Alphabetic shorthand systems?

Anyone here a fan of an alphabetic shorthand system? I love writing systems (one contributing factor in my learning Gregg), and it’s always fascinating to see how other people have come up with stenography systems, including ones that are based off the English alphabet.

Recently I gave Shortcut Shorthand a shot, but was disillusioned after discovering how illogical a lot of its stuff was, like every letter having three forms: vowel-before, standard, and vowel-after while I’m thinking “Why not just have a generic vowel symbol?”

The systems popular today seem to be Easyscript, Quickhand, Speedwriting, Briefhand, and some others… they often “boast” of speeds of 60wpm, which doesn’t seem like a lot to a Gregg writer, but I suppose not everyone has the time to become proficient and speedy in Gregg.

I’m waiting on some Speedwriting and Briefhand books and was wondering if anyone else writes alphabetic shorthand systems and what they think of them!

Thanks 🙂

(by erik for everyone)

36 comments Add yours
  1. Yeah I feel kind of bad for people who have to bust their gut writing and still only hit 60wpm. Heck, I can write crappy longhand at 60wpm, but I'd rather write legible, effortless Gregg if we're going to hang around at that speed.

    Something I've noticed about alphabetic systems is most seem to have the same idea: eliminate short vowels, reduce letters to simpler shapes, add a few symbols for words like the/a, and maybe have a few special affix abbreviations. It's interesting to me, at least 😀

  2. Speedwriting is probably the most successful and widely known, at least in the U.S.  It's been through a number of editions and has lots of textbooks, dictionaries, etc. at different levels.    I find it intriguing, but honestly I think it's ugly, and some of the theory just doesn't work for me–such as omitting all medial vowels.  "grd" could be grade, guard, gourd, grid . . . too much ambiguity.    It's ironic, I think, that later editions of Speedwriting were published by McGraw-Hill . . .   There's another system called "SuperWrite."  One of the authors was James Lemaster, who was a co-author of several Gregg texts.  It keeps medial vowels, but has weird logic.  For example, the word "rice" is spelled r-i-c . . . why "c"?  And "daisy" is d-a-s-y . . . why "s" and "y"?  No consistent phonetic approach.  "Die" is d-i, but "fly" is f-l-y.  Strange.   Alex

  3. ERIK:

    It's been said that your potential for shorthand speed is related to your longhand.

    That is, if you write longhand fast, normally, you have the potential to be a fast shorthand writer. After all, isn't it close to the same thing? You just put words together differenty, after all.

    The version of Gregg (or Pitman) you choose has a lot to do with it, too. Later versions of Gregg weren't designed for verbatim recording. With Series 90, even superstars could barely break 100wpm.

  4. The first shorthand book I came across was ALPHABET SHORTHAND IN 15 DAYS. I was into several lessons when I discovered Gregg in the bookstore. After a few lessons in the latter it became apparent that one letter in alphabet s.h. was the writing equivalent  of several words or phrases in Gregg. With Gregg, Pitman , etc., yes there is agood deal of material to be learned, but the amount of stuff to be unlearned  and symbols reassigned in alphabetic shorthand can be quite confusing!With Gregg, Pitman, etc. you learn symbols for sounds. With alphabetic I was constantly suppressing decades of habitual, rapid spelling for an unnatural phonetic spelling, capital letters inside words, and so forth. I do not think that learning a system that assigns a new symbol to a sound is as confusing as a system that reassigns familiar symbols to different sounds.   DOC

  5. After getting a book in Speedwriting, Personal Shorthand, and Zinman's ABC shorthand, I have to say I'm a little disappointed! PS is very inconsistent and uses the original English spelling half the time with some letters cut out, Speedwriting's author must have been a Gregg-ite because about half the things seem to be direct lifts with more "abbreviations", and Zinman's looks like netspeak!

    I guess there are gives and takes with every system (I've been told that Simplified looks like everything from Arabic to scribbling), but I think I'll look the most into Zinman's. It seems at least at first to be the most logical among them.

    I also found a way to write Gregg legibly on the bus, so all this is just a curiosity now 🙂 The secret is: make the shapes like Pitman: don't dip the Rs or Ls in the beginning, but make them round the whole way… likewise, make vowels bigger. Then you can hit a bump while writing an L and not have it come out like an M.

