Vowel Comparison: IPA, Tongue Position, Pitman, Gregg

Yes, I’m the author of the Reddit post. It’s not plagiarizing. No, I’m not leaving Pitman for Gregg, but since I had my suspicions from earlier dabbling, and was using the Gregg vowels, to procrastinate, it made sense to include them. (Does this count as my daily shorthand practice?)

Pitman follows tongue placement very well, both height and front/back. Front vowels are dots. Back vowels are dashes. Low vowels are 1st position (written low), middle are written middle, and low vowels are written high. (Why did he flip them?) Heavy/light alternates on the way down. The most common shortcuts or poor penmanship will result in a similar-sounding word.

This is no surprise. Isaac Pitman was enthusiastic about phonetics and spelling reform.

Gregg follows front/back placement, with circles in the front and hooks in the back, but follows English spelling rather than tongue height. Anniversary Gregg has optional vowel diacriticals to help distinguish vowels. Again, the diacriticals follow English spelling rather than tongue placement. The two back vowels with dashes are rounded. All but the E series use dash for highest, dot for middle, and nothing for lowest.

Gregg diphthongs are accurately identified and broken into their component parts.

The example words are taken from the textbooks, not my Canadian-trained tongue. Both systems put U (luck) to the back, rather than the middle as in the IPA chart. The chart I used didn’t discuss rounded or not rounded. I forgot to label top/bottom tongue positions. It’s as written. Beet is high, bat is low.

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6 comments Add yours
  1. I looked at Pitman for a while but came to the conclusion it was a lost cause. There's a reason why Teeline has become the main system in Britain. It was odd to have t,d as vertical strokes when they are so common and it had to resort to such things as making them half length to represent td or was it dt, or dd, or tt? As a purely phonetic system written at a very leisurely pace  as if writing a letter to an acquaintance, it is the best and what Pitman had in mind at the beginning but as a shorthand system, you have to unlearn all the nuanced vowel markings and simply not write them at all! and hope the  position of the consonants make sense of the word as well as hope the dark line is not mistaken for the light line and vice versa. Though in India it is the most used shorthand system and still used in courts, etc so in that respect it is probably the most widely used written shorthand system  in the world in actual work related use.

    1. My main problems with Pitman: Even at the rudimentary level you need to think ahead. There's a Reddit thread showing the str family — aster, satyr, star, stra. In Gregg it's the same 4 characters. In Pitman it's several different characters depending on which ones are blended. To blend some letters you write a hook for the second at the start of the first. They need multiple signs for H.

      Gregg knew phonetics, but paid more attention to blends. He counted their frequencies which is why the common ones are so easy to write.

      I found Teeline more forgiving of poor penmanship, but I really missed the inline vowels and easy joins of Gregg. I only got a few chapters in.

  2. I need more time to think about it, but does Gregg seem more phonetic if we allow for a 19th century Irish accent, especially as modified by living in NYC? It's one possible explanation for two glyphs representing the same North American vowel in "bar" and "pot.

    1. Accent affects a bit of it. Bought and bot sound the same to me. There is no b-t word with the vowel in bar — too. Many of us would hear it wrong.

      Bar and pot have different glyphs.

      I don't think height changes order in accents. Things stay in order and move up and down as a unit, wiggle about in their spots, and merge rather than trade spots. Some move forward and back a bit, but not all the way. I haven't studied it enough to be sure.

      I used to think we would see less movement now that everyone listens to TV announcers with similar accents, but watching some of my kids' favorite YouTubers makes me question that. I think our ears will get more flexible instead.

  3. Thanks for the comparison, CricketB!  I haven't really taken much of a look at Pitman before, so this was a great glimpse for the curious.

  4. Standardized spelling, even in a shorthand system, can't completely reflect pronunciation. Cricketb and I have somewhat different accents, and that can serve as an example of why. Unlike Cricketb, "bought" and "bot" do not sound the same to me, but "bot" and "bar" do have the same vowel sound. If you write b-a-r for "bar" and p-o-t for "pot", then the spelling doesn't reflect my pronunciation. If you write p-a-t for "pot" then Cricketb's pronunciation is left out in the cold.

    I believe that by basing his vowel system on English spelling rather than on phonetics, Gregg did us a favor. We all know how to spell (maybe with some glitches), but we don't pronounce the same. Furthermore, Gregg's vowel system reflects English semantics, grammar and phonology better than the phonetic Pitman vowel system. For instance, in Gregg, "bathe" and various dialectal pronunciations of "bath" are all spelled with a, while "pat" and "pot", which are unrelated words, use a and o respectively. (I think Gregg himself commented somewhere on this aspect of his system.) In Pitman, though, "bathe" and "bath" use different vowels and positions, and that for "bath" reflects just one dialectal variant.

    In justice to Pitman, linguistics was not as well developed when he invented his system as it is now. There were many arguments over how many vowel sounds the Received Pronunciation had, because the idea of a phoneme and its phonetic variants was not yet fully jelled. Gregg probably had less understanding of linguistics than Pitman, but the vowel relations expounded in grammar school primers, which forms the basis of his vowel system, is spot on regarding how English works.

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