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Theory Intro

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Theory
 
Intro
 1   Strokes
 2   Vowels
 3   Forming Outlines
 4   Circles
 5   Loops
 6   Hooks Intro
 7   Hooks R L
 8   Hooks N F V
 9   Shun Hook
10  Halving
11  Doubling
12  Hay Aspirate
13  W Forms
14  L Forms
15  R Forms
16  Imp/Imb
17  Ish
18  Prefixes
19  Suffixes General
20  Suffixes Contracted

Short Forms
Intro
SF List 1
SF List 2
SF List 3
SF List 4

Contractions
Contractions Intro
Contractions Main

Contractions Optional

Phrasing

1 Intro & Contents list
2 Theory
3 Theory
4 Omission
Part words
5 Omission
Whole words
6 Miscellaneous
7 Miscellaneous
8 Intersections

Distinguishing Outlines
DO Intro
DO List 1 A-C
DO List 2 D-H
DO List 3 I-P
DO List 4 Q-Y

Vocabulary
Intro
Numbers
Punctuation
Shorthand Dictionaries

Word Lists
Text Lists from PDFs

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Intelligence + effort + persistence = excellence

The theory pages provide a compact and detailed reference source and are designed to give more information than the average course book provides. Their best use is for review and revision, after your basic instruction is completed. I would encourage complete beginners, who have no prior knowledge of Pitman's Shorthand, to concentrate their primary efforts on the more simplified information in their instruction book.

Course books do not go into minute detail, nor should they the student would get "theory indigestion" and probably give up, and the textbook and course fee would double in size and cost. They, and teachers, rightly present the information piecemeal, in a form much more easily learned, and so the information here does not replace that in any way.

Where suggested outlines are offered, most of these do have the root word in the dictionary (large 1974 edition), and, where not, the suggestion is based on an existing outline. I have not marked up every occasion where the outline was not in the dictionary, as some are so basic that no note is necessary.

The Rules

I have included explanations so that outline decisions are not felt to be frustratingly arbitrary, but are seen as honed for speed and reliability under pressure. I have given as many examples as possible, to give you plenty of material to practise with, and you can easily work out how similar words would be written.

The basic rules of the system cover most outlines, but there will always be combinations of strokes that produce awkward outlines, or ones that would not stand up to being written rapidly. Over the time since its creation, experience has thrown up words that are better written "in the exception" and consequently their departure from the general rule has to be described. If only one word behaves like this, it is called an exception; if there are several words, then their behaviour gets to be enshrined as a subsidiary rule. Should a new similar word arise, then there is a rule in place to deal with it.

It is just like speaking English, people use words and sentences that are easy and convenient, and they will use irregular pronunciations, verbs and plurals without a second thought for the extra pages that grammarians will have to write. Shorthand becomes the same as your skill increases and new words (i.e. ones whose outlines you do not know) are recognised as being based on ones that you already know. This is the only way to write unfamiliar words during dictation, with thoughts of theory kept for more leisurely hours when you are correcting your shorthand.

In study hours, it is helpful to construct that unknown outline, to exercise your theory skills. Finding out for yourself what does and doesn't work prevents you from feeling that outlines have been chosen arbitrarily. Sometimes one stroke joins very well after another, and then the third stroke cannot be joined at all, and you must backtrack on your choice. It is great encourager when you have worked out the correct outline, and that adds to your shorthand confidence. All this has, of course, already been done by countless contributors and revisers over very many years, not least by Sir Isaac Pitman himself who spent his entire adult life considering all the outline possibilities. All this effort and expertise is close to hand and at your fingertips in the shorthand dictionary.

If the rules were kept few and tidy, the shorthand itself would suffer from unclear, straggling or hard-to-write outlines that would deteriorate at speed. There is one overriding rule that covers all the "rule breaking" the outlines must conform to:

  • Facility easy to write

  • Legibility easy to read

  • Lineality maintaining horizontal writing, not invading the lines above or below

To quote Sir Isaac Pitman himself from his Manual of Phonography of 1852 para 91:

"For any given word, the writer should choose that form which is most easily and rapidly written, and is at the same time distinct. The briefest outline to the eye is not necessarily the most expeditious to the hand. The student will insensibly* acquire a knowledge of the best forms by practice and observation, and he will derive much assistance from perusing the "Phonographic Correspondent," and other phonetic shorthand publications. In deciding between two or more outlines for any word, he should adopt that which unites the greatest degree of facility, with a capability of intelligible vocalization."

