How can we write numbers in shorthand?
Write faster than talk
April 8, 2017, 9:58 pm
Bettina Brixa on shorthand in everyday working life
"We are always asked why we still exist." Bettina Brixa gets a little annoyed when journalists want to portray her as the last bastion of a dying cultural technique: "The answer is that we never existed in this form."
Bettina Brixa is a parliamentary stenographer. Armed only with pencil and paper, she sits directly in front of the lectern in the conference room of the National Council and records the fleeting remarks, heckling and events that go on there. What looks like individual dots, arcs and lines to the uninitiated is a verbatim record of what has been said, which will later be incorporated into the official record. The 35-year-old is proficient in the German unified shorthand (DEK), she learned it in the 1980s in high school. But that's not all that defines your job description.
What no microphone can capture
The stenographic service of the Parliamentary Directorate is ultimately responsible for the minutes of the meetings. The main task of the twelve employees is to edit the text and make the spoken debate ready for printing. Shorthand is only a small part of this work: most of the recording is done by a digital audio system. In shorthand there is a note of what needs to be added afterwards: from verbal battles to boards held up to restlessness in the gallery, a lot happens in parliament that no dictaphone could capture clearly enough.
Every 20 minutes there is a shift change at the stenography desk - every second of this time, the stenographer must be able to follow even the most specific details of a professional debate with full attention. A broad general education is therefore also the most important criterion for this profession, says Bettina Brixa: You can still learn shorthand on the side, but where do you learn it today?
Shorthand on the decline
Edith Vartok is a board member of the Austrian Association for Stenography and Word Processing (OSTV). The retired teacher taught the German shorthand at Austrian schools for many years. Until about 20 years ago the battle of retreat began. Shorthand gradually disappeared from the curriculum. The opinion prevailed among those in charge, which one can hardly resist as a person who is not familiar with shorthand: Who still writes by hand, and why should one learn a completely new system of symbols just to be able to do it a little faster at some point?
Edith Vartok considers the shorthand to be a valuable cultural asset that is still irreplaceable. She herself keeps every phone note and every shopping list in shorthand - not the faintest thought can escape her. The German-language shorthand is one of the best systems in the world, she says. While the English, for example, write a rather geometrical shorthand, the DEK is an italic font. You can write fluently without having to stop often.
Training and competition
What you hear is strictly noted: Silences or double consonants are omitted, grammar plays no role. The measure of speed is given in syllables per minute: with 240 syllables you write as fast as an average person would speak in everyday life. The best stenographers achieve twice the speed.
Edith Vartok meets with other shorthand fans once a week to practice fast typing. Relevant journals publish texts with a fixed number of syllables, against which ambitious people can measure themselves. For the best among them there is a world championship every two years: the next time in 2011 in Paris. Practically all languages are dictated and written down there, even Latin and Esperanto are not missing. One problem for the organizers: The record holders now write shorthand faster than most people can read aloud without errors.
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