shorthand difficulties for beginner

I have been interested in shorthand for a very long time, and have tried to learn various versions since I was about 10 years old.  However, every time I try to learn one of the versions of Gregg, I run into conceptual difficulties.  Even though many of the rules are spelled out and are clear, there are many cases that just completely stump me and make me think that the system is at least somewhat arbitrary (or at least not well-defined).  Ok here are some examples:

1. R omitted–“In many words containing ar, er, ir, as in the words large, serve, warm, …, the r is omitted.”  OK.  Great. But how am I supposed to know which “many words” these are?  Am I supposed to memorize a dictionary to find out?  What is the rule that governs whether it is omitted or not?  It suggests that you drop a sound that is not stressed in speaking, but I stress all of these r’s and to me the “r” in large is no different than the “r” in barn (which is not omitted). 
2. I run into the same difficulty again with omission of t.  “When slightly enunciated, t is omitted at the end of many words.”  Well, are there some words in which t is not omitted after s, k, p, etc?? 
3. “When slightly enunciated, d is often omitted.”  Again, often means what exactly?
4. When the anniversary manual says, “s in ser, cer, sar…may be written contrary to the usual method” does this mean that the “s” is definitely or “may be” written that way at the discretion of the writer?

1. In the simplified manual, it says “the d is omitted from the following words…”  Are these the only words in which d is omitted or is it trying to suggest that d can be omitted in analogous contexts?
2. This one totally stumped me:  In both Anniversary and Simplified, sought is written with one smooth joining of the s, o, and t.  I can see how this flows, I guess, but does this apply for words like “fought” and “vote?”  It doesn’t seem to be the case.  And when r is omitted in “sort” then for some strange unexplainable reason, the t is now not one smooth motion from the “o.”  I can imagine that one might say, “well, by joining the t differently in sort and sought, one can differentiate the two words.” Fine.  But how am I supposed to know how many words I need to “differentiate” while I’m writing?  And how would one write the word “shot?”  With a smooth o-t join or not?  How would I know this without having to consult someone?
3.  Why is the circle inside the shorthand for “chair,” but not inside the form for a word like “pan?”  In both cases there is a straight line and a curve.  I don’t see how they differ, except for a rotation difference and the slight angle of the “ch.” 

1. Why is the “r” in “offer” written without a smooth “fr” connection, but all other “fr” words are?  It also seems as if this non-smooth “fr” occurs when the f and the r belong to different syllables, but there doesn’t seem to be any rule for this in any of the manuals that I have. 
2.  Obscure vowel.  “The small circle also represents the obscure vowel sound heard in her, firm, church.”  Therefore the word major has a circle between j and r.  However, the obscure vowel in girl, the syllable “per,” general, several, chamber, and others do not have the circle.  Why oh why??

These are just some of the difficulties I have had with Gregg theory.  Don’t get me wrong…I really want to like Gregg but I also really want a system that is internally consistent so that there is one way to write the form of a word that I have in mind and I don’t have to guess (or look up in a dictionary) what that form would be if I were to know all the rules.  Perhaps I am just missing something very basic.  I would appreciate any help!


(by thousandwaves for everyone)

7 comments Add yours
  1. You raise some interesting observations about inconsistencies in the various Gregg systems.  I have a few thoughts about this.   –Gregg shorthand was developed from a practical viewpoint, not from a theoretical or linguistic perspective.  So I don't necessarily think there was any effort to make it completely "internally consistent" or free from logical errors.  Any theory that underlay the development of the system was the current shorthand theory of the end of the 19th century, with just a smattering of phonetic theory (which Gregg attributed somewhere to his older sister, who was a teacher in a school for the Deaf).  So if you apply some kind of linguistic or logical standard to Gregg, it has obvious failings.   –That said, these inconsistencies don't really matter, and there can be variation in the way people write outlines.  The only measure of success is if they're accurately legible to the writer.  I think there is rarely a problem with this, probably much less frequently than with other shorthand systems.  Of course there are the occasional outlines that "stump" us, as evidenced by inquiries here . . . I've had my share.  (My worst was the word "cynosure" that Gregg used in one of his recountings of his early life.  I don't even know the word in English, and when I encountered the outline (s-i-n-ish-oo) it drove me nuts until I got help with it.)    –I personally think that the DJS did a good job cleaning up a number of unclear principles and inconsistencies, largely because more things are fully written out.  Of course, I'm biased since I started learning that system–it still sticks in my mind as the "norm" of what Gregg shorthand is.    Alex

  2. One thing I meant to say but forgot . . . if you look at reproductions of notes by famous and skilled shorthand writers, you'll find wide variation in style and many deviations from the "rules".  There are a few reproductions in some of the textbooks, and the Gregg Writer used to publish them from time to time . . . some of them are frankly illegible without a great deal of work.  But they were perfectly legible to the writers themselves, who incorporated individual abbreviating principles and methods of writing.    While this might be frustrating if you're looking for a logical, uniform, unified system, it's actually a strength of Gregg's approach to shorthand.  He provides an alphabet and basic principles that can then be subject to modification by individual users.  I suspect that in the golden age of stenographic dictation there would have been no two secretaries who would write Gregg in exactly the same way, even if trained in the same version of the system.    This would only be a problem if shorthand were used for publishing and correspondence, rather than personally-written notes.    Alex

  3. Brian, I enjoyed reading your post. I agree with you, there are places in which Gregg is indeed inconsistent. That's one of the reasons that reading shorthand is probably one of the most important activities to improve proficiency. Also, going over the manual to pick up some of these cases, once you know the theory down pat, is extremely helpful. I'm not sure if you wanted to have answers to all of your questions, or if you just wanted to make a point. Like Alex said, the later versions of shorthand tried to make rules more consistent, so that the learning curve is less steep. Endings and abbreviations were slashed dramatically. But still, there will be some inconsistencies. Have you chosen a version to study? If so, stick with it. Sometimes you need to ask someone if you are stumped — that's perfectly fine!

