Major and Minor vowels

(Correct outlines 2,3,6 conform to Anniversary and Simplifed. )

I find that with my pronunciation, as a dweller in England (especially in the south east), that when Gregg says to omit minor sounding vowels when appropriate I find myself omitting, at first, many ‘e’ vowels towards the end of a word.

For example when I wrote ‘recurrent‘ I wrote [1] rather than [2].  I would pronounce the ending as ‘rnt’ (blending the ‘r’ into ‘n’ with a very short kind-of-a grunt, if anything, between them), but I assume that Americans pronounce it ‘rent’ with an emphatic short ‘e’ sound.  [Perhaps this is why (in addition to the longer history of writing Pitman and the widespread establishment of Pitman colleges) the Gregg system did not take hold quite so strongly here as in the USA.]

Another, but contrary, example is ‘futile‘ which is written as [3] rather than [4].  The ‘i’ for me is a major vowel; far stronger than the ‘e-u’.  Because I know I need to bias my thoughts towards the American pronunciation I might even have written [5] — the ‘u’ sound so often in USA being shortened to a single vowel rather than a diphthong, for example in the word ‘duel’ [6].

Are there any English people, or anyone, out there who have found the same, and have to make special cases of some of their words? I know it is not too much of a problem really (certainly far less of a one than coping with the weird spelling of so many English words!), but it does bring me up a bit when I find them. Are there any rules of thumb which might help me out?

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21 comments Add yours
  1. This subject is always interesting to me, and I'm always wondering how much to adapt Gregg to dialect or chronolect, and how much to stick to the standardizations (probably depends on your goal, and whether you want others to be able to read your shorthand in the future). I speak American English, and due to moving around my dialect is fairly cosmopolitan.

    Regarding "recurrent," both including the final short "e" and contracting it to "rnt" sound natural to me. I would personally tend toward the latter unless I was consciously enunciating.

    I've heard "futile" pronounced with the final "i" as "ile" and as a contracted "tl."

    For "duel," I only hear the "/'djuːəl/" dipthong in British English. Most often in AE I hear a different dipthong, "/'d(j)uəl/", so that "duel" and "dual" are pronounced pretty much the same. (By the way I find that the Oxford online dictionary is great for easily comparing AE and BE.) It's similar to an issue I had when writing a post in Gregg for the blog, about how the dipthong in "intuitive" is pronounced in BE vs AE. The official Anni outline uses the British dipthong.

    I'm not a linguist, but it seems to me that the trend in AE seems to be in reducing vowel differentiation and complexity. I, for instance, do not differentiate in my pronunciation of "pen" and "pin." Most AE speakers don't notice, but every now and then and older person or a BE speaker notices.

  2. I have come across quite a few words that are different in the Anni dictionary than my pronunciation of them.  For example, "Finance" in the dictionary is "f-e-n-a-n-s", but I always pronounce it with a long "i", as "f-i-n-a-n-s".  I don't know whether that's dialect or chronolect.  Similarly, in the dictionary "father" is written "f-a-th", but I pronounce (and write) it as "f-o-th".

    If the purpose of shorthand is to be able to record and then transcribe your own material, then it seems sensible to write a word the way you pronounce it.

  3. I compromise by using the vowel that comes to mind first. If I saw and copied the word often because it was in the textbook, that's what comes to mind, and that's what I use. Otherwise, I use what feels right to me at the time. Often that's the way it's spelled, even though I know that spelling often has little to do with pronunciation. I usually circle those words and look them up in the dictionary later, not to check which vowel, but to see if there is a smoother way of writing the word. Robert. I've listened to enough different accents, for native English speakers and emigrants, that unusual vowel doesn't throw me off. I sometimes use a different vowel on different days, depending on who I talked to recently.

  4. Edit: from native English speakers and immigrants.

    No clue why the word Robert is there.

    (The WordPress editor doesn't work well with my tablet.)

  5. I've started making it a practice in the last couple of weeks to watch news coverage from the CBC in Canada, CNN in the U.S., and the BBC from the U.K. each day because the vocabulary is so much different in newscasts from each of these countries.

    The pronunciations of various words also vary widely; for example, in North America "privacy" is normally "p-r-i (long vowel)-v-e-s-e"; whereas in England it is "p-r-e (short vowel)-v-e-s-e".  When I am writing these down in shorthand, I tend to record exactly what the speaker says, so my outline will be different for the same word depending on which newscast I am following.  I haven't noticed any loss of speed, and have had no real problem transcribing back afterwards.



    1. That's the approach I tend to take. I write what I hear. I'm not fast enough to take down all the news, I tend to take down a sentence here and there.

  6. I seem to have opened up other differences.  Very interesting comments on various pronunciations.  The first comment had great incites into several pronunciations — though I do not think it good to adapt Gregg to different dialects.

    David made a good point of differences between forms and pronunciation.  The trouble with writing a word as you pronounce it is that it could lead to a bit of anarchy in one's own writing.  The correct forms have (I think) been carefully thought out so that there can be very little confusion between words.  Variations from standard could unwittingly introduce confusions, especially with brief forms and their compounds.  So sticking to the the correct, dictionary-defined form will prevent this.  It also allows others to read (hopefully!) your notes correctly.

    And when CricketB says "…in the textbook, that's what comes to mind…";  I think that's what we all hope and aim for — the correct word coming immediately to mind.

