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Sunday, September 07, 2014

STENOGRAPHER : THE SPECIES UNDER THREAT OF EXTINCTION

The strokes you write hasten your hand. The fingers ride with speaker’s words. It is a perfect symphony of hand and head, an art  which you could master and  chisel  to perfection.

There was a time when the profession of stenographer is considered as middle-class’s breadwinner. It’s charm in 1990’s is something you can’t find  in this Information Age.  The government sector is still the main  stakeholder of stenographers. But no doubt, it is becoming a dying profession and I doubt its survival in the coming decades as technology replaces maximum human labour.

If you go back to history of stenography, it is believed that the word stenography is derived from the Greek words steno (narrow) and graphein (the art of writing). It is also known as tachygraphy (quick writing), brachygraphy (short writing), zeiglographia and semography.  We find that   hundreds of shorthand writing systems and scripts have been experimented and used for more than 2000 years.

In good olden days, Notarii (reporters) write the speeches of roman senators. The famous writer George Bernard Shaw wrote all his literature in shorthand. Famous novelist Charles Dickens was also a shorthand writer. It is said that Shakespeare’s plays were preserved by means of shorthand. In Mughal Era, Qatibs (reporters) were appointed to take down Shahi Farmaan (orders of the king). These evidences indicate the prevalence of shorthand since time immemorial.

Shorthand is no doubt a dry subject. My own impression being a stenographer is : laborious; uninteresting. The primary qualification to win over this art is, patience.  For initial 2 -3 months, you can’t generate interest to go forward and you have to blindly follow the exercises with daily practice. Whether somebody makes it as a profession or not but it is an art that everybody should learn which is immensely helpful in note-taking, especially by students in their higher studies.

The stenographer earns his/ her reputation being exponent in this art. Charles Dickens, the famous novelist says that ‘’learning of Shorthand is equal to learning of 6 new languages’’. George Bernard Shaw felt that  learning of shorthand makes him independent of typewriters, of  Dictaphones and of the immediate present of a Secretary. The Father of Nation Mahatma Gandhi says that Shorthand writers-cum-reporters hold the prestige of public men in the hollow of their palms….

The most prominent stenographic systems is Pitman Shorthand. Sir Isaac Pitman published his stenographic work : soundhand in 1837, later called phonography or Pitman’s Shorthand based on the phonetic structure of the ancient Indian language Sanskrit. History says that till the advent of Pitman phonetic system, nearly four-hundred plus systems of English Shorthand had been experimented in England alone.

There are other stenographic systems in the world as well like Gregg System which is based on the longhand letters and became popular in United States. There was also a Sloan – Duployan System which is an adoption of French system into English.

The heroic figure for stenographers  in contemporary times is Dr. Gopal Datt Bisht, the first ever Ph.D in stenography in the world, and the Guinness Record holder for the highest shorthand writing speed of 250 words per minute.

There were also proud moments for stenographers in the annals of history. One of the stalwarts who did yeomen service is J.J. Goodwin (1870 – 1898). This British stenographer was initially assigned the task of noting down the lectures of Swami Vivekananda during his first tour to United States.

The credit for transcribing  large portions of Swamiji’s literature goes to Goodwin who painstakingly translated the Master’s  extempore words into inspiring reading stuff. Within a short span, Goodwin became Vivekananda’s friend and discipline. The amount love and respect Goodwin earned from Vivekananda is indescribable. When  Goodwin died at a very young Vivekananda wrote that : The debt of gratitude I owe him can never be repaid, and those who think they have been helped by any thought of mine ought to know that almost every word of it was published through the untiring and most unselfish exertions of Mr. Goodwin. In him I have lost a friend true as steel, a disciple of never-failing devotion, a worker who knew not what tiring was, and the world is less rich by one of those few who are born, as it were, to live only for others.

The seeds of interest to learn shorthand were first sprouted in me by my father who is a qualified stenographer.  He impressed upon me that the proficiency of English   is linked to learning shorthand. He  ignited a zeal in me which has still not evaporated  and helping to hone my language skills.

 Automation, new technological  aids and smartphones completely changed the surface of present day office set-up especially in private sector.  Digital devices replace humans as personal assistants and  this indicates  a danger of extinction of this species  called Stenographer  sooner than expected !







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