  6. Aah the fault of Zinman's makes itself clear now. Many, many arbitrary abbreviations you're expected to just know and use, like "elec" for electricity/electrical, "bldg" for "building", etc.

    Are there any alphabetic systems as well-designed as Gregg?

  7. When I took Speedwriting in a night class (that was the only shorthand class around, I'm sure unless you went to a Jr college and then it was still Speedwriting).    Brd could be just about any word, the context of the sentence usually gave you the anwer… Your grd in school is a C+… so obviuosly grade not  guard… but sometimes you just had to guess.  And it did "lift" some symbols from Gregg.  The word "the" was exactly the same.  The symbols for M is the L in Gregg and the symbol for W is the G in gregg (so it was faster to write the symbol then the alphabet letter).  But you did use a capitol M for Mis at the beginning of a word.  And I think A and An was also the dot from Gregg (can't remember).    Since it was not even close to the normal spelling it did improve my spelling because I had to think and remember how to actually spell in English.   And I did only get up to 80wpm that I could read, 100 wpm if I didn't want to read everything I wrote.  But both those were on short dictation, for 5 minutes the 80wpm was harder to write accurately.  Of course I haven't timed myself in Gregg for a long time so I'm not sure where my speed is. Debbi

  8. Speaking of symbols lifted from Gregg, the first system I learned was Stenospeed. Like other so-called alphabetic systems, it was a combination of alphabetic letters plus some symbols. As others have noted in this forum, most alphabetic systems use symbols because letters such as m and w are just too slow to write. Anyhow, the symbols they lifted from Gregg were the n, m, t, d, k, s, and sh. They even used the nt, mt, ten, and tem blends. The only symbol I recall that they used differently as the Gregg r, which they used for w. It was also like other alphabetic systems in that they eliminated most of the vowels to improve speed. I finally gave up on it because the missing vowels just made it too hard to read.

  9. Forkner (hence the moniker) is the notehand I studied in high school in the 1970's. It is mostly alphabetic, with some interesting twists. Like Pitman, it used diacritics for the vowels, for the most part. Capital letters represented some prefixes and suffixes (like D for des/dis, T for trans) and disjoined letters represented others (like f for for). There's a web site for it too: I'll be honest; it's not nearly as fast as Gregg, but it came in handy in university. Jim

  10. yes, in the netherlands there's a system called +groote stenografie+. this system was also used by dr drees,  former prime minister of this country. he wrote everything from cards to minutes in shorthand. even on his tombstone short- handsigns are engraved. …there are more alphabetical systems in europe. i will let you know later. (danielsundt)

  11. doesn't take me to anything that looks like a shorthand page . . . Forkner or otherwise.  Am I missing something?   (Just as an aside to the linguaphiles in the group, I'm in the mountains of Vermont right now as part of the faculty of the Summer Esperanto Institute at the School for International Training . . . having a little trouble getting back into English-language mode right now, and my keyboard is set for Esperanto diacritics so I'm having to adjust for that too . . . )   Alex

  12. Erik:   I tried several alphabetic systems, including QuikHand and one published by the Dictation Disc Company years ago; and I taught Speedwriting and SuperWrite. They are all interesting. The plates for SuperWrite are wriiten in a beautiful cursive style, which helps students improve their overall handwriting ability. If you are looking for speed forget it. SuperWrite is good for 80-90, but that's about it. I was a member of the Order of Gregg Artists. I wonder why McGraw-Hill killed Speedwriting and Gregg Shorthand. Gregg is certainly what made them a great publishing company; and I still consider it not only highly functional, but also an art form.   John Bowdle, MLS Tulsa, OK

  13. John:

    Two things killed shorthand in America, viz., the advent of microcassette recording and the debacle of Series 90 Gregg.

    Series 90 Gregg was so slow that only gifted students could break 100wpm. Which begged the question–what was the use of learning a symbol system when an alphabetic one, such a Speedwriting, could go almost as fast?

    So Gregg Shorthand died.

