pne: "Philip Newton" in shorthand (stiefografie)

I got a letter in “Stiefografie” shorthand from my teacher the other day—seven pages long! So that took a bit of slugging through.

Now I wonder how best to respond.

In the letter, me touched several points that I would like to respond to… and my natural inclination, from email, would be to quote the relevant portion and then to append my comment on that portion immediately underneath, then the next quote from his letter and my reply, and so on; then any original material at the end.

I wonder how best to apply to that to paper mail.

I had actually considered photocopying his letter and actually gluing relevant excerpts to my reply lined paper (copy and paste!), but I somehow doubt this is common.

(Or simply photocopying the lot and writing numbers in the margin next to the bits I want to refer to, then enclosing the photocopy as a kind of “appendix” to my letter, inside the same envelope? [1])

On the other hand, I doubt he has a copy of the letter in his “Outbox” or “Sent Items” shelf anywhere at home, and presumably he won’t have the entire contents fresh in his mind by the time I get around to replying to him, so simply referring to his words (“As for what you said about X, I think you’re right on the mark. And the bit about Y: I hadn’t considered that aspect before! Very clever!”) without actually quoting them might be insufficient.

Makes me wish shorthand were encoded in Unicode so we could do copy and paste in a text-based environment :) Even scanning in his letter and my coming reply and merging the two (series of) images in a picture editing program, then sending the entire lot as a multi-page image or PDF somehow doesn’t seem like a particularly good way to go about this.

What do you do when someone sends you a longish paper letter and you reply on paper and want to address several of the points in the original individually?

(I fear the answer is “I don’t get longish paper letters; all my paper mail is bills and short notices such as greeting cards. So the problem doesn’t arise.”)

[1] This method would also let me correct his spelling mistakes. Since he’s a former shorthand teacher and a regular user of shorthand, I was a bit surprised at some of the goofs. On the other hand, teachers are only human, too. And he has the disadvantage that he has learned several shorthand systems and they sometimes “interfere” in his mind, much like someone who has learned several foreign language might sometimes use a word from the wrong language when speaking “foreign”.

Most of the errors were shifting a sign up or down, thus changing the meaning since the implied vowel—symbolised by the height—selects a different word for the same symbol.

But there was one word that he consistently wrote half a step higher than I had learned it: I’m not sure where that comes from. Did I misunderstand the lessons? Interference from another system? Simple mistake that got ingrained somehow?

I confess that I’ve only gone over the summaries of many of the lessons, not actually done the exercises or read the sample texts. (If I had, I would have noticed something he pointed out in his letter: that a given syllable can be omitted in the middle of words. The description mentions five such syllables but the examples in that lesson show all six of them.)

pne: A picture of a plush toy, halfway between a duck and a platypus, with a green body and a yellow bill and feet. (Default)

Duployan shorthand has been proposed for encoding in Unicode—primarily, I suppose, because it was used for writing Chinook Jargon and certain Native American languages, sometimes to the exclusion of other (e.g. Latin-based) writing systems.

I think it’s nifty that at least one form of shorthand might be encoded in Unicode.

Duployan is geometric, so something similar could be done for, say, Gregg, which is structurally pretty similar (lines and portions of ellipses).

Cursive shorthand systems such as German Unified Shorthand (DEK) or Stiefografie would probably be more difficult to encode, since in those, words are not formed by a succession of shapes which are simply concatenated, but instead, consonants are encoded by shape and vowels by the position of those shapes in relation to one another.

The document itself notes (on page 2) that Duployan is, at its core, an alphabetic (consonant & vowel) stenographic (simple line & curve) writing system (cf. Pitman shorthand, a stenographic abjad). DEK and Stiefografie would both be an abugida, I suppose: consonants have an inherent vowel (the default connection width and position encodes “e”), and different vowels are encoded by modifying the consonant.

There’s no graphic “vowel killer” like the virama, though: consonants are usually simply written very closely together if there is no intervening vowel, though in practice the distinction between “e” and “no consonant” is not necessarily made. But sometimes the connection changes if there is no vowel, so perhaps a virama could be useful; it would tell the rendering engine to use the special shapes (e.g. DEK “s” turning anti-clockwise rather than clockwise). I’m not sure whether special letters would be more appropriate, though.

For advanced forms of DEK/Stiefografie, which don’t simply connect units but involve things like starting higher or lower, writing one form above another, crossing through strokes, and other things, you’d need something a bit more involved than just encoding the consonants + combining vowels. It’s possible that the Shorthand Format characters proposed in N3895 might work for this—I haven’t read through the proposal properly (nor have I analysed DEK/Stiefo in this regard). I still think it’d be nifty if a unified DEK-Stiefo-Gabelsberger-etc. Unicode encoding could be devised, for scripts which are based in the same principles.

