Omitted Short Vowels–Any Consistent Rules?

I have had a hobby interest in shorthand for years, and I’m currently studying Simplified.  I am fascinated by it, use it a lot, and study on nearly a daily basis.  I don’t mind brief forms, have no major problems with the theory, and my reading is becoming admirably good.  There is one aspect of it, however, that is simply kicking my tail—I cannot get a handle on when I’m supposed to leave out short vowels (or even long vowels at times).  I study words in the dictionary and compare the standard outlines to what I am writing, and I simply can’t find any consistent patterns.  Sometimes the vowel is omitted; sometimes it’s not, and there’s often no theory to tell you to leave the vowel out.  I thought it was just obscure vowels, but sometimes the vowel left out is the main vowel in the word. 
I see that single syllable words usually are written out in full, but poly-syllabic words often drop vowels, seemingly at random–but then they appear in odd places where the vowel used is quite obscure.  I can’t going to go through and memorize an arbitrary, random outline for every polysyllabic word in the English language–there has GOT to be SOME pattern to all of this.  My questions are these:
1. Do people who use shorthand consistently drop the same vowels and usually write all of their words the same way (the way they appear in the dictionary)–particularly over time?
2. Does it really matter as long as I can write a clear outline, quickly?
3. Is there any place where all of this “extra” theory is explained in detail?  It seems that the thinking was that people would just pick it all up automatically as they read and practiced—but everybody doesn’t pick things up by osmosis like that, obviously.
This is about the only aspect of shorthand that is really stumping me.  It often affects my speed, as I’m hesitating to try to recall if the stupid vowel should be left out or not.  I can give examples if needed—feel free to send me a message off the list if this gets too involved.  I really need some help with this.

(by Troy for group greggshorthand)

14 comments Add yours
  1. Not to be unsympathetic but if you need to pause and reflect whether or not to put a vowel in a specific outline, you are NOT writing shorthand and you have (assuming they still existed) flunked your shorthand class. Rather than fret about "minor" details, perhaps your mastery of shorthand would be better achieved by practice copying material from good plates, drilling the new words introduced with theory in the Manual and reading shorthand. If you're taking dictation at a reasonable rate of speed, you do not think about forming outlines, they simply are written automatically — much the same way as a good typist automatically writes words spelled correctly. Now, go to the blackboard and write the outlines for the new vocabulary 5 times ….

  2. When his co-workers asked why he wrote the same word different ways, Gregg himself said that if the shorthand is readable, it's done correctly. However, you should save that excuse as a last resort, for words that only appear a few times in the entire book.

    Sometimes it's an accent thing. Different speakers emphasize different vowels. Again, it's worth learning that accent and using the forms in the book, except for very rare words. The system in the book works.

    I agree with Piqueroi's advice to copy well-written material, check to the plate, and write it again — at speed. It really does make it sink in. (And, yes, same with word lists. They're no more boring than a paragraph after a few reps.)

    As for the omitted vowels, have you looked at the syllable level? Common syllables (including prefixes and suffixes) need fewer "hints" than uncommon ones. If it's in a word, you know it's a prefix or suffix.

    E.g., On it's own, "PR" could mean pear, pair, per, pro, Prue. At the start of a word, it's almost always pre- . At the end of the word it's almost always -per. If just "pr" is written, assume the most common prefix or suffix.

  3. One of the interesting things about Simplified is the way they simplified the number of rules described in the manual while still holding to many rules in Anni/Pre-anni. When I switched to Anniversary, there were so many times I said "Ah HA! that's why they did that in Simplified!"

    I think anyone who wants to know Why something is the way it is will probably need to crack the Pre-Anni manual and do a study of Gregg grammar from there. (I certainly haven't – yet) If you just want to get fluent though, I recommend Piqueroi's approach above.

  4. Piqueroi, I DO practice reading and writing–that's not the issue. I KNOW that there's a problem with having to "pause and reflect"–that's why I'm asking for help with this. You mention fretting about minor details—that's the point, do I need to "fret" about those details, or not? What do other shorthand writers do? Like I said, it appears arbitrary at times—take the word "stupid" for example–yes, I understand that the word can be written more quickly and easily without the U—but the U is the main vowel in the word—why are they leaving it out? Or the word "hesitate"– why is the second vowel omitted? Isn't there a danger of misunderstanding by combining the s and the t? I understand that it may be quicker to write without it—that's not the point. Do you simply have to memorize a different "official quirk" with all of these individual words?

  5. This reminds me of English grammar. Some teachers will insist there's a pattern. Yes, there is. A scholar took logical rules from Latin and tried to enforce them for English, and society accepted and/or rejected each rule mostly at random.

    (Aside: I wonder if the average Roman spoke the strict, logical Latin used by Victorian intellectuals, or something else?)

    I agree, it's more fun to learn if there's a pattern. We feel like we can extrapolate to even more words. It's faster to think of the pattern than to look up the word.

    However, since the end goal is to skip the middle steps (such as thinking about the pattern), it might be faster to minimize that step in the first place. It's still not as bad as lists of random shapes.

    Given the word frequency in English, if you master all the words in the Simplified manual, you'll rarely encounter a new word.

