Re: Unicode & Shorthand?

From: Doug Ewell (
Date: Sat Sep 25 2004 - 12:50:41 CDT

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    Philippe Verdy <verdy underscore p at wanadoo dot fr> wrote:

    > Once again, many problems would be avoided if meetings were more open
    > to discussions, and each proposal evaluated orally. Shorthand
    > scripting would help people take precise notes, and produce later a
    > better document whose content would be easier to agree upon by
    > participants. Shorthand skills is still a precious thing for anyone
    > that participate to many work meetings or brain-stormings. It would be
    > useful also when negociating commercial contracts, or to accelerate
    > those meetings (without needing to wait that everyone has finished
    > taking his notes), notably during stressed situations where lots of
    > things are discussed and many things forgotten before their
    > application (people's memory can fail). More generally, shorthand
    > skills by participants avoids much unuseful papers produced before and
    > after meetings.

    Philippe makes an excellent case for the continued use and teaching of
    shorthand, but none of his arguments really demonstrates why shorthand
    should be encoded in a standard character encoding such as Unicode.

    There is no question that major corporations and small businesses alike
    relied heavily on shorthand before the advent of machine-assisted
    transcription, and many would benefit greatly from continuing to use it.
    (Are stenographic machines or computerized equivalents really in common
    use at ordinary companies for taking meeting minutes?) But no matter
    how useful shorthand may be, in the business community and elsewhere, it
    is generally considered necessary to transcribe it into a conventional
    script (Latin or whatever) before it can be used in business contracts,
    meeting minutes, and so forth. Encoding shorthand in a character-level
    encoding standard doesn't buy you much here; you still need to
    transcribe the (encoded) shorthand into Latin letters before it can be

    Having a character encoding for shorthand kind of defeats the purpose of
    performing paleographic analysis on handwritten shorthand, because in
    order to encode, say, a Pitman or Gregg "d"' you must have already
    identified it as a "d". An encoding that described shorthand strokes in
    terms of length and direction (sort of like dance notation) might be
    more useful for this.

    There does not seem to be a demonstrated need to *interchange* shorthand
    text from one computer system to another. That appears to be one factor
    that determines whether encoding is justified or not.

    As for the renewed interest in teaching shorthand, either on-line or in
    person, I don't see where a Unicode encoding of shorthand would provide
    much of an advantage over continuing to use images or custom font hacks.
    Potential users of a Unicode shorthand encoding would still be
    restricted to the few fonts that would be designed to support the
    shorthand characters, just as if the glyphs were encoded with ASCII
    hacks. The supposed benefit of being able to choose from a variety of
    fonts seems unlikely to pan out.

    If there were books and periodicals printed in shorthand -- other than
    materials for teaching and practicing shorthand -- then there might be a
    better case for treating it as a script like Latin or Arabic and trying
    to get it encoded.

    -Doug Ewell
     Fullerton, California

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