    While rules are important, what is more important is the development of speed. If you stump on a word, just write it in full and keep going. After the dictation, correct the mistakes and study those theory points that were missed.

    Incidentally, the reason why the circle for chair goes inside and for "pan" goes outside, is the rule that says "circles inside curves and outside angles." The ch and the r of chair form a curve (no angle), so the circle is written inside. The p and n of pan form an angle, therefore the circle is written outside. In summary, there is no angle between:

    sh, ch, j + r or l
    k or g + sh, ch, j
    r or l + t, d
    t, d + k or g

  4. Some of the answers for the questions on Anniervsary are in here because I asked them too…  So they can be found if you want to know.   I got the teachers manual for Anniversary functional method and one thing they emphasized for teachers (which I don't fully agree with) is that if a student asks why something is a certain way is to say, "that's just the way it is" and not even really give an answer.  It's just something that's learned and that's it. Although there is a reason and it is learned later but while learning it, I guess they figure students just need to learn the system and then they'll learn the why's later.    The Functional Method gave no explanation on why something was written but the Anniversary smaller edition had more explanation of the "rules" and the smarter people here can give you the answers you need.    And also what was suggested above, choose a system and then ask here if you have any questions, you will most likely get an answer for them.   Good luck. Debbi

  5. Hi, Thousand, I can relate to your feelings of frustration.  Rational people need to know the rationale.  It is a horrible feeling to struggle with logical inconsistencies.  Here is how I cope with the ones I come upon in Gregg:   1.  Just do it.  I remember in highschool Spanish class I would argue with the teacher that some rule or other didn't make sense and that it should be done another way.  The teacher's advice was that I would have a much easier time learning the language if I just accepted what was, instead of spending energy on what should be.    In Gregg, though, I have often found that inconsitencies are actually the result of logic, rather than degeneration of the system over centuries (like in spoken languages).  There are times when speed is gained by breaking a rule.  In those cases, would the system be "better" if it took the more logical route, or the more abbreviated one?  Well, it comes down to the old balance between learning curve and writing speed.  I do know that the creators of Gregg spent way more time than was healthy arguing the minutae of the system, considering the impact of every rule.  That is why I try not to make my own personal "shortcuts".  I am afraid of accidentally voiding one of their tirelessly debated shorthand theorems.   To answer your question about whether you should just memorize the dictionary, I would say yes, to a degree.  It has been important for me to practice common outlines over and over to the point that I recall them as a symbol rather than spelling them out by sound as I write.  That's probably the wrong way to learn, but hey, it's a free country.   2.  Change systems.  In comparing DJS and Simplified, I notice that because there are less rules to learn, and maybe less exceptions to rules, DJS would be easier to wrap my brain around.  I am especially curious to know how Centennial compares, being designed by computer-age people and all.    Of course, this is all mostly BS, since I still suck at Gregg; take it for what you will.   ______________________________________ Praise the Lord, I saw the light line!

  6. I agree 100% with John's Spanish teacher.

    I almost drove myself crazy when I switched from Simplified to Anniversary. Simplified seemed to make pefect sense. In Anniversary, lots of things seemed random. And the abbreviating principle looked so arbitrary I thought I'd never get my head round it.

    In the end, I decided just to accept things as they were. And life got easier 🙂

    Chuck's right – reading makes a HUGE difference. I didn't think it would, but it does. And reading lots makes me write better. I think it imprints the outlines on my brain, and makes my shorthand much more fluent.

    Good luck!


  7. Thanks guys for all the advice and support. It really is fun to come back to shorthand again. And I will as y'all said, "just do it." I suppose some of my previous issues are due to the fact that I am a linguist, and I do like for languages to make sense…hehe.

    I have two main interests in shorthand, one practical and one intellectual. The practical interest is in being able to take notes and to write drafts of papers and journal entries quickly. As for the intellectual and aesthetic interest…well, I am just fascinated with alternative writing systems, especially phonemic ones like Gregg and Pitman. (Gregg is phonemic and not phonetic for the reason that one poster brought up…a vowel or consonant may be pronouced differently by people in different regions, but the phoneme is still the same).

    One thing that strikes me now as I read these posts is that reading does in fact help me a great deal with fluency in Gregg. And I wondered why this was the case. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that Gregg is not an "alphabet." It is in fact a syllabary. That's what drove me crazy before. I just didn't know how to predict quickly what a syllable should look like even though I knew all the individual components. And it just makes sense then that the more words one sees in Gregg, the more one remembers what different syllables look like. Maybe there even exists a table of Gregg syllables out there….I don't know. But it would be helpful for me, I think, in addition to reading.

    All that said, I think that Notehand is what I'm going to stick with. It was the first one I 'learned' and I like the feel of it. But once I got the Pre-Anniversary manual the other day, then many of the unstated "rules" in Notehand suddenly made a great deal of sense. What would be even neater would be a notehand version of Pre-Anniversary. Yum! Greghand, anyone? 🙂


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