  14. I had heard this before, George. I also heard that Lemaster who helped with SuperWrite was responsible for the Gregg 90 series. Sounds like a conflict of interest to me.   What I think is interesting in that McGraw-Hill spent so much money launching the Centennial edition only to virtually kill it by charging so much for the textbooks. Apparently Mc-Graw-Hill did not obtain the British rights to Speedwriting, as I see it is handled by a separate entity. – John

  15. What about Teeline? I've a few Teeline books. While it doesn't look as elegant as Gregg's, I've heard that the learning curve is relatively modest, and one can attain speeds of 120 wpm with a year's worth of study.   — Stenomouse

  16. Teeline was invented in the 1970s by a man named James Hill, a Pitman teacher, who was trying to simplify the process of learning shorthand. (Pitman Shorthand, especially New Era, was/is very hard to grasp.)

    Teeline, while much easier to learn than Pitman or even Gregg, has limitations. 120wpm is the apogee of the system; the symbols are basically the same longhand cursive alphabet symbols, but drastically abbreviated versions of them. The abbreviating principle used in Gregg is also used in Teeline.

    Teeline was never supposed to be used as any kind of diary or court-reporting system; notes need to be transcribed soon after the session while memory of the material is fresh in your mind.

    There is a free Teeline online course available. If you feel that Teeline meets your needs, let me know, and I'll be happy to post a link for you.

  17. Hi George,   There are a couple of common misconceptions about Teeline in your post which I think need to be addressed.  I hope you don't mind – this is addressed to you, but really I mean the points more generally.   As you know, I've been a Teeline writer for about 20 years – not because I think it's the best system out there, but because I haven't yet come across a system so significantly better that it's worth my while to change. It also meets all my needs. So although I defend the system here, it's not because I think it's better than all others, or because I'm blind to the advantages of others and the disadvantages of Teeline.   Firstly, 120 isn't the upper speed limit of Teeline.  I used to write it at about 140, and speeds of 200 wpm have been recorded.  Certainly its speed potential in no way matches the 200+ of (Anny)Gregg or (NewEra)Pitman.  I suspect this 120 limit you hear about is more to do with the kinds of people using Teeline, which tend to be secretaries, journalists and 'amateurs', where there would be no need to go very fast.    Teeline wasn't designed as a court reporting system.  In the UK, nearly all court reporting is done by machine shorthand writers (stenograph and palantype), although there are still a few pen (Pitman) writers. There is no need to develop pen court reporting systems anymore because of the advantages of machine shorthand in this setting.   However, Teeline most certainly is designed to be used for diaries and other everyday applications.  I don't understand where this "Teeline must be transcribed immediately or it's illegible" idea comes from – and this isn't attacking you, I've seen it written all over the place.  Of course Teeline can be read days, weeks, years, decades after it is written.  I have diaries that I wrote in the late 80s that are still perfectly legible.  Also, if this were true, nobody would be able to read the shorthand in textbooks that were written years ago!   Teeline is just as legible as Gregg, Pitman or any system. In fact, I would go so far as to suggest that because there is more 'redundancy' in Teeline, which accounts for it's slower speed potential, it is more legible than either Gregg or Pitman when written sloppily.   Each system has it's strengths and weaknesses.  I probably wouldn't choose Teeline if I wanted to writer for extended periods over 140 words a minute. I wouldn't choose Pitman if I wanted the flexibility to write it with any kind of pen – but for extremely high speeds it would be perfect. Gregg is somewhere between the two – anny/simplified are harder to learn than Teeline, but faster; the other flavours are (perhaps) easier to learn than Teeline, but slower.    I think all systems have their charms, and each is a little jewel to be treasured! Ahh.   Mini-rant over, sorry! 🙂   Ian

  18. Ian:

    Thanks for the info. I have heard that Teeline must be transcribed immediately because I've seen it written all over the Internet.

    Not because I know a lot about it, or can write it.

    I agree with everything else you wrote. I have to admit, though, it's hard to believe that Teeline can be written at 200wpm. That feat is difficult even for New Era, although literally thousands have managed it.

    (Off on a tangent, the positionwriting, shading, etc tricks that Greggites have disdained does allow Pitman writers quite a few additional tricks for speed. I've seen an outline for "What did he say to you and what did you say to him?" that was smaller than the word "mention".)

    But back to Teeline–are there tricks/additional abbreviations needed to attain that 200wpm speed?

    Thanks for the info. I enjoy lengthy, detailed posts…

  19. Ian:

    Off on another tangent. Please forgive me.

