Tomayto/tomahto

Reconciling different accents to a
phonetic system.
quick – without looking at your
dictionaries, how do you pronounce these words, and how wold you
write them in Gregg?
Algae
Bath
Caramel
Grocer(y)
Marry
Mary
Merry
Mayonnaise
Nuclear
Route
Schedule
Valet
Vase
Vitamin
and the word that caught me while
studding the other night: Garage?
It took me a while to figure it out
when reading, and I had to check my key, and then the dictionary, but
the spelling made no sense to me, you see, I live in the US, New York
state to be more exact, and I would write “garage”
g-a-r-a-j, but the Anniversary texts/dictionary ends it with a “sh”/”zh” my husband, who is interested in phonetics and accents, says that’s
how it is pronounced in RP (Received Pronunciation, aka British
English) But I don’t live in England, and I don’t speak with an
English accents. And most people I encounter don’t either. Those
words above are pronounced differently depending on where you live,
even in the US. According to the Gregg dictionary Mary and marry are
m-a-r-e while merry is m-e-r-e. But when spoken by those around me
they all sound the same.
What do we do about this when writing
something ‘in the wild’? Should we write them as we learn them, even
if they don’t fit? What about words that aren’t in the dictionary but are pronounced differently in different places?  Should we write words in the spoken accent, or in
our own? Will changing a spelling to fit an accent make it difficult
for our decedents to read our notes?  Does it matter?
I just started Unit 6 of the Anniversary Manual, so if any of these things are explained later, just break it to me gently.

20 comments Add yours
  1. Another word is "financial", which some pronounce "fin-ann-shul" and others "fie-nan-shul".

    My thought would be to write words uniformly even if that means they are not phonetically spelled according to the writer, so that one person's shorthand can be read by any proficient Gregg user.

    Nowadays, shorthand books and regular handwritten correspondence in shorthand have all but died out, and most shorthand will probably only be read by its writer, so this may be less important nowadays, but I think there's still something to be said for writing not just according to theory but also according to the dictionary, even in the cases where these are based on a 19th century pronunciation or just one from another part of the Anglosphere than the one we learned English in.

    I'll defer to those who have more experience with Gregg than I do, though.

  2. On the subject of the word “garage”, the Anniversary dictionary spells the word as “g-a-r-a-sh”, not “g-a-r-a-ch”.

    In the 1916 edition of the Gregg Shorthand Manual (note to paragraph 37) indicates that the “sh” stroke represents both “sh” and “zh” sounds.

    I would, therefore, read the word as “g-a-r-a-zh” (“zh” signifying the sound in words like “pleasure” and “leisure”.)

    1. I forgot to add: I'm British, and speak fairly standard RP. In modern British English, "garage" is generally pronounced "g-a-r-e-j", the "e" representing a fairly neutral vowel, somewhere between a short "i" and a short "e", with the emphasis on the first syllable.

    2. John – you are correct, I wrote it wrong, I'll go back and fix it. I remember my husband showing me his dictionary with the little squiggly "z" IPA symbol that means "zh"

      yeah we talked about accent drift a bit too. even in America things were pronounced differently in the late 1800s to early 1900's than they are today.

  3. The ambiguity of Gregg's vowel symbols is actually helpful in dealing with regional variations. Doesn't matter how you pronounce "tomato" or "vase" or "bath," write it with the large circle.

    "Schedule" is an interesting question; I wonder if the British editions of the dictionaries give a different outline from the American versions.

    The more modern versions of Gregg Shorthand have changed the theory a tiny bit to conform to modern American pronunciation. Words like "while" and "white" are no longer written with the h dot, because few people pronounce them as hw- instead of w-. There may have been other changes that I haven't noticed.

    As for future generations reading our shorthand notes, I notice that many young people today can't even read cursive writing. If you want to communicate with future generations you had better type your text into a computer in plain English so that the computers of the future will be able to read it aloud to them.

  4. Also, here's a relevant quote from the 1949 Teacher's Handbook:

    "Much time is wasted in some classrooms attempting to make phonetic distinctions among these vowel sounds. The shorthand alphabet is not and is not intended to be a phonetic alphabet. It is an alphabet constructed on a phonetic basis.

    The shorthand alphabet does not pretend to be able to express exactly more than a small fraction of the total number of English vowel sounds. It does express all English vowels with a sufficient approximation to accuracy to be written accurately and read back or transcribed rapidly and accurately.

