviation has been
progressively simplified over the years, but the system remains
powerful although time-consuming to learn and practise.
A list of about 500 known and verifiable shorthand systems were there and the
list will be shown to you at the end of this presentation, for information
Pitman’s shorthand – its supremacy
Pitman’s system classifies the sounds of a language into basic
groups and make use of simple abbreviations for rapidity.
These basic groups of Pitman’s system, i.e. explodents,
continuants, nasals, liquids, coalescents, and aspirate can be
found from the almost similar groups in our Sanskrit alphabet like
ka, ga / cha ja / ta da / pa ba / ya ra la va sa sha ha, etc., which
proves that Pitman has formed the consonants in a scientific and
practical way.
Consonants are drawn from simple geometrical signs, straight
lines, and shallow curves. As far as possible they are paired; thus,
a light slanted line stands for p and a heavier slanted line for b, a
light vertical line stands for t and a heavier one for d, and so on.
Vowels are indicated by disjoined dots and dashes that are
placed in specific positions relative to the consonants and the
line of writing. The system makes use of circles, loops, and hooks
for sounds frequently used in consonant combinations and
syllables (e.g., for s, st, str, spr, and -ter, -der, -tion) which are
easy to write alone or combined with other strokes.
Syllables are also added by halving or doubling the length of a
consonant stroke. Here we find that by halving a stroke, i.e. by
reducing the time to write a stroke to half of its length, we will
be recording two syllables, a great advantage in speed writing.
Pitman shorthand was introduced into the United States in 1852;
among the many languages to which it has been adapted are
Hindi, Hebrew, Arabic, Persian, German, French, Spanish, and
Still Pitman’s system is alone being used in India and Asian
countries. It is still being used in UK besides Teeline which can
not be used for high speed writing. In US Pitman and Gregg
systems are being used.
Teaching Methods of shorthand
Shorthand is taught in different ways by different teachers/
institutions. They are discussed briefly.
The Deductive Method:
In this method, the students are taught the rules first, with
illustrative examples, and then they apply these rules to new
outlines. Most of the shorthand teachers in India follow this
The Inductive Method:
By this method, students are given a number of examples to
examine, and then with the help of teacher, ‘discover’ the rules
for themselves. Writing Exercises and Examination Tests,
containing about 40000 words graded according to rules, is an
invaluable boon for the teacher using this method.
The advantage of the inductive method is that learning is usually
more vivid and lasting where students reason the rules for
themselves; the disadvantage is that the presentation of new
work tends to take up too much time in the teaching period.
The Modern Course, is designed for use with the inductive
The Direct Method:
Apart from some early instruction on consonants and vowels, rules,
as far as practicable, are ignored.
The students are given outlines to learn and these are dictated and
re-dictated in context until they are able to write at speed.
The Modern Course is the most suitable textbook for this method.
From about 80+ wpm, it becomes necessary for the students to
have a better grasp of the underlying structure of the system and it
would be advantageous to work through A Students Review of
Pitman’s Shorthand.
The experienced teacher will find that a combination of Deductive
Method and Direct Method achieves the best results.
In the present days, online coaching is made available by many
enthusiastic teachers or institutions/associations.
Shorthand can be taught using virtual class room, personalized
portals, fully hosted platforms made available by many web
companies, such as, at a very nominal pricing.
These virtual class-rooms can be used where teacher-student
interface is difficult.
Using the multi-media, the students can learn the subject at their
own pace. Try to visit the websites:
Availability of material for Shorthand practice and
It is understood that Pitman’s sold their publications division to
Pearson Education. Now Pearson are publishing the new era edition
of Instructor only in India. However, M/s. Leema Publications,
Allahabad are publishing few new era books such as Instructor with
Key, 700 Common Words Reading and Dictation Exercises, Pocket
and Medium size shorthand dictionaries, Big size Pitman shorthand
Dictionary with English meanings, New Phonographic Phrase Book,
New Era New Course and its Key.
Some practice material is made available by National Shorthand
School (Books), Visakhapatnam, M/s. Laxmi Prasuram, Trichy, Guru
for Shorthand, Jammu, Bhagwan Associates, Bangalore, and some
online shops like infibeam, ebay, flipcart,etc.
Job opportunities – Recent trends
Since 2000 onwards, due to the advent of computers in every field
of life, the strength of students opting to learn Shorthand started
At the same time, there has been a change in the attitude of parents
to send their children to typewriting and shorthand classes. They
prefer their wards to learn computers in the summer vacations and
continue the same practice in computer learning besides regular
coaching in class-rooms.
This paved the way to closure of many twin arts institutions in India.
The comparative advantage in learning computers instead of
shorthand is that the time consumed to learn the subject is very
short and there was demand for various jobs in the computer
related employment.
In the meantime, the working strength of stenographers in public
and private sectors started reducing due to retirements, etc.
Now it has come to an alarming situation that there are hundreds of
vacancies of senior stenographers and reporters in the courts of
many States in India which could not be filled for want of qualified
shorthand writers.
Many State Public Service Commissions have advertised for filling up
the posts of Stenographers in various grades but it is understood
that the number of applications received from qualified people are
less than the advertised vacancies.
It is observed at present, that many of the students are showing
interest to learn shorthand but the Institutions and private teachers
have stopped teaching shorthand due to scanty response in the
previous years.
To overcome the situation, I am of the opinion that we should plan
to teach shorthand electronically, using the multi-media (audio and
video) bundling the required books to learn and complete the
course by the student himself (individually) at home, at his
Subsequently, they may start developing the speeds using the audio
CDs with relevant printed material and few other reference books
available in the market.
There are a number of enthusiasts hosting websites offering the
coaching in Pitman’s shorthand free of cost, as stated earlier.
Present examination system in India
Examination system is in existence in the southern States of India
and Maharashtra. The syllabus and examination pattern is different
from State to State, as the technical education is in the Concurrent
The examination duration for 60wpm, 80wpm, 100wpm and 120
wpm, has been reduced to 7 minutes from 10 minutes. The 7
minutes dictation varies i.e. 5 min passage + 2 min letter or 4 min
passage + 3 minutes letter from State to State and within the State.
Though the duration for lower (junior)/ inter/senior is common for
speed paper, there is a vast difference in the second paper i.e.
theory part.
Since the object of examination is to test the knowledge of the
student in the subject, it may be right on the part of individual
States to prepare their own pattern of examination as far as theory
is concerned.
It is also pointed out that many States of India do not organize
examinations in the subject of shorthand and hence the shorthand
students from those States do not possess any certificates.
This could be the reason why the Central Government (Staff
Selection Commission) do not prescribe any qualification for filling
up the posts of lower cadre Stenographers.
It is also observed that the way of dictation to the students is
In South India, the punctuation marks are not read while dictating
the passage, whereas in North India, the punctuation marks are
There is a necessity to take up with the Governments that the
examinations for shorthand students be made uniform.
Future Prospects
Taking into account, the present scenario, one can assess that every
student of shorthand with reasonable knowledge and speed in writing will
have no difficulty in getting a job in private or government institutions.
Though the computer has entered into every nook and corner of our lives,
still there needs a lot of improvement in computers’ ability to replace a
stenographer or a personal assistant or a private secretary, etc. etc.
The computer by itself cannot correct the mistakes dictated to it, cannot
instantly read it back and adjust the sentence according to the subsequent
changes in thought, cannot understand the boss and his mind, cannot type
letters with oral instructions of a boss, etc. etc.
In view of the reasons stated above, there is no threat immediately or in
the near future, from the computer to the jobs of stenographers.

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