    I will always (try to) write [2] and [3] — the correct, dictionary-defined form.  But until the correct form does come immediately to my mind, I have to perform some mental effort to change my own internal pronunciation before writing the correct form.  (I succeeded in this long ago with the word 'either'!)


    1. According to JR Gregg, there isn't actually "correct" form. Leslie once got frustrated when he didn't use the standard forms, and Gregg said, "You can read it, can't you?"

      Also, there are different dictionaries for the UK and US.

      The brief forms, yes, they can lead to confusion. Many of them are in families, and a little change can mean a different word. Many other words, though, there's a lot of flexibility.

      Another benefit to the dictionary form is the mini-lesson. It often reminds me of a rule I forgot.

      There are benefits to using the dictionary forms, but it's often not necessary, or even advisable for less-common words where you might not be able to read the pronunciation you aren't used to.


      1. Ah! Thank you for picking me up on one of Dr Gregg's comments. 

        And I did not know there were different dictionaries for USA and UK.   Mine says "printed in USofA" but I'm not going, now, to look for a UK one!  Having started on my path, to introduce new, even if "better", books would be disruptive for me.  But thanks a lot.

  7. As an American, when I read the manuals, I notice a distinct northeast dialect. While I'm sure I don't have as many outline issues with the manuals as folks from the UK might, I relate to the cognitive dissonance that comes from it.

    At the moment, for example. I'm living in Texas. And when I review the system today it feels like the Gregg team went to ridiculous lengths to eliminate "r"s in the system. There's some old saying along the lines of "whenever they drop an R in New England, it gets picked up in the South." So some rules [Anniversary 78, 165] can almost feel like a Yankee plot. 🙂

    Regardless, it is true that shorthand has a very large phonetic component so your dialect should show up in your writing at some point.

    At the same time. Shorthand is not intended to be a phonetic representation either. I try to strongly adhere to the official brief forms, and dictionary versions of words that use principles and rules of the system. After that, I think you should write what you hear and let the dictionary represent a regional spelling in many cases.

    Then we also have the anachronisms — things that would be different if the system wasn't about a century old — but that's probably another thread…

    1. (I think my reply got lost before I posted it, so I am repeating it.  Sorry if it appears twice somewhere.)

      Eliminate "r"s?  They seem too numerous for me!  But your Yankee plot is a new thought for me, located miles away in the UK.

      "not intended to be a phonetic representation".  Quite so, at least not strictly phonetic — which, I think, is how Pitman started on his method.  Before Pitman, shorthand systems were mainly based on spelling. But had they been purely phonetic we now may not be able to read them.  I can't read Chaucer for example.  (c.f. your comment on anachronism.)



      1. Calendar started with a purely phonetic shorthand, with a very clear and firm explanation of why it was superior. 

        Two years later, he said,

        The present system is an adaptation of the alphabet and principles of Cursive Shorthand to the common orthography.

        Two and a half years’ experience in teaching Cursive has convinced me that the difficulties which beginners find in learning to spell correctly by sound are much greater than I had previously imagined; and that it is unadvisable to attempt to introduce a phonetic system of shorthand at an early stage in education.

        The result was Orthographic Cursive, or Orthic.


        1. Wow.  Thanks for the view of Calendar's manuals.  I've not looked at that system, but may order reprints of the two books from Abebooks (I'm not too good at reading from a computer screen) and study his principles out of interest.

          The word "cursive" brings to mind a comment I read years ago when talking of Italic handwriting.  It said that what was truely cursive (i.e. fitting to the hand motions) was not necessarily the smooth joined up handwriting like this but that the apparently rather jagged form of Italic conformed more accurately to how the hand moved.  So since then I have not been bowled over quite so much as some people on the benefits of "cursiveness" as usually applied.  So may be the early supposedly "jagged" systems were not so bad after all.  But this comment is nothing to do with what I asked.  Sorry.

          1. There's a small but very active orthic group on Reddit. We use orthographic shorthand, aka orthic not the cursive phonetic one.

            I think there are versions of the original manual, handwritten, that you can download and print. That group will know. They're about 45 pages, but can be printed two to a page. Printing the typed version doesn't work well because of image sizes and tables.



  8. Very interesting concerning the "r"s..  To me they seem to have added them!  But your point is particularly instructive.

    And you say "Shorthand is not intended to be a phonetic representation ".  Quite so.  If it did, people would not always be able to understand what others have written.  And although early forms of shorthand (pre Pitman) were mostly based on spelling, had they been a representation of how words were then pronounced we may well not be able to read their written notes due to the vast changes over the centuries in how we speak — I cannot read Chaucer!  As per your your comment on anachronisms.

    1. As shorthand is intented to be transcribed, shorthand has been aimed to be used by contemporaries and… mostly by yourself. Shorthand texts are temporary forms of a text, after all.

      The fact that so many texts are old is a bit misleading, I think…


      1. Yes.

        And no.  …. In the "olden days" before photocopiers, typewriters, and carbon paper, people would often keep records in shorthand of the letters they sent.  I, who do still write some letters with a pen (call me old fashioned!) will do the same.  But it is just whatever is most convenient at the time.  And I write diary-type stuff in shorthand.  So it's useful to be able to refer back to a not-so-temporary record.

        But you are right really.

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