Consonants – L, R, F, Sh

The symbols used in Pitman were designed to be rapid to write, and easy to differentiate. Like many invented scripts, it’s based on geometrical shapes. Some people like the regular mathematical look of the letters (although that impression soon vanishes when you see a page of Pitman chicken-scratchings).

Circle  divided orthogonallyDividing a circle up with horizontal and vertical cuts gives four distinctive curves. These are assigned the sounds. L, R, F and Sh. .

When you’re not doing geometry, they’re written like this:


The first one, the L, is written from bottom to top. The fourth one, the Sh also feels a bit wacky, travelling from right to left.

You’ll notice that L and R form the top of the circle. There’s an easy way to remember which is which. L is Left and R is right. Both are written from left to right, meaning that L is written in an upwards direction. (Most Pitman strokes are written downwards.)

If you have clawlike appendages, you can use them to remember which is which.

Clawlike  appendages

If you lack clawlike appendages, it is possible to use your forefingers.

You can also imagine that L looks like a lowercase L which is being blown in a strong wInd.

L in a Strong  Wind

What’s the story here? WHY is L being blown in a strong wind? IS the puffy thing in fact a wind, or is it some kind of gaseous creature, and if so, what does it have against lowercase L’s? I’m sorry, I don’t know the answers to these questions.

F and SH

I had a terrible time mixing these up. What worked best for me was thinking of the word “fish”, viewed from below.

FiSH for F SH

Why do we only see the bottom of the fish? Again, I’m not sure. Perhaps it’s flirting.

But what’s useful is that Pitman has a symbol for the Sh sound. In English, we have at least 40 different sounds, but only 26 letters to write them. Actually, we have less than 26, because many of our letters represent the same sound – like C and K, while others represent combinations of sounds, like Q and X. But we have no letters for some of the most common sounds – Sh, Th, Ch. That’s because our alphabet wasn’t designed to write English. It was created three thousand years ago to write Phoenician. Pitman, on the other hand, is based around the sounds of English.

OK, time to practice. Below is a list of random symbols that would make any Phoenician jealous. See how well you can identify them. Read the sounds and not the equivalent English letter. So, L should be pronounced “luh” not “ell”.

I found this surprisingly hard at first. It’s like learning to read again, and you find yourself reversing letters, the way little kids reverse “d”s and “b”s. It gets easier with practice, of course. If you get stuck, you can either check the diagram above, or just hold your mouse over the symbol and you should see a popup with the answer.

When you’re done with these, you can move on to deeper and darker secrets…