A Brief History of Sir Isaac Pitman & His Legacy

Creators
Aria Marco, Rachel Smiley and Freya Yost

Transcript
Sir Isaac Pitman was born in Trowbridge, Wiltshire on January 4th, 1813. He was the third of eleven children, and was educated with his siblings. He described books and music as being his “two loves,” and was an avid reader.

In fact, by the age of sixteen he undertook the chore of reading the Walker’s Dictionary and copied out the words he did not know how to pronounce so that he could study both the meanings and sounds of the words. This exercise caused him to notice many ways in which the standard writing and spelling system was irrational, and even flawed. This realization led him to the study of shorthand scripts.

Shorthand is a system for rapid writing that uses symbols or abbreviations for letters, words, or phrases. The practice of shorthand writing has been used since antiquity, starting with the ancient Greeks and Romans. The main applications of shorthand have been in record keeping, historical documentation, and courtroom proceedings.

In England during the 19th century shorthand was not widely used. Rather newspaper and courtroom reporters took notes in longhand and filled in the text later by memory, often causing inaccuracies. Pitman’s vision was that shorthand would become the “common hand,” ultimately eliminating the problems with English spelling. Efficiency was also a key part of the goal; he imagined that a complete copy of the bible would one day be the size of a wrist watch, and be only three quarters of an inch thick.

Pitman was advised to create a shorthand that was not already in publication, in order to garner more attention. Pitman began to study existing shorthand systems, especially the Taylor shorthand system, that were based on sounds of words, or “phonography.”

Pitman shorthand is based on phonetic language rather than letters. This method classifies sounds into basic groups – for instance, vowels and voiced or unvoiced consonants – and uses simple abbreviations for greater rapidity.

There are several distinct aspects of Pitman shorthand that require careful precision. Voiced and unvoiced consonant sounds are illustrated by the thickness of line. This requires a writing instrument that is responsive to nuances in pressure, such as a fountain pen or pencil. The use of circles, loops, and hooks for combined consonants and syllables makes this phonetic writing quite difficult to learn and translate. Also, vowels are indicated with disjointed dots and dashes placed in specific positions relative to the surrounding consonants.

Despite Pitman’s best intentions, it was not a perfect system and he received numerous critiques – particularly on his failure to differentiate homonyms. For instance, in 1882, Thomas Anderson, a scholar of shorthand methods, complained that Pitman made no written distinction between words with the same pronunciation like cite c-i-t-e, site s-i-t-e, and sight s-i-g-h-t.

Overall, Pitman made a lasting impression on shorthand writing. He continued to give lectures and classes through his life and his phonetic method spread to other countries. It was introduced to the United States in 1852 and was also adopted into several Asian, European, and Middle Eastern languages. His writing style has since been replaced by machine stenography for record keeping, but Pitman remains a popular name with shorthand enthusiasts today.

Bibliography and Credits
Anderson, T. (1882). History of shorthand, with a review of its present condition and prospects in Europe and America. Retrieved from https://play.google.com/books/reader?id=rMa7AAAAIAAJ&printsec=frontcover&output=reader&authuser=0&hl=en&pg=GBS.PP1

Argenteus-Constantius_I-antioch. [Photograph]. (AD 294-295). Retrieved November 17, 2013, from http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/3/3a/Argenteus-Constantius_I-antioch_RIC_033a.jpg

Beinecke Flickr Laboratory – an abridgement of the life of St. Anne of Jesus. [Photograph]. (1693). Retrieved November 19, 2013, from http://brbl-dl.library.yale.edu/vufind/Record/3440758

Benn Pitman. [Photograph]. Retrieved November 22, 2013, from http://digitalgallery.nypl.org/nypldigital/id?1813532

Benn Pitman in 1854 from a daguerreotype in the possession of his sister, Mrs. Mary Pitman Webster. [Photograph]. (1911). Retrieved November 10, 2013, from http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2013648396/

Bible. Manuscripts. Latin. Biblia latina. April 4, 1452 – July 9, 1453. “Giant Bible of Mainz.” [Photograph]. (1452-1453). Retrieved November, 10, 2013, from http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2005693153/

Carey, M. (1795). Map of the world from the best authorities. [Photograph]. Retrieved November 10, 2013, from http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.gmd/g3200.ct000160

Chicago Daily News, Inc. (1910). Judge Scanlan’s courtroom. [Photograph]. Retrieved November 5, 2013, from http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.ndlpcoop/ichicdn.n008390

Chicago Daily News, Inc. (1922). Miss Marie Reardon, stenographer, sitting at a typewriter in a room. [Photograph]. Retrieved November 5, 2013, from http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.ndlpcoop/ichicdn.n075002

Faulmann, C. (1880). Das Buch der Schrift Enthaltend die Schriftzeichen und Alphabete aller Zeiten und aller Völker des Erdkreises. Zweite vermehrte und verbesserte Auflage. [Photograph]. Retrieved November 17, 2013, from http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Das_Buch_der_Schrift_(Faulmann)_255.jpg

Harcourt, M. (1820). Map of 24 miles round the city of Bath. [Photograph]. Retrieved November 2, 2013, from http://www.loc.gov/item/2008620801

Harris & Ewing photography. (1937). Sec. stenographic pool. [Photograph]. Retrieved November 5, 2013, from http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/hec2009009044/

Haunted-Medea. (2008). Old Paper Texture by Haunted-medea on DeviantART. Retrieved November 10, 2013, from http://esther-sanz.deviantart.com/art/Old-paper-texture-81358937

