24 November 2009

Shorthand and Speedwriting

My mom recently got into a conversation during which the difference between shorthand and speedwriting were assumed to be obvious. She related this conversation to me and I told her honestly, I had never heard of speedwriting. I had to look it all up.

Shorthand typically refers to any method of writing that uses symbols for common phrases, words or sounds. Some methods of shorthand use abbreviations for words. In either case, someone well trained in shorthand should be able to take dictation as fast as someone else is speaking. Obviously, shorthand is generally used with the intention of transcribing it to longhand... but some people like Samuel Pepys don't ever do that.

There are looooots of different kinds of shorthand, including geometric systems, script, and geometric-script. Turns out speedwriting is just one of maaaaaany shorthand writing systems.

Non-symbol systems often supplement alphabetic characters by using punctuation marks as additional characters, giving special significance to capitalised letters, and sometimes using additional non-alphabetic symbols. Examples of such systems include Stenoscript, Stenospeed, Speedwriting, Forkner shorthand, Quickhand and Alpha Hand. However, there are some pure alphabetic systems, including Personal Shorthand, SuperWrite, Easy Script Speed Writing, and Agiliwriting, which limit their symbols to purely alphabetic characters. These have the added advantage that they can also be typed - for instance, onto a computer, PDA, or cellphone. Early editions of Speedwriting were also adapted so that they could be written on a typewriter, and therefore would possess the same advantage.

This is an example of the Lord's Prayer written in a bunch of different shorthand systems.
File:Eclectic shorthand by cross.png

About speedwriting specifically:

Speedwriting is phonetic with a ‘k’ used for a hard c, ‘C’ for ‘ch’, ‘j’ for ‘g’ in ‘age’. It condenses words by omitting silent letters and only writing long vowels, and initial short vowels. Sentences are ended with ‘\’ and a ‘/’ is used for omitted syllables. There are other abbreviating devices, including capitalisation, and the use of punctuation marks to denote combinations of sounds. It uses around 100 abbreviations for common words and suffixes.

Speedwriting uses a stylized script made in 1942 for faster handwriting, in which the ‘t’ is uncrossed (l is looped to distinguish them), ‘i’ is not dotted, ‘m’ is a simple curve like a stretched ‘n’ and 'w' is also a simple curve like a stretched 'u'.

Speedwriting is more than twice as fast as longhand, due to using half the letters, but it is nowhere near as fast as symbolic shorthand systems. Speeds of up to 120 words a minute are possible for short periods of time, with speeds of 80 words a minute being regularly attained. It is therefore more useful for someone wanting a simple system to speed up handwritten note taking than for reporting.

Here's what it looks like:

I think we should all just type real fast and forget about all this abbreviated non-sense. Writing things by hand holds nothing more than aesthetic value for me. Yes, having said that, I really like my handwriting.

05 November 2009

French Punctuation

I really like KMarsh's blog. Probably--at least partially--because I really like KMarsh.
He had a post the other day about hating the serial comma, in which he proudly used an interrobang. In all my years, I had never seen it. Can you believe it Even my spell-checking device currently thinks I've made a mistake.
So I started looking into unusual punctuation, and discovered... surprise! the French. They really are the people most enthusiastic about their own language I've ever witnessed. This includes the punctuation marks they've made up for themselves.
Brief history of punctuation:
Punctuation of course developed when people started making lots of copies of the Bible--which was meant to be read aloud. They put dots and marks to help the reader, and they invented capital letters, too!
Punctuation didn't really become standardized until printing came about, and typewriters even regulated trends: for the most part, punctuation was minimized because a period or a comma took up as much valuable ribbon space as a letter.
I guess once computers came into common usage, people started using punctuation more freely.
We generally assume that punctuation marks all serve the same purpose in every language, but they do vary slightly from region to region.
In Western languages, a period marks a full stop with only slight variations.
"Carefree" means "free from care or anxiety." (American style)
"Carefree" means "free from care or anxiety". (British style)

  • In some Asian languages, notably Chinese and Japanese, a small circle is used instead of a solid dot: "??"
  • In the Devanagari script used to write Hindi, Sanskrit and some other Indian languages a vertical line "|" is used to mark the end of a sentence.
  • In Thai, no symbol corresponding to full stop is used as sentence marker. A sentence is written without spaces and a space is typically used to mark the end of a clause or sentence.
 More interesting than periods:
In English, quotation marks are most commonly used to quote someone. It is unfortunate that many English speakers do not know what other functions quotation marks may serve.
  • Quotation marks may be used for irony.
    • He shared his "wisdom" with me.
    • The lunch lady plopped a glob of "food" onto my tray.
It is incorrect to use quotation marks for emphasis. I don't know why people think it's ok. It's not. Check out this blog.
In a lot of languages, we use these funny angle quotes. «…» In Belarusian, Catalan, Danish, French, Swiss, German, Greek, Italian, Latvian, Norwegian, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Turkish and Ukranian. I don't know why.
What's even weirder is that whether languages use the angle quotes or the comma quotes SOMETIMES THEY POINT IN DIFFERENT DIRECTIONS.
Don't ask me to explain it.
Ok so back to funny looking question marks and the French.
Not only do they embrace the interrobang as relatively standard, they also have what's called an irony mark. ؟ The French are silly.
In other news…
Soo... how many spaces do you put after a sentence? I always put two. Before typewriters, all European languages has a long tradition of using spaces of varying widths for the express purpose of enhancing readability.
Once stuff got more standardized, French spacing inserted spaces around most punctuation marks, but single-spaced after sentences, colons, and semicolons. English spacing removed spaces around most punctuation marks, but double-spaced after sentences, colons, and semicolons.
Money makes the world go 'round.
The reasons were predominantly commercial rather than stylistic. A key change in the publishing industry from the mid-19th century to the mid-20th century was the enormous growth of mass-produced books and magazines. Increasing commercial pressure to reduce the costs, complexity, and lead-time of printing deeply affected the industry, leading to a widening gap between commercial printing and fine printing.
The underlying reasons for the changes were:
  • ease and speed, since far less physical type and more importantly far less skilled effort was required
  • cost, since fewer man-hours were required and the condensed text required less paper. The bulk of the cost saving was typesetting-related rather than paper-use-related
  • cultural, since new typesetters (and readers) had grown up with typewriters and the standard typists' spacing approximations of good typesetting
But then, what was French spacing became English spacing, and vice versa.
The earliest use of this inversion was apparently 1994 by the University of Chicago Press. By the mid-2000s this usage had been widely asserted on the internet.
It is not clear why this reversal occurred.
It is possible that it was an attempt to discourage the practice by labeling it alien.
The moral of the story is:
I really love the French—and how much they love their language.