Generally, shorthand systems are using phonetic representations of words, not the way we are used to spell them. English spelling is represented by 26 letters, and 50 speech sounds. Take a look at the hurdles you need to overcome and the problems you may come across if you want to learn shorthand writing that is symbol-based.
First of all, all shorthand writing systems that are based on assigning a unique symbol to a specific word, require a lot of your precious time. You must memorize several thousands of these outlines or symbols.
Secondly, due to the large number of outlines or symbols, you must constantly practice to remember all symbols, and do this on a daily basis. You probably won’t have used all symbols but you must be able to memorize them in case you need them in future situations.
Another possible issue is that, depending on the thickness and form of a symbol, it may translate to a different meaning, causing problems to the accuracy of a transcription, and a last problem is that it is not possible to use symbol-based shorthand writing systems with a computer.
Not all sounds have a symbol, and to make up for these missing symbols, a combination of letters is often used to represent a specific sound. This would not pose a problem at all, if only some consistency could be found, but just look at this example. established. The ‘sh’ sound can be found in many different words, but just look at how it is spelled in even so different ways:
Also vowel letters can be spelled in multiple ways. Just look at a few examples of all the ways we use to represent the ‘oo’ sound:
If we count all English words, for each sound we will come across 28 different spellings. This means there are more than 1,100 ways to spell just 40 sounds. If we write phonetically, the number of symbols for each word would be drastically reduced, but this requires very long study time to master the tens of thousands of symbols and outlines. Additionally, shorthand writing based on phonetics can be read only by the ones who understand the symbols and the exchange of information may be a lengthy process.
We know several shorthand writing systems. Here are the most important:
The Pitman Shorthand System
Isaac Pitman developed his shorthand writing system in 1837 which is predominantly used in the UK. His system is based on geometrical lines and curves that vary in angle and length, and is written on specifically lined paper. Various sound pairs are written thick or thin and for this, a specially developed flexible fountain pen is used. Pitman shorthand outlines are varying in sound depending on the system’s rules.
The Pitman shorthand writing method uses its own phonetic alphabet. Writers have to add diacritical marks in their lines for vowels, which increases the complexity of the system. Learning and practicing this system, as well as building up or increasing writing speed, is pretty difficult with this system, as Pitman included many short-forms and a huge number of rules. Getting to understand the system is like learning to master a foreign language including reading and writing.
The Gregg Shorthand system
In 1888, the Gregg shorthand writing system was developed by John Robert Gregg. It is based on the technique where yo write the sound of a word using loops, curves, and cursive lines. Gregg’s shorthand symbols and outlines include forward slope and forms that look like cursive handwriting.
The Gregg system’s alphabet is based on the oval where the variation in seize designates a different set of corresponding sounds. Vowels are represented by circles and connected hooks. Consonants and vowels are paired together for continuity and can be represented by short and long strokes.
A crucial drawback is that long and short outlines may be designating different letters, so confusion can be expected when the size is not written entirely correct. Adding to the system’s difficulty is also that each vowel symbol can be representing multiple vowel sounds.
The Teeline Shorthand System
The Teeline shorthand writing system is used by journalists in several British Commonwealth countries, but predominantly in the UK. There are also versions to be used in German and Swedish, but furthermore, the system is hardly known or used anywhere else.
The Teeline system was developed by James Hill (a Pitman shorthand instructor) in 1970, and it is less complicated than the Pitman shorthand writing system. There’s no need to use diacritical marks or thin and thick lines.
The Teeline system is not phonetic, but based on our standard alphabet, retaining all inadequacies of our usual alphabet. Except at the beginning or end of a word, vowels are omitted to increase for speed, but this affects readability, just like in other shorthand writing systems.
The Pitman system is great for taking dictation as it creates word outlines that require transcription soon after written down, which makes it more fit for professional than for personal use.