  6. You cannot be practicing or drilling efficiently or effectively if you pause to wonder WHY an outline is written a particular way. Back in 1958 and 1959 when I took the high school shorthand classes, we were drilled daily and had pop quizzes on outlines. We had short dictations and had to pass our notes to other students to ensure that our Gregg could be deciphered by another. By second semester we took dictation from the type of tapes McBud is now posting. None of us had time to worry about WHY hesitate would be written in shorthand as it was. We simply had to do it, no questions asked. Cricketb is correct in stating that there are many more explanations in the Anniversary material.
    Our teacher used the Functional Simplified Manual so by the time we actually began to write we had a very clear idea of what the outline for each word should look like. When Gregg theory is presented in a classroom situation, the timing for presentation of new material is carefully planned. The type of dictation given should emphasize theory already learned. Any difficult material should include previews of outlines for students to practice BEFORE attempting to take the dictation.
    Although I was learning Simplified, I liked the system so well that I obtained copies of the Anniversary texts which were bountifully available in 1959 (and still are, inexpensively on eBay). My instructor was so pleased that I was interested, she provided me with additional Anniversary practice material and reading.
    To write shorthand effectively requires (as does playing a musical instrument well) much unquestioning rehearsal. If you were playing a piano recital would you question why Beethoven marked tempi indications in the score? Just relax and practice. It'll come if you have perseverance and faith.

  7. Troy,
    I'm with you. I don't feel I understand a form unless I understand the theory behind it (though Piqueroi is quite right that the goal is to write automatically, not with theory in mind). To that end, let me second what others have already said: give the Anni and pre-Anni manuals a read sometime. I think you'll find yourself experiencing a lot of 'aha' moments. Whenever I've come across a form in a shorthand dictionary or text that has not made sense to me at first, I've always been able to find an explanation for it in the manuals. GS practice vis-a-vis vowels (their omission, etc.) is explained at some length in the manuals, rest assured.

    Good luck!

  8. OH WOW! THANK YOU for finding that, Carlos! I DID write that back when I was getting serious about Diamond Jubilee, and you gave me some good, meaty information, but when I looked on here for the thread, I couldn't find it. I wasn't very familiar with Multiply features (and I'm still not), so when I went back and tried to find that thread, I couldn't. Therefore, I thought it might have been on another forum or long-lost or something. I more or less laid shorthand aside for quite some time soon after I wrote that post. When I picked it up again, I read everything I could find on the subject of which series to study, and decided to go with Simplified (I originally studied DJ).

    Thank you to all of you who gave me good advice (both back then and now as well). My question then as well as now was not "how should I practice" but IS there any real, consistent, theory-based way to tell when to (and when not to) drop vowels…and does it really make a difference–that's what I needed to know then as well as now. I do use shorthand quite a bit (personal use), and it slows me down to have to stop and try to remember, so I wanted to see if there was some consistent rule of thumb to go by. Thanks to all of you who told me about getting the Anniversary and Pre-Anniversary books, and to those who did give me some guidelines to go by–I appreciate your efforts to help.

  9. We're seeing many different learning styles here.

    They're all valid. Trust me. My father was an engineer. Nothing was true or accurate unless he understood the reason. (The old doctor was trained as an engineer and explained things to him. The younger doctor isn't having as much success.) My mother liked to know that there was a reason, but wanted to get straight to what she had to do. To this day, I give strange driving directions. "We're at the north edge of town, heading south, and are going to go around the east side. Turn east, left. Now south, right so we avoid a mess of one-ways (yes, it means turning to a smaller road)."

    I find it very frustrating when there's almost a pattern. It keeps poking me, teasing me to find it. Yes, I can learn by rote, but I hate the thought of having to check the dictionary every time I encounter a new word. My brain is drawn to searching for the pattern.

    Also, I find learning is often faster if I use a mnemonic or pattern compared to pulling out a textbook. I can stay at my desk and in shorthand mode. I reach a stage where I write it, confirm with the mnemonic, and move on. Eventually the confirmation stage shrinks to nothing. If I have to look it up, I reach a stage where I write it, jump out of shorthand mode and grab the book to confirm. It's hard to cut out that stage.

  10. I'll add my two-cents… regarding rules, patterns, etc. Right now I'm just learning to read anniversary Shorthand, and as old as the books are, I'm reminding myself that the system had already been in use for decades when the books were published. Over that time, many writers had written and read many combinations of words and phrases in shorthand.

    When I see a missing letter, or a brief form, or something "unique" about a word's form and wonder how they came to write it that way, I just tell myself that there's a reason for it. It must save a little time in writing while still be readable to be written that way, and it probably had been written and tried many different ways before the publishers settled on the final form. This should answer the "Why" question posed above. In fact, if someone finds a quicker way to write a word, and it doesn't get confused with other outlines, then by all means use it! The only "why" for shorthand is speed and legibility, I'm going to assume.

    Another thing to think about regarding usage of shorthand is this: Radio became popular in the 30's and 40's, TV and recording equipment in the 50's and 60's. So beginning in the 30's we began moving away from complete dependence on the written word. In that sense, the beginning of the 20th century was probably the last time the world was a more or less solely literate world. Meaning all non-verbal communication, be it newspapers, letters, communication, transcriptions, recording, etc. all were completely dependent on some form of handwriting (before later being typeset).

    This happens to be the era that Gregg shorthand flowered and flourished. It was the era that shorthand would have had to be the most robust, the most convenient, the most practical, etc. etc. because English had developed fully while also still needing to be written to be recorded or transmitted, there was no quicker way besides doing it by hand. In the following decades, the more the emphasis on communication shifted away from the written word, the more simplified shorthand became.

    So, I agree with everyone above in regards to going back to Anniversary or Pre- to get some insight on shorthand writing, when at that time, it was, without a doubt, the fastest way to communicate. Remember also, that they couldn't dumb down the English language to suit their shorthand systems. They had to rev up their systems to match the robust-ness (if that's a word) of their language. In this sense, Gregg's genius becomes even more apparent.

    So, I'm satisfied with the brief forms and final outlines that were arrived at after shorthand's first few decades of use. Probably the most intense and thorough period of use and development since Gregg shorthand came on the scene.

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