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Monday, August 27, 2007

Shorthand and the Bible

The more I research shorthand the more I notice the close connection between shorthand and the Christian community. There are Bibles in shorthand, marginal notes in shorthand and, of course, many sermons were recorded in shorthand. That is how a vast quantity of books czme to be passed down to us.

In Rome all school children, the boys at least, learned shorthand along with the alphabet, in order to be able to record class lectures. Senate proceedings were recorded in shorthand. And for many centuries sermons were recorded in shorthand.

In his own textbook, Aulay Macauly presents his own stenographic system. It is the first shorthand system in English to include written vowels. The system has a new denotation: ‘Polygraphy’. Macauly provides proof in his book where he presents a psalm in 8 different languages. He was the first who wanted to use his shorthand style deliberately for other languages.

The textbook is exceptionally well designed and equipped with a copperplated introduction . It shows men and women stenographers in front of a pulpit recording the sermon of a preacher. The book contains a dedication to King George, Prince of Wales, and the signature of the author himself.

The history of shorthand is firmly established in use in the Roman Senate, and was used up until the 12th century. Many of Augustine's works were shorthand records of his sermons. However, shorthand was discouraged from the 12th to the 15th centuries, as a possibly secret or occult script. During the reformation two innovations caused shorthand to become increasingly popular, the importance of sermons, and the printing press. Material could now be duplicated and spread abroad. Calvin and Luther are among those whose sermons were recorded in shorthand.

This fact confounds the assumed line between the book as recorded words and the sermon as spoken words. Books are sermons. It is something to think about when discussing the differential authority of the spoken vs the written word. It is something to remember when thinking about how the Bible came into being.

Hebrew, having one symbol for one syllable, could possibly function somewhat like shorthand, and a person could record speech in Hebrew more quickly than in Greek. While Roman shorthand is well attested to since 63 BC, there is only fragmentary record of Greek shorthand at this time.

Some wonder if Jesus' sermons could have been recorded in shorthand. However, I wonder if it is possible through using a cursive script and some abbreviations to record a sermon in Hebrew/Aramaic? Does anyone know?

Some people believe that shorthand as a separate system dates as far back as the development of the Greek alphabet when a dual system became necessary. Some are more cautious. Personally I suspect that shorthand was very early. Most literate societies have had a form of shorthand which could be used to record speech at a fairly natural speed. Chinese had an abbreviated script which functioned this way as well.

I have no additional evidence to add but I can say that certain books have been published on this topic that are only available in German. Ancient shorthand is not an idea which has captured the English-speaking world. And so we maintain a false dichotomy between the written and the spoken word.

Regular programming will resume shortly. As usual my cobloggers are welcome to post on top of this. Something to think about though.

Image: Macauly, Aulay ; Polygraphy or short-hand made easy to the meanest ca-pacity: being an universal character fitted to all languages: which may be learned by this book, without the help of a master / invented by Aulay Macauly.– 2. ed. – London: privat publisher, 1747.


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