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English Shorthand with System Groote/Introduction

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Shorthand is an abbreviated symbolic writing method that increases speed or brevity of writing as compared to a normal method of writing a language. Shorthand was used widely in the past, before the invention of recording and dictation machines. The advent of personal computers and laptop computers has dealt another blow to shorthand writing; it is not uncommon for students to take notes directly on their tablet PCs these days.

Surprisingly, though, shorthand hasn’t vanished altogether. A steady number of people still enjoy writing shorthand. With the “professionals” moving on to more high-tech means of note-taking, Shorthand is used more and more by “amateurs”: all kinds of people, often with a fancy for personal efficiency, use shorthand for incidental note-taking during classes, meetings, or any other situation. This shift from professional to amateur use is reflected by a shift in popularity, from systems that give the maximum number of words-per-minute (WPM), to systems with a more gentle learning curve that still yield fair performance with little training.

Contemporary Shorthand Systems[edit | edit source]

Many systems of shorthand exist. A lot of information on various systems and their history can be found on the Internet, for example on wikipedia, so we won’t go into much detail here. However, I feel that no book on shorthand is complete without mentioning at least the following systems:

Pitman Shorthand
Pitman Shorthand was first introduced in 1837 by Sir Isaac Pitman, and has been improved many times since. It is mentioned here because it was, for a long time, the most commonly used shorthand system in the English speaking world, and it’s the basis of many modern shorthand systems. With its rich history, Pitman has a loyal group of practitioners, and much information about the system can be found on the Internet.
Pitman uses the thickness of a stroke to indicate voicing (voiced consonants such as /b/ and /d/ are written with heavier lines than unvoiced ones such as /p/ and /t/). While line thickness can readily be varied when writing with a fountain pen or goose feather, modern writing tools, such as pencils, fineliners and ballpoints can only vary line thickness with more difficulty.
Pitman Shorthand is a phonetic system; the symbols do not represent letters, but rather sounds, and words are, for the most part, written as they are spoken.
Gregg Shorthand
Gregg Shorthand was invented by John Robert Gregg in 1888, and is the most popular form of pen stenography in the United States and its Spanish adaptation is fairly popular in Latin America. It’s partly phonetic, partly alphabetical. It has been revised countless times, with each revision being simpler and easier to learn than its predecessor, with the exception of the most recent revision in the year 2000.
Teeline Shorthand
Teeline Shorthand was developed in 1968 by James Hill, a teacher of Pitman Shorthand. It’s the most commonly used system within the Commonwealth, and is gaining popularity in the United States and Canada. It’s a purely alphabetical system. Teeline is a typical example of the modern trend towards systems that, while less efficient, are much easier to learn than the “classical” 19th century systems.

Phonetic versus Alphabetic[edit | edit source]

Intermezzo: Spelling Reforms

In some languages there’s a very strict correspondence between spelling and pronunciation. Finnish, Turkish and Spanish are examples of languages with very close correspondence between written characters and pronounced phonemes. Even French, with its many silent letters and elision, has rules on pronunciation which allow pronunciation be inferred from spelling fairly accurately. Other languages, notably logographic languages such as Chinese, lack all correspondance between orthography and pronunciation.

After the invention of the printing press in the 1440s, most European languages have undergone one or more spelling reforms, often with the goal of making the spelling more consistent, more phonetic, and easier to learn. English spelling, by contrast, has been mostly fixed since the 1440s, i.e before most of the Great Vowel Shift which was never incorporated in English spelling. This has resulted in a spelling that is currently only about 40% phonetic.

If you’re just starting to learn Shorthand, and haven’t decided upon which system to learn yet, you probably can’t go wrong with either Gregg or Teeline. If you were to browse the Internet for a comparison of these two systems, you’d soon find out that the question “Which one’s better?” is subject of furious debate among the last shorthand evangelists, fueled by the fact that these two systems are so fundamentally different: Teeline is strictly alphabetic, while Gregg is (mostly) phonetic. Why is this such a big deal?

In contrast to what teachers may have told you, English spelling is neither logical or consistent. Just think about how the words straight, streight, strait and strate all sound the same, or how tough, through and dough all sound completely different. It has been argued that when designing a new orthography (as many shorthand systems do), there’s no need to maintain a one-on-one correspondence between the new orthography and orthodox spelling with its classical 26-character Roman alphabet. In fact, the convoluted and often superfluous orthodox spelling is in direct conflict with shorthand’s goals of speed and economy of writing. In consequence, many shorthand systems are more or less phonetic.

Unfortunately, phonetic orthography comes with its own set of problems.
First, Modern English is pronounced in various ways; there are important differences between General American, British Received Pronunciation and Australian English. At least four major dialects are spoken in the United States alone. So if spelling were to follow pronunciation, the question arises: whose pronunciation? For personal note-taking, a sufficient answer would be: my pronunciation. But such a system rids itself of all claims to uniform spelling.
Second, Modern English dialects have over 40 different sounds (closer to 50 according to some linguists), which would require an alphabet of as many characters. QuickScript, with its 43 characters, is an example of such an alphabet. Writing phonetically feels awkward at first, and requires training. Having 40+ characters only adds to the learning curve.

System Groote is “mostly phonetic”: it's definitely more phonetic than alphabetic, but it cuts a few corners to overcome some of the problems inherent to a strictly phonetic approach.

Target Audience[edit | edit source]

System Groote is originally a Dutch shorthand system, invented in 1899 by A.W. Groote. It was adapted by Groote himself to English, German and French, but in my opinion too “Dutch-centric”. Native speakers of the target language would be confused by many peculiarities in the system, that only make sense in a Dutch context.

Learning shorthand requires the investment of a time and energy. To people fluent with Dutch Groote, it’s a big investment to adopt a completely different system, such as Gregg or Teeline, to take notes in English efficiently. The primary target audience of this text are people who’d like to learn a single shorthand system to take notes in both Dutch and English efficiently.

I think, however, that system Groote is a worthy alternative to the Gregg and Teeline shorthand systems. With that in mind, this book is written for anyone who’d like to learn how to write English shorthand.