Putting words together
If you remember all the symbols so far… Congratulations! You now know 40 different characters, which is all the sounds that Pitman can write, and enough to capture the sound of pretty much any English word.
If you DON’T remember the symbols, they’re all listed on the chart to the right.
The best way to improve your ability with these characters is to print out the chart, then take a book or magazine, and transcribe it into these Pitman characters. Later, take a look at what you’ve written, and try to read it back. That way, you can work with material that actually interests you. At first, you will likely mix up similar looking shapes, like F and SH, but as you practice, you will start to see the symbols for the sounds they represent, just as you do with regular letters.
Here are some frequently asked questions…
What’s the correct way to write a certain word?
There may not be a “correct” way. When you’re writing phonetically, there’s no such thing as spelling. Different people say words in different ways, and you should write each word the way you would say it. Don’t get fooled by the way a word is spelled in print. A word like “edges” would be written phonetically as E-J-I-Z or E-J-E-Z. No D, no G, and no S. You’ll find that “Z”s are a lot more common in Pitman than they are in English writing.
How large should I write Pitman characters?
There’s no right size, but they’re usually fairly small. Tall characters, like T or TH, might take up anywhere from half to three-quarters of the space between lines.
Where’s the Pitman character for X and Q?
There isn’t one. You can write any word that contains these letters by writing the sound of the word. So, “queen” is written C-W-EE-N. “Fox” is written F-O-C-S.
How do I write neutral vowels?
A neutral vowels, sometimes called “Schwa”, is a vowel that has kind of a “nothing” sound, like the sound of the “e” in “taken” or the “i” in pencil. Sometimes, people use the Pitman “E” to stand for this sound. But if it’s really a nothing vowel, you can just write nothing. You might write “pencil” as P-E-N-S-L, and “taken” as T-EY-K-N. It works fine. Another tricky vowel is the “eu” sound words like “certain”. This could also use its own Pitman symbol, but it doesn’t have one. Instead, it is usually represented by E. Yes, Pitman is imperfect. Error! Flaw! Imperfection! Must ste-ri-lize!
How do I write long vowel sounds, like the “ia” in Maria?
Sometimes, you will need to run vowels together to capture a sound. If you want to write “Maria played the piano on the patio,” the first, fourth and seventh words are written M-A-R-EE-A , P-EE-A-N-OE, and P-A-T-EE-OE. (In real Pitman, vowels can’t be strung together like this, and there’s a different system for writing these kinds of sounds.)
Do I need to write Pitman characters with a fountain pen?
No. Some sites claim you do, but it’s lies lies lies. I usually write Pitman with an ordinary ballpoint pen, but you can also use a marker, or a pencil, or various other implements. It’s true that Pitman was designed to be used with a dip pen (NOT a fountain pen), which is why it makes extensive use of heavy and light lines – thick lines are easy to write with a old-fashioned scratchy steel nib. However, my experiments with modern fountain pens were disappointing – the nibs write smoothly, but most are too stiff to produce thick lines easily. It’s very easy to write Pitman with a pencil. A ballpoint also works really well. Here’s the trick with a ballpoint – DON’T try to press down hard to produce thick lines. Instead, press down more lightly than normal to produce thin lines, and use normal pressure to produce thick ones. Medium or broad tipped ballpoint pens work best. You’ll also need to be writing on a surface with some give, like a notepad. It’s hard to get much variation in lines writing on a hard surface.
How do I write punctuation?
Most of the the time, you can just use regular punctuation marks, but there are a few cases where ordinary punctuation could be confused with Pitman characters, so the punctuation marks have to be changed. The dash has angled ticks at each end. The hyphen is written as a small double line. The period (or full stop) is written as a small X. The question mark and exclamation mark are written with an X at the bottom. Parentheses can be confused with TH and S, so they’re written with a line through them. Pitman isn’t normally indented, so the double vertical line stands for “new paragraph”.
How do I write capitals?
The same way you say them – not at all. In a phonetic system, you don’t strictly need to write capital letters. If you want, though, you can put a double-underline below proper nouns. If you’re trying to write capitals in an abbreviation – LOL or USA – it’s clearer to write the English letters, than to write E-L-OE-E-L, or YOO-E-S-EY.
That should give you everything you need to start writing this extremely simplified version of Pitman. Once again, this isn’t “real” shorthand yet, so don’t expect to write 150 words a minute. However, it will give you a feel for phonetic writing, and it’s an excellent first step to learning Pitman. Later, we’ll look at some of the official Pitman symbols. For now, find a book, print out the guide on this page, and try writing and reading some material of your own.
Just to get you started, I’ve written out the opening lines of the novel Flatland, using this system. See how much you can read. As usual, if you hover the mouse over the characters, you should be able to see the sounds I’ve written.
In case your browser doesn’t support this feature, there’s a line-by-line translation further below, or you can check the chart at the top of this page.
ON THE NATURE OF FLATLAND
1. I call our world Flatland,
2. not because we call it so, but
3. to make its nature clearer to
4. you, my happy readers, who are
5. privileged to live in Space.
If you got all of those, you have passed your initiation. Now you’re ready to be inducted into the ways of real Pitman shortcuts.