Shorthand — <300 BC, Greece?

Pittman "th"

Shorthand — a form of writing that sacrifices accuracy and/or shared orthography for speed — is very old.  The earliest example of shorthand comes from Greece, and was sort of an inverse abugida: the vowels were primary, and consonants were noted by decorating the vowels.

English-speakers have been particularly keen on shorthand, for perhaps understandable reasons.  Four different shorthand systems were published in the UK from 1588 to 1626.  The latter, by Thomas Shelton, became quite popular.  This was sort of like an abjad, sort of like an abugida: each consonant had a glyph, and the arrangement of the consonants gave the vowel.  Placing the second consonant above the first gave an “a”, below gave an “e”, etc.

Several other Englishmen and one German came up with reasonably popular shorthands, including Samual Taylor, who cut redundant consonants and most vowels.

In 1937, Sir Isaac Pitman published a shorthand which was popular enough that it still is used now and got him knighted then.  Pittman, unlike his predecessors, was a phonetician, and his script is not only a phonetic script but took advantage of his phonetic knowledge.  For example, voiced consonants (e.g. “s”) and unvoiced (e.g. “z”) differed by the thickness of the stroke; it uses straight lines for  plosives and arcs for fricatives.  Some glyphs are rotations or flips of glyphs for similar sounds.  The result is that things that sound similar, look similar.  Pittman also has some logograms — single glyphs that represent common words.

In 1888, John Robert Gregg published a shorthand which now pretty much shares the English “market” (and much of the non-English Latin-script market as well) with Pittman. Gregg shorthand is reputed to be the fastest shorthand.   Both are phonetic, but where Pittman uses light weight as a dinstinguishing element, Gregg uses line length.

Shorthand has been popular in Japan as well; no fewer than nine pen shorthands are in use there.

Links: Wikipedia (English), Wikipedia (French), Pittman how-to, Flavin’s Corner (extremely long and detailed discussion of shorthands)

Shelton borrowed heavily from his predecessors, especially Edmond Willis. Each consonant was represented by an arbitrary but simple symbol, while the five vowels were represented by the relative positions of the surrounding consonants. Thus the symbol for B with symbol for T drawn directly above it represented “bat”,

About ducky

I'm a computer programmer professionally, currently working on mapping applications. I have been interested non-professionally for a long time in the effect on society on advances in communications technology -- things like writing, vowels, spaces between words, paper, etc.
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3 Responses to Shorthand — <300 BC, Greece?

  1. jeffp says:

    I find this a very amusing riff on http://xkcd.com/859/ which I know you saw.

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