How can stenographers keep up with a speaker

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No, it’s witchcraft. Teach the controversy!


I assume closed caption works because the resultant output can be consistent decoded by a computer. Definitely entertaining to watch it crash and burn during baseball games on things like proper names and jargon.


I assume that stenographers, like real-time language translators, have to be familiar with idiomatic expressions and other lingo specific to the speaker’s culture and/or areas of expertise. Else they may encode phonetically close gibberish – as in misheard lyrics: “There’s a bathroom on the right.”

This video also makes me wonder the rate which sign language speakers or interpreters can generally achieve. It would seem unlikely one could accurately sign at 300 words/min, or interpret someone speaking at that speed. :raised_hands:


There was a note-taking service when I was in college. In one class, the professor would allow us to take notes on a rotating basis, and then the service would print them (more cheaply than if their employee had taken notes). Paper-era crowdsourcing, I guess. Anyway, the professor’s explanation of yin and yang, “the necessary unity of opposites,” was transcribed as “the necessary unity of offices.” (Also the only class I ever took where the professor mentioned Lou Reed’s Legendary Hearts album)

I had another class where the paid employee did take notes, but got a little too much enthused by the subject matter and put something to the effect of “Come on, get with it people!” in the notes.


Cool video! But I think we should replace court stenographers with court steganographers, who encode all the court dialog into hidden patterns in GIFs and the like.


Sign interpreters can keep up with natural speech. Sign language has a parsimonious grammar, so a lot of the ‘short words’ wind up being replaced by indicators such as where the signs appear in space (close to or farther from the body, or left, center or right, standing in for person and tense. It’s not ‘one English word, one sign’ (except for fingerspelling proper nouns and the like), it’s a language unto itself.

When I was growing up (yeah, I’m old), we had a close family friend who worked as a legal secretary, but was also a certified court reporter (invaluable if her employer was taking a deposition!) She didn’t use Stenotype, she used Gregg. (Or was it Pitman? I forget. This was New York City, and Pitman was undeservedly popular there.) She could keep up with cross examination using no tools other than a pencil and a steno pad.


This is really cool! I have a friend who is training for a telephone captioning service for the hard of hearing and the deaf. I’m curious what she’ll learn (they don’t use this system.) An interesting wrinkle is that she was asked if she was okay transcribing horrid racist shit, because sometimes that’s what people want to talk about, and you can’t be selective about who you help when you work for an accessibility service.

I tried developing a personal shorthand for notetaking in college, and holy shit did it increase my respect for people who developed actual stenographic methods. In the end I gave up, partly because my system suffered from extreme feature creep (I practically tried to invent a new language.) I still use aspects of the shorthand though, because I came up quickly writable symbols for words like “function, entropy, energy, positive, negative, etc.” I have a glossary in the lab notebook I keep at work, and I’m hoping my symbols catch on somehow.

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…like “fn, S, E, +ve, -ve, &c”?


I have ALWAYS wondered this. But not, like, enough to ever look it up.


Not “et cetera,” I just meant I came up with symbols for other stuff. And the goal was speed and simultaneous clarity without context needed. In chemistry, + can mean either positive or “plus” (similar for negative) and I’ve run into situations where this + means positive charge and that + means “addition” in the same set of notes. S can be Sulfur, and S is also my girlfriend (and this actually confused me once on a to-do list, which is why she has her own symbol.) E can be… well… entropy on at least one set of class notes I received from an instructor. Pressure, density, and Power were another issue-- rho and P look the same on graph paper because it’s hard to tell that one letter is a capital and the other has a descender.

There were a lot of these weird edge cases I ran across, and then there were other issues like wanting to disentangle quantum “spin” from classical spin, so I gave it an arbitrary symbol so I’d stop thinking of it as traditional spin. I wanted to interrelate mass and energy, so I gave them symbols that were based on each other. And I made sure that all of my symbols were faster to write than the ones you listed. (This is where the sort of obsessive “feature creep” started to set in.)

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I learnt heaps about sign language (American sign language and signed English) specifically by reading Seeing Voices by Oliver Sacks. Although it’s an old book now (1989) and I imagine there are more modern and up-to-date ones to read it really taught me how sign language works and to have an appreciation for it. I also talked to my aunt’s husband and he told me his experience in learning signed English to communicate with his profoundly deaf son, and how this was different from sign language.


This sounds like a huge opportunity to call into question the accuracy of the court’s records since they are entirely dependent on the stenographer’s willingness and ability to transcribe correctly.

Nowadays, we have the technical ability to record and archive the audio and video of all court proceedings. It seems that if this was done as a standard matter of procedure, it would have several advantages. The stenographer could refer to these recordings when translating their shorthand to English, reducing the error rate. Jurors could also be given access during deliberation, allowing them to carefully review the demeanor of persons giving testimony. The same feeds could allow for “public” trials to actually be viewed by the public at large (courtrooms only hold a limited number of people, and disruption by observers is a possibility)

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Spotted this:

The Open Steno Project promotes free open source steno software, low cost hardware (such as gaming PC keyboards) and free steno training materials.

and a video of coding with steno:


And another video by Stan:

There are never enough stenographers to go round; they are invariably shorthanded… I’ll get my coat and my ticket to the Dadjoke Archipelago.


there was a presenter on breakfast tv that spoke really really fast and aggressively always used to end up laughing so much… :slight_smile:

I wonder how long stenography will be around, with dictation software getting better by the day, I see it becoming obsolete. Shorthand is pretty much dead now probably due to stenography, but nevertheless it’s still fascinating and I hope someone out there keeps it all alive:



Yeah, I find myself wondering why we use stenography at all anymore, when we could just record and playback.

Any legal types have an answer?