What I find nifty, though, is that alphabet-abjad-abugida all have equivalents in shorthand systems! Now all we need is a shorthand which is a syllabary. (Or perhaps one that’s based on logograms, though I suppose CJKV grass script [草書, 草书, cǎoshū, 草書(体), そうしょ(たい), sōsho(tai), 초서, chosŏ] is something along those lines.)

Really wild would be a pictographic one, but I really doubt that “pictographic” + “shorthand” go together at all—of the picture is detailed enough to be recognisable, it ain’t quick to write.

pne: A picture of a plush toy, halfway between a duck and a platypus, with a green body and a yellow bill and feet. (Default)

The card that I had sent, addressed in shorthand, actually arrived!

I got a letter from my shorthand instructor, in which he mentioned that fact; here’s the relevant excerpt:


Click through to the Flickr page for a transcription of the text into German as well as for a translation into English (in the image description).

(The letter is written in features of both grade 1 and grade 2 contracted Stiefo, but with many word endings—which are often omitted in contracted Stiefo—included for clarity.)

pne: A picture of a plush toy, halfway between a duck and a platypus, with a green body and a yellow bill and feet. (Default)

Today, I sent a postcard to my shorthand teacher, addressed entirely in shorthand. Edit 2010-09-10: it arrived!

Postcard addressed in shorthand

I used the Verkehrsschrift (basic grade) of DEK (German Unified Shorthand) for the sender and recipient addresses, since if any postal employee learned shorthand at all (which is what I’m wondering, and which is the point of this experiment), it’ll be DEK. The message itself is in Aufbauschrift II (commercial grade?*) of Stiefografie, which is what I learned.

I used a DEK dictionary to help me compose the addresses, since (a) I never formally sat down to study it, and (b) I find it rather complicated, and its abbreviations—even in the lowest “grade”—fairly numerous.

Brownie points if anyone can “decode” the addresses, the message, or both. (Or point out any mistakes I made, especially in the DEK bits.)

* The basic grade of Stiefografie is a lot simpler than that of DEK: it has no abbreviations at all, only a few signs for certain consonant combinations (nd/nt, ng/nk, st, sp, pf). Personally, I find that the second grade of Stiefografie is roughly comparable to the basic grade of DEK, and the third and highest grade of Stiefografie to the second/middle “commercial” grade of DEK. This, based on the number and kind of abbreviations used (which are very often very similar: I suspect that Helmut Stief used DEK Eilschrift as an inspiration in deciding what forms to abbreviate and how to do so). So Stiefografie has nothing to compare to DEK’s highest “speech” grade, suitable not just for dictation but for notating spontaneous speech.

pne: A picture of a plush toy, halfway between a duck and a platypus, with a green body and a yellow bill and feet. (Default)

So I’ve decided to start teaching myself Level II of Stiefografie (a shorthand system for German) now, using the self-study materials that cover Levels I and II. (I did Level I together with a teacher to whom I sent my exercises for marking, not least because I wanted feedback on my handwriting before I form bad habits.)

The actual abbreviations aren’t so bad, but the “leave off superfluous endings” bit is hard because it’s all so judgment-cally: what it superfluous? Present tense endings, for example, according to the self-study materials; apparently also the -t of the regular (weak) past participle, though that isn’t mentioned, as well as the ge- of the past participle, which is. Also, adjective endings and the genitive singular -s on masculine and neuter nouns “since you can tell that it’s genitive from the article”. Except when there’s no article, in which case the adjective would take a strong ending to show the case… but we’re leaving off adjective endings, aren’t we? Also, what about comparative and superlative endings on adjectives: do they get left off or not? So I’m beginning to reconsider doing it by myself and whether to ask for assistance from the teacher.

He did say that he’d do Levels II and III for €30 each—a symbolic price since shorthand is a hobby interest for him as well. (And it is cheaper compared to the €50 he asked for Level I.) However, he also offered free assistance via email. So I’ll have to see. On the other hand, for many things, it’s easier to spell it out, especially now that there are abbreviations: how to represent those unambiguously in ASCII text?

One problem is that I’m curious, so I’ve read the whole thing already, and several of the abbreviations from later lessons have stuck in my head, so I’m having difficulty restricting myself to the abbreviations I’m “supposed” to know so far (which is strongly recommended, since not doing so often leads, the materials say, to errors that are hard to correct).

So far, I’m trusting my intelligence and using some of the later ones, but only the more “obvious” (and stand-alone) ones such as nd for und, but not the more tricky ones such as “start half a step lower = initial mit-”.


pne: A picture of a plush toy, halfway between a duck and a platypus, with a green body and a yellow bill and feet. (Default)
Philip Newton

June 2015

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