Shorthand: A Threatened Species

I knew there was a reason my shorthand lessons looked so much like ancient egyptian hieroglyphics.

This “art” of shorthand has, in fact, a long history which traces back to the ancient Greeks and Egyptians (The Shorthand Place [TSP], 2009).

Several prominent historical figures, including roman leader Julius Caesar and the Athenian Greek philosopher, Socrates were said to have used shorthand (TSP, 2009).

The Egyptian form of shorthand, hieratic script, is traced as far back as 3200 BC and much like today, it was used for a variety of reasons, from legal purposes to historical accounts (The Scribe, 2007).

As years passed shorthand continued to evolve, under the monks in the Dark Ages, through to 16th century Europe where the modern form of shorthand began to evolve into its current form (TSP, 2009).

Several notable players turned shorthand into its present form today, Isaac Pitman – Pitman shorthand, John Robert Gregg – Gregg shorthand – and more recently James Hill with Tee-line shorthand (TSP, 2009).

It’s a lengthy history, one which would take up more than this blog, but for those who are interested read on here: http://www.t-script.co.uk/history.php and here: http://www.lrb.co.uk/v30/n23/leah-price/diary

Today, it appears, shorthand is being chased into extinction by the presence of modern day technology.

Once a valued tool — it is quickly becoming history.

Leah Price, an English literature professor at Harvard wrote in the London Review of Books, that shorthand was “dying out and so are the people writing it”.

“When I tell people about my work around the history of shorthand, people tell me their mother knew shorthand, or their grandmother or their husband’s first wife.”

She, amongst many others, are questioning what is left of shorthand.

In her opinion most of what is left is a “stockpile of corporate and personal records, many of which have never been transcribed and never will be.”

But despite that there are still those fighting to keep it alive.

Journalism schools, for example, continue to teach the art — as a necessary tool of the trade.

But you do have to wonder how long will this battle go on?

I was one, of the many victims of such a school, subjected to two hour lessons at 8am, 4 days a week.

I’d like to say it worked,  and I’m contributing to bringing shorthand back out of the history books.

But, if I’m being honest, it felt like a losing battle — not just for me — but for the Journalism schools.

Not many, if any, of my fellow students came away with a working knowledge of the subject.

In a similar manner to how calculators soon took over mental and written arithmetic, dictaphones or voice recorders are now taking over shorthand.

And as transcription software is on the rise, my generation, which is known for its reliance on technological inventions that make life easier, will jump at the chance to use it.

Personally I’d like to say I’ll go against the popular tide and fight to learn shorthand.

But despite its value, the reality is, as life’s pressures come knocking sitting down to learn Egyptian hieroglyphics is simply not time well spent.

By Corazon Miller

 References

     Price, L. (2008). Diary; The London Review of Books. Retrieved from http://www.lrb.co.uk/v30/n23/leah-price/diary

     The Scribe. (2007). Writing shorthand in ancient Egypt; The Ancient Standard. Retrieved from http://ancientstandard.com/2007/09/25/writing-shorthand-in-ancient-egypt-ca-3200-bc-–-200-ad/

     The Shorthand Place. (2009). History of shorthand. Retrieved from http://www.t-script.co.uk/history.php

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