    But have you noticed in the posts at this board a significant problem in Gregg's abbreviation principle? No less than three threads, at the time of this writing, exist in terms of the difficulty of knowing when and when not to omit vowels, etc. I have to say that, in terms of Pitman, this isn't much of an issue. We do have that goddawful intervocalization, though, which I'm having a terrible time trying to grasp.

    Does Teeline have this "abbreviation principle" caveat?

  20. Hi George,   I suspect the 200wpm writing which was quoted in the early textbooks was only for a very short period of time.  I would also have a hard time believing that anyone could write Teeline for an extended period at this speed.   There are no particluar 'extra' rules for Teeline.   You increase your speed by learning additional shortforms, phrasing and, well, just writing faster!   Like Pitman, in Teeline you generally omit all vowels in the middle of words (although you always write them at the beginning and end), so it's harder to use the 'abbreviation principle'.  In Gregg you could write 'prin' for principle, but in Teeline and Pitman it would come out as PRN which is not so transparent.  There must be a better example, but I was at a party last night and got really drunk.  My brain's not working this morning…!   Ian

  21. to georgeamberson1
    I differ in your view that Pitman New Era is difficult to grasp, as I learned it in two months, although it took me a couple of years of night school to build up speed. (That was only two hours a week mind you) Now I've done it, I feel I could do it all again a lot quicker. Also your comment about intervocalisation, I don't understand. There was another comment about putting in or omitting vowels. In the text books it was recommended, at speed, to only insert essential vowels, which in practice means hardly any. I find that the two-vowel signs eye, eee, ow, and yew are very helpful. Its better that you write a clear basic outline, in position. I learned with a fountain pen but now I use a biro.
    kind rgds to all

  22. Paul:

    I was referring to the difficulties in Gregg in terms of omitting or inserting vowels; a search of the topics on this forum will show you just how confusing for Greggwriters this seems to be!

    In terms of Pitman, vowel insertion or omission is easy.

    By intervocalization, I mean the consonant outlines that have to do with double and triple consonants–for example, "scr" is written one way, viz., a circle/hook/consonant-k/ whether or not a vowel is in there. Now, for me, that's confusing to say the least; it seems like you have to rethink the way you put together words and sounds in your mind. Examples are the word "secretary" or "security". Another hard thing to grasp is the different uses for "w" and "y". Sometimes the "w" is written out as a consonant and sometimes the semi-circle version is used, placed in vowel position.

    What's hard for one writer might be easy for another; I suspect you have a natural talent for shorthand, that's all. I read an amusing article about Pitman New Era recently; the article mentions otherwise intelligent women reduced to tears at the difficulty at learning New Era. I can give you a link if you wish…

    By the way, although I respect Gregg–especially Pre- and Anniversary Gregg, I'm a would-be Pitman writer by training and choice, since it's the shorthand I prefer….

  23. …as a lover of shorthand systems. you should try to find something about the graphic systems, which are in favour in germany, the netherlands and sweden. in fact gregg is a kind of compromise between the geometrical figures and the cursive graphic forms. (d.s.)

  24. I had a look at all kinds of alphabetic systems since I made the original post. I looked at Speedwriting, Shortcut Shorthand, Alphahand, Briefhand, Personal Shorthand, and probably four or five others. They all have the same fault: logicless, arbitrary symbols/affixes and poor speed potential (60-100wpm with intensive training). Some of them are just plain badly conceived, one of them basically being "take the first syllable, remove the vowels, and add the last letter." I think it was either Alphahand or Speedwriting that looked most promising.

    But there was also the problem of number of strokes and fatigue.

    Anyway, here I am at the end of my odyssey doing Simplified again.

  25. First thing I learned when I took shorthand was the alphabets. Then learning how to put it together like "I have not been able" (chuckle) that is confusing to some; and then the terms to memorize and the strokes.  One has to learn the basics to understand more about gregg shorthand.  Then practice… practice… practice… Then you get the good speed and you can't stop, you go to steno II and you have to reach a speed to move on to III and IV, and one has to learn to tanscribe the notes (timed) and instructor will read the notes, so you have to make it good and readable… Practice doesn't mean one has to sit down and really practice.  You can be somewhere and listening to conversation and you can "doodle." I call that practice.

