Is shorthand a dying art form?

I must be one of the few people that still uses shorthand. I first learnt shorthand when I was at high school in the 1980s.

Teeline based around handwriting took me six months to learn. I was then able practise and developed speed over time by listening and transcribing radio and tv. Then using shorthand as a PA to record correspondence and minutes of meetings. Admittedly, I did develop the bad habit of taking down word-for-word what people said. But, you learn to develop your own style and way of establishing the main points in a meeting.

When I moved into a communications role shorthand became critical for getting those main points from people when preparing media releases and you need a quote. Being able to use an audio dictaphone was also a handy skill to have alongside the shorthand but one I no longer utilise. Technology has moved on with people also being able to record on their mobile phones.

You can still learn online although not so common at learning institutions these days. Texting, with its emoticons, acronyms, and symbols is shorthand alive, well, and at the cutting edge. It’s a system of abbreviations that makes writing faster, plain, and simple.

The history of shorthand

In early times, there were shorthand systems used by different cultures from the Egyptians, Greeks to the Chinese. Modern shorthand systems developed including Pitman by Sir Issac Pitman (1813-1897) which became well used from 1837 and over the years has been improved and adapted for 15 different languages. The system was widely used in the USA and UK by secretaries, reporters, and writers. Pitmans is phonetic and records the sounds of speech rather than writing. Gregg introduced by John Robert Gregg in 1888. Like Pitman, it is also phonetic but uses hooks and circles on consonants to represent vowels, where Pitman uses dots and dashes for vowels. Teeline is a spelling based system.

In 2016, shorthand was still mandatory in some professions. The National Council for the Training of Journalists insists trainees achieve a written speed of 100 words per minute to pass their diploma. Stenotype machines are used in courtrooms around the world and other specialised keyboards are used for shorthand in both speech-to-text which is used to assist the deaf and also for live subtitling.

I believe shorthand is still alive and well in the world but not as I remember it as a fresh-faced 18-year-old leaving high school for my first office job at the Department of Social Welfare. It is replaced to some degree by modern-day equivalents like texting and social media abbreviations. I’m not going to give up on the skill I learned all those years ago as it has stood me in good stead and continues to do so today.

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