Intermedio 1. (21 November 2008). On Banda sonora “los angeles ladrones” [mp3]. Chile: Concepción. Retrieved from: http://www.jamendo.com/en/track/242084/intermedio-1

Isaac Pitman. [Photograph]. Retrieved November 22, 2013, from http://digitalgallery.nypl.org/nypldigital/id?1813533

Isaac Pitman. [Photograph]. Retrieved November 22, 2013, from http://digitalgallery.nypl.org/nypldigital/id?1813534

July 10, 1942. Stenographer’s shorthand text of statement of Elmer Davis, director of the United States Office of War Information (OWI): “This is a people’s war …”. [Photograph]. (1942). Retrieved November 5, 2013, from http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/owi2001024368/PP/

Kligman, M. I. (1963). How to write 240 wpm in Pitman shorthand. (3rd ed.). New York: Pitman Pub. Corp.

Letter Book of Sir Isaac Pitman. [Photograph]. (1833-1838). Retrieved November 1, 2013, from Pitman Collection, University of Bath, England.

Life Magazine ad for Waterman’s fountain pens, Life Magazine, December 7, 1942. [Photograph]. (1942). Retrieved November 17, 2013, from http://tinyurl.com/lx83hxj

Memorial plaque of Isaac Pitman (inventor of a widely used system of shorthand) at North wall of Bath Abbey, Somerset, England. [Photograph]. Retrieved November 17, 2013, from http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Bath_Abbey_-_Memorial_plaque_of_Isaac_Pitman.jpg

Milošević, P. (2013). Mechanical wristwatch. [Photograph]. Retrieved November 19, 2013, from http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Mechanical_wristwatch.jpg

Newsboy selling papers (Toronto Evening Telegram), Toronto, Canada. [Photograph]. (1905). Retrieved November 17, 2013, from http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Newsboy_in_1905.jpg

On the rooftops of London: Coo, what a sight! [Photograph]. (1870). Retrieved November 17, 2013, from http://www.flickr.com/photos/nlireland/8096307482/in/photolist-dkrG9j/

Penny Plate. [Photograph]. (1840). Retrieved November 1, 2013, from Pitman Collection, University of Bath, England.

Pitman Consonants. [Photograph]. (2009). Retrieved November 19, 2013, from http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Pitman_Consonants.PNG

Pitman Family Portrait. [Photograph]. (1877). Retrieved November 1, 2013, from Pitman Collection, University of Bath, England.

Pitman, J., Tauber, A., & Shaw, G. B. (1963). Foreword. In On language. (pp. vii-xii). New York: Philosophical Library.

Pitman Lecture. [Photograph]. (1935). Retrieved November 1, 2013, from Pitman Collection, University of Bath, England.

Pitman shorthand example, the business man’s encyclopedia. [Photograph]. (1905). Retrieved November 19, 2013, from http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Pitman_shorthand_example,_The_Business_Man%27s_Encyclopedia.png

Pitman shorthand instructor and key: A complete exposition of Sir Isaac Pitman’s system of shorthand. [Photograph]. Retrieved November 17, 2013, from http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Shorthand_Instructor_and_Key_Book.JPG

Portrait of Isaac Pitman. [Photograph]. (1860). Retrieved November 1, 2013, from Pitman Collection, University of Bath, England.

Ratisbonne, L. G. F. (1861). ABC alphabet book. [Photograph]. Retrieved November 19, 2013, from http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:ABC_alphabet_book.jpg

Reed, T. A. (1890). A biography of Isaac Pitman [PDF]. Retrieved from https://ia600307.us.archive.org/12/items/biographyofisaac00reed/biographyofisaac00reed.pdf

Richmond, L. (2013). Pitman Family Tree. [PDF]. Retrieved November 1, 2013, from Pitman Collection, University of Bath, England.

The royal picture alphabet, front cover. [Photograph]. (1854-1861). Retrieved November 17, 2013, from http://tinyurl.com/kjxz7t7

Salve hieroglyphicum votivum … . [Photograph]. (1652). Retrieved November 1, 2013, from http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2004666061/

Smillie, T. W. (1890). Untitled. [Photograph]. Retrieved November 17, 2013, from http://www.flickr.com/photos/25053835@N03/2422570279/in/photolist-4G5iK6-4VCwnJ-eDFV4m-eDFV1w

Walker: A new dictionary (slate 1). [Photograph]. Retrieved November 10, 2013, from http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/e/ef/Wenceslas_Hollar_-_Walker._A_new_dictionary_%28State_1%29.jpg

One comment

  1. Balasubramanian NR Ambattur Chennai India

    Sir Isaac Pitman made an ever lasting impression on shorthand writing not only in Western Countries but in India too. Sir Isaac Pitman remains a most popular name with shorthand enthusiasts/writers today throughout the world. India is not an exception. In the yester years the main applications of shorthand was generally used for record keeping, historical documentation, and courtroom proceedings to maintain secrecy and confidentiality. Many in the world today lead their happy life by learning his system of shorthand and it is their bread winner. I lead my life in this field for more than 40 years as a leading Shorthand writer, and presently give lectures to the students in various forum and arrange classes too to teach the younger generation emphasizing the importance of his phonetic methods of writing shorthand. His system has been adopted in other languages too in the world. Machine stenography for record keeping is yet to gain popularity. We celebrate his birthday. i.e. January 4th, in India during January without fail and we remember him always even beyond two Centuries. For many Sir Isaac Pitman’s Phonetic System is their breath. His Idol is maintained in Stenographers’ Guild in Chennai, in which I am a Life Member.

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