*"insensibly" here is an older use of the word, meaning "imperceptibly, unconsciously"

Manual of Phonography 1852 and Ipod closed  Manual of Phonography 1852 and Ipod open
From I-SAAC to I-POD in 158 years!

Which book?

The current textbooks generally available are:

  • Anniversary Edition (Audrey O'Dea) (the main text book)

  • Anniversary Edition Key (Audrey O'Dea)

  • Anniversary Workbooks 1 (B Canning) and 2 (Pitman)

  • Anniversary Facility Drill book (Julie Watson)

  • Small Pocket Dictionary (Addison Wesley Longman)

  • Rapid Review & Speed Development (Bryan Coombs)

"Anniversary" refers to the anniversary of the publishers in 1988, and does not signify any change in the shorthand itself. Amazon gives descriptions of the contents. I have not discovered any other New Era books currently in print, and second-hand books must be relied upon to provide extra reading and learning material.

Modern glue-spined textbooks need bending with vigour at every few pages until the book lies flat. If it then refuses to stay closed, so be it you cannot learn from it peeping through the crack between the pages.

The older New Era books that you find on Ebay (especially plentiful on Ebay UK) and in secondhand bookshops will teach you exactly the same New Era Shorthand as the modern book and your learning will not be disadvantaged in the least. Ebay prices for the older books can be extremely favourable, releasing your hard-earned cash for that special pen. I believe the print and presentation in the older books are much clearer, and they have the important advantage that they lie flat on the desk, leaving your hands free to copy and write. The titles are:

  • New Course

  • Rapid Course

  • Shorthand Manual

  • Shorthand Instructor (same as Shorthand Manual but with extra chapters)
    The New Era version of the Shorthand Instructor is now available as free PDF download here: https://archive.org/details/pitmansshorthand00pitm (please also see their terms of use)

  • Commercial Course (without exercises)

  • Modern Course (without exercises)

  • Shorthand School Edition

  • Teach Yourself Shorthand

The Rapid Course has the edge over the others in that it has fewer dictations but more vocabulary, and there is also a version that has supplementary exercises. The subject matter of the practice passages reflects the time in which they were written. The occasional antiquated term provides amusement but in no way lessens the usefulness of the books.

The publication entitled "The New Shorthand Teacher" is not a book for teachers, but a thin booklet that repeats the first 8 chapters of the New Course, after which students are expected to follow the New Course book for chapter 9 onwards. I can only guess that this may have been an economical way to introduce the subject by the end of chapter 8, the student or college would know for certain whether the expense of providing the full book was justified; or it may be that these lightweight booklets needed to be mailed to students. (There are also pre-New Era booklets called "The Shorthand Teacher" and "The Phonographic Teacher" which give full, if condensed, instruction for beginners, covering the older versions of Pitman's Shorthand.)

The pages may be ink-marked, creased or annotated, but the previous shorthand learner would be delighted to know that it is in the hands of someone who values the contents, just as they did. In any case, you will be transferring it all to your memory, where it will remain fresh and alive, growing and improving, and endlessly useful!

Shorthand books compare prices
Both teaching the self-same identical no-difference New Era shorthand. The presentation wording and practice passages are entirely different, with the language style reflecting their different dates, but the theory is the same.

Pitman 2000

This is a simplified version of New Era,. It was introduced in 1971 as "Pitman Shorterhand", which was dropped soon after in favour of the name Pitman 2000. It has slightly fewer rules and omission of many short forms and contractions. The purpose was not to "improve" New Era but to make shorthand easier and quicker to learn for those who do not aspire to the highest speeds. Against the advantage of easier learning, there is the disadvantage that some outlines are longer, and some joins between strokes are allowed that New Era discourages as being not so easy to form, or less reliable under the stress of speed. At lower speeds, this may not be an issue, and confidence in the formation of the outline may possibly make up for this. It was not intended to replace New Era, but was aimed at office workers who generally do not need the speed that a verbatim writer or reporter might need. However, even office dictation, e.g. letters and reports, has to be verbatim, but a person dictating in an office will probably speak somewhat more slowly, and with more pauses, than someone speaking to other people and not directly to the shorthand writer.

