Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Shorthand Writing Systems

Shorthand was known and used in classical Greece and Rome. That is a very interesting story and perfectly good for a rainy day.

In medieval times shorthand fell out of use as a system in its own right. In 1588 there is a reappearance of shorthand systems. Timothy Bright was the author of the first shorthand "Characterie; An Arte of Shorte, Swifte, and Secrete Writing by Character 1588." Unfortunately I don't know at this point what this system looked like. That's the way the cookie crumbles.

However, I do know what John Willis' shorthand system looked like. The Art of Stenographie, 1602, by John Willis, introduced the phonetic shorthand style that was to be used from 1602 until 1837, when Pittman's shorthand replaced it in common use. Although there were 48 different publications of shorthand systems during that time they all used a similar graphic form.

These systems are all illustrated in The Alphabetic Labyrinth by Johanna Drucker, 1995. John Willis' Stenographie is also well illustrated in The World's Writing Systems by Peter T. Daniels, 1996. There is no internet image available for these systems. Some day I will make one - on that future rainy day.

However, in Willis' system 16 symbols out of 22 are identical to the Cree syllabary and William Moon's blind code. The link is there, very clear and obvious. The system is based on the rotation in four orientations of basic symbols similar to the central 10 symbols in More's Utopian alphabet. The importance of More's sytem is that it is the first I have seen which demonstrates rotation as a basic feature for creating a symbol.

In John Nichols' chapter on Cree in The World's Writing System, John states that Cree was based on shorthand. The confusion has come from the fact that neither he nor anyone else that I have read actually said that Cree was based on the shorthand systems that existed before the Pittman system was published in 1837. It is possible that this has been known by many writers on Cree but it has not been explicitly illustrated. And I cannot do that today either.

In any case, there is a system of visual glyphs, which appear to be derived from the Utopian alphabet in 1529, that were used as shorthand from 1602 to 1837. Then in 1837 they were replaced as the dominant shorthand system and reappeared as the Cree syllabary in 1841 and the Moon code in 1843. The type of writing system varied but not the actual shapes of the symbols. Shorthand is phonetic, Moon code is an alphabet and Cree is a syllabary.

I consider this a lame duck post since I cannot illustrate what needs illustrating.


Blogger Panglott said...

An edition of Timothy Bright's "Characterie" is available electronically here.

It's a strange-looking system, but there are some interesting figures in there.

8:35 AM  

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