  26. I gave Teeline a quick shot, just to see why it was so popular in the UK.

    I must admit, it is very easy to write and in general looks simpler than Gregg. The letters are clear and distinct, with almost no difficult letter-joinings (tup in Gregg still gives me grief). It's mostly alphabetic instead of phonetic, and the general philosophy is: there's no incorrect way to write Teeline, just less efficient ones.

    But! I have a big issue with its abundance of seemingly disorganized rules of how to write certain letters in certain situations. I appreciate the fact that most of them are to make the joinings clearer and easier to write, but these tiny, disparate rules seem to compose most of the body of Teeline theory. For example: A. Generally, the downward form is used, but before V W X the upward is used; before R, H, M, and P, the full A is used. For E, it's generally written downward EXCEPT after a downward stroke, and before such a stroke it's written in full except if it's a V in which case it's written separately above.

    I think Gregg made much better use of different ways of writing vowels to indicate word-beginnings and -endings. A disjoined E above means electr- as we all know, not "oh there's a V so it has to be like this". And of course, below it means "ingly" 🙂

    And let's not even bring up Teeline's 700+ brief forms! I don't even think Anniversary Gregg has it beat there, and that's saying something.

    Anyhow, I think that even though Gregg's penmanship is infinitely harder to master and produce beautifully, the rest of the system is so superior that it doesn't matter. But I could be biased 😉

  27. 700+ brief forms??????   You must have confused brief forms and the Word List, which is just a rudimentary dictionary.  I tried hard counting the brief forms in any of my Teeline books and I could hardly get over 70.   And the joinings are very logical, once you actualy write words with them a couple of times.  In fact, so far, like Forkner, Teeline is the only system I know where you don't really have to think of an outline before writing it.  I only studied it properly for about a month and still revert to it when I need to make really quick notes.  All the other systems make me pause for thinking too much.   You are being biased))))  

  28. I was being a bit biased, but some things still make me doubt…

    One being writing the word in the T position to show "something is missing". Is that really as arbitrary as it sounds? What about writing below the line to show, again, "something is missing"? I've only looked through the online Westminster School of Journalism course, so maybe that's not a proper resource.

    Can you help clear up some of this for me? I like how Teeline is easy to write and not brutal about penmanship, but those two things above for example make me reconsider learning the system.

    Thanks 🙂

  29. I'm not sure what you mean about the 'something missing' rule.  You may be referring to some brief forms; for example, 'much' is written MC above the line, because if written in full MCH the MC bit would stand above the line, but the H would join it to the line.  SUCH is written on the same principle SC above the line, because if you wrote the H to make SCH it would stand on the line. T is written above the line, so MENT is an M written above the line to suggest MT.   However, this is not a rule per se.  It is only used in a specific number of cases as a memory device.  It's the same as Gregg, where N is written above the line to indicate ENTER.    There is no rule about writing anything below the line to indicate something is missing, as far as I'm aware.  There are some advanced abbreviating principles where for example you might write CS below the line for because, because if that word were written in full, the CS would stand below the line.  Similarly, I write N below the line for again.   I hope all of that makes sense!  In short, I'm saying that some brief forms are written above or below the line – perhaps half a dozen very common words.  There is no general rule.   Ian   EDITED TO ADD: You may be referring to the fact that T is written above the line?  T and D are written by the same character but T is above the line (like the crossbar in a handwritten T) and D on the line.  This means that when you start to write a word beginning with T you would start above the line, and D on the line.  This is not a position rule really, it's just where the characters stand in relation to the line.  In the same way, the P goes through the line, and the H stands on it.  Hope that clarifies things, although I doubt it!  Teeline really is a very simple and compact system of shorthand 🙂

  30. Thanks for clarifying about the "much" and "such" things. That makes more sense now. A big problem with the Westminster course ( ) is that half of the images are broken in the documents, and some of the explanations are just confusing. Here's the part that I was talking about in my post:
    "In these examples, the missing letter is the H of CH. By writing the outline in the T position, it is clear that something is missing. Remember that it is not always a T. "

    The way they describe it there makes it sound like it's some mystery letter that could be anything. I like your explanation more 😛

    If you know of better, inexpensive resources I should look at, please do share!


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