Any writer of Pitman 2000 could benefit from the shorter forms of New Era if they wish to seek out and adopt them. Teachers must give the theory as it stands, and students may be marked on their outlines in exams, but outside of that, writers are free to adopt any forms they find useful preferably after learning the entire system and with some experience of real-life shorthand writing as well. New Era and 2000 writers alike can benefit from the advanced outlines and phrases offered in books by high speed writers. Books on other shorthand systems can often yield useful pointers on abbreviating principles and study methods.

New Era

I do not believe New Era is particularly difficult to learn, if you enjoy your learning. It is beneficial to learn the theory from your instruction book as quickly as your time available allows (without sacrificing thoroughness and practising of matter learned) in order to reduce the time spent suffering the frustration of only being able to write some words and not others. The theory on this website is best used for subsequent review and revision, or filling in points that you did not understand from the textbook if you do not have a teacher to ask.

I started office shorthand work with a speed of 120 wpm and I feel this is a good figure to aim for, so that you are not struggling all the time, and can maintain reasonably neat shorthand rather than an embarrassed sprawl. All speeds up to that are highly commendable, as they will have been gained through hard (and enjoyable) work, but in real life people seldom speak at less than 100 wpm. Any slowness in the overall speed comes from the pauses, rather than the laboured, even dictation that shorthand learners become accustomed to. It is good to practise fast bursts, with pauses after, which is more lifelike. Getting too far behind the speaker takes away all enjoyment of using your hard-won and valuable skill, and you might be called upon to read back immediately rather than escape to your desk to mull over the outlines!

Secretarial courses of shorthand and typewriting at the time I learned them (1970's) were considered more lowly manual skills for those less able in academic terms. There was not the slightest perception that it was difficult, just something utterly basic to be learned by those "destined" for the lowlier jobs. My shorthand classmates arrived at college with this attitude already in place, unaware that they were doing such a disservice to their own intelligence and capabilities. However, I believe everyone's self-esteem increased rapidly throughout the college year. Having gained exam passes for both the "higher" (academic) and "lower" (commercial) subjects, I can confirm that I found the "lower" definitely more enjoyable, practical and useful throughout life. (More on college shorthand experiences on my About page).

Shorthand is only seen as difficult nowadays because it is less well-known and the assumption is often made that a rare skill has to be a difficult one. It is rare only because it is not requested by employers as it was in previous years. That rarity could be an advantage if you can list shorthand on your CV, but there is also the necessity to make known your possession of this skill. A computer desktop picture of some shorthand outlines may be in order see the JPGs for Ipod, use part of the Flying Fingers poster JPG, or indeed any shorthand JPG on this website.

On my course we learned all the theory in the first term from September to December and the other two terms were spent on speed practice and gearing up to various shorthand exams. This course included other commercial subjects, so shorthand was not taking 100% of study time. Our successes came from maintaining our interest and enthusiasm throughout that year, and of course our patient and kindly shorthand teacher who encouraged everyone equally. Often interest grows as one learns a subject novelty turns into familiarity, and then into usefulness.

Shorthand requires precision and exactitude to be done well, and you cannot "waffle" your way through exam answers. It is a skill that anyone can be proud of having learned and mastered, even if exams are never undertaken.

Whatever shorthand you use, it is a worthy achievement, both in the skill gained and the bravery of facing unknown dictation at unknown speeds, totally unruffled and with the confidence that you can get it all and transcribe correctly. Your first public arena for using this skill may be via the telephone message pad, but rest assured it will not go unnoticed for long.

Old Shorthand

If you are interested in pre-New Era versions of Pitman's Shorthand, I suggest you learn New Era thoroughly, and do your dabbling afterwards, as rules have been revised over time, especially the placement of vowels and positions of outlines, rather major things to get confused over if you are still learning. The place to find all the pre-New Era books is www.archive.org where you can read online or download most of them as PDFs, without having to buy expensive and fragile antique books. The text-only versions of the files are often peppered with OCR mistakes, as the letterpress pages are not always sharp, and of course the OCR makes mincemeat of the actual shorthand.

Many of the 19th century books attempt to combine practice passages with moral instruction and this can be either amusing, annoying or educational, depending on whether you agree with it. Despite the sometimes condescending tone of the advice, the text keys to the passages can be enjoyed without any knowledge of shorthand and they give an interesting insight into the attitudes of the times, where self-improvement was encouraged for all.

 

"Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable if anything is excellent or praiseworthy think about such things." (Philippians 4:8)

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