    The vowel scale of any shorthand system with pretensions to being a practical writing instrument must be a compromise with the facts of phonetics. An attempt to be too scientifically accurate phonetically will do more harm than good.

    Be content with phonetic approximations and good shorthand results; do not jeopardize the shorthand results for the sake of greater (but valueless) phonetic accuracy."

    1. Rich, is a PDF of the teacher's handbook available anywhere? or is it still under copywrite? I'd love to get my hands on a copy to read, but the near $40 that it is available for on amazon is a bit too steep for me.

    2. Abigail, I don't know if there is a PDF of that book in existence. (It's the 1949 Teacher's Handbook for Gregg Shorthand Simplified, the regular course rather than the functional method.)

      It contains a lot of insights that surprised me. Just to give one more example, it mentions that when a teacher is drawing Gregg letters such as B and L on the blackboard, the teacher should mention and demonstrate that the speed of the writing instrument changes while writing such glyphs. That had never occurred to me.

    3. If anyone is familiar with the Shaw Alphabet (an alternative alphabet for writing English developed under the terms of the will of George Bernard Shaw), one of its failings is the attempt to be too phonetic . . . there are distinctions in vowel sounds that escape the average writer (and even escape the writer who has some knowledge of English phonetics). It's amazing that Dr. Gregg had the ability to see this, and use letters/symbols that cover a range of sounds, but carefully devised to enable clear understanding of the written shorthand.

  5. There are some old posts addressing some of these, for example Regional Vowel Shifts. Gregg is not 100% phonetic, but it is for the most part. If it were fully phonetic, why do we write "nature" using a "t" instead of a "ch"? Because sometimes it's more convenient to write it one way. Just accept it and move on.

    When writing something that you haven't heard before, write it phonetically. I read somewhere that Dr. Gregg once dictated a little kid that knew Gregg a long word that he had never heard before. The kid wrote it down in shorthand divided in outlines that he could recognize! This tells you that even though the long word was not written according the theory, in dictation that doesn't matter because he was able to transcribe it correctly.

    And there are no regional dictionaries of Gregg — if there were, it would be a mess to learn shorthand!

    Lastly, about the wh-, I'm somewhat ambivalent about that S90 rule. Try writing "the wail of the big whale" vs. "the whale of the big wail."

  6. I have a copy of the UK edition of the Simplified dictionary, 1968 reprint, pocket edition, but don’t have any of the earlier ones.

    The shorthand forms in it differ from the US dictionary only where there is a substantial variation in pronunciation between UK and US English, for example, “schedule” is written as “sh-e-d-l”, “worry” is “u-u-r-e” (or “oo-oo-r-e”, if you prefer), “cordial” is “k-o-r-d-l”, “lieutenant” is “l-e-f-tn-nt”.

    In his 1924 “Qs and As” book (number 167), Dr Gregg addresses this matter:

    Question: “You say write all words by sound. When one's own pronunciation of a word has always been different from that adopted by the writer of the Manual, which should he follow? e.g. either.
    When taking dictation should you write the words as the dictator speaks them or as you will speak them?”

    Answer: “In the case of either, neither, we give the preference to e, for the practical reason that the small circle is more easily made than the form for the diphthong i. Where the pronunciation is optional, we usually adopt the form that is more easily written.
    In this connection it is interesting to note that writers of the system in England adopt forms for words like schedule, lieutenant (in which the pronunciation in England differs considerably from that which is generally used in this country) that are not the same as those used for the same words here.
    In answer to the other question: when a writer of shorthand adopts a form for a particular word and becomes thoroughly familiar with it, he automatically writes that form, no matter how the word may be pronounced by the speaker or the dictator.”

    I think Dr Gregg was particularly clever to create a system which represents all the vowel sounds of the English language with just 4 symbols, and in which the diphthong sounds are derived from these same symbols.

    Also, in using a single stroke to represent the related sounds of “s” and “z”, of “sh” and “zh”, of the voiced and unvoiced sounds of “th”, a lot of unnecessary clutter is removed since distinguishing between the two sounds is not really necessary in practice.

    1. Thanks for the info about the dictionary — I didn't know! My copy of the DJS Aussie dictionary looks the same as the American one, save for a few extra names of places. That's why I thought they were all the same.

  7. Thank you for this thread, and the linked one. The pronunciation and outline puzzle is one I make myself stumble over, quite a bit. It helps me a great deal to read your posts on this. Your posts help me to unravel the difficulties I have in being at peace with the outlines.

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