Which Pitman to learn?

If you’re thinking of learning Pitman, you’ll soon discover that there are few types of Pitman you could learn.

If you hunt around on archive.org, or Google Books, you’ll come across public domain versions of various old Pitman books which cover earlier versions of the system. It’s tempting to learn from one of these free books, but I wouldn’t recommend it. Pitman was gradually refined over the years, and using an old version is like running old software when a newer, less buggy version is available. It’s free, but it’s not worth the extra time it will cost you.

There are two modern versions of Pitman – Pitman New Era, which has been around since 1922, and Pitman 2000 which, came out in 1975, when saying “the year 2000” still sounded futuristic. You might think Pitman 2000, being the newer system, would be the better one, but it’s not that simple.

Pitman New Era is harder to learn, but it is FAST. It evolved as a more streamlined, more consistent version of the Pitman system used in the 1800s. (In fact, if you can read New Era, it’s not too difficult to read the old versions too.) New Era was designed for court and parliamentary reporting, situations where the reporter had to quietly write down very rapid dialogue. Reporters couldn’t stop the speaker and say “Excuse me, would you mind repeating that?” They had to get it the first, and only time. The system is capable of extremely high speeds (over 200 wpm), but the “memory load” of the system is heavy – there are hundreds of special shortcut words and phrases (“grammalogues”) which must be learned. The grammalogues are only a little briefer than the way the words would be written by following the rules, but since these shortcuts represent 60-70% of everyday English, the cumulative saving in time is significant.

Pitman 2000 was designed to meet a different need – ease of learning. By the 1970s, shorthand was mainly being used by secretaries to take dictation, a situation where someone would typically be speaking fairly slowly. Better still, your boss would could repeat a phrase if you asked politely, so that very high speeds weren’t as important. The Pitman people figured they could slash the learning time by cutting hundreds of special rules and symbols that were only used in a few cases. About 70% of the words which had to be memorized as “short forms” or “grammalogues” in New Era are written out in full in Pitman 2000, and a simpler (but longer) system is used for verb endings like “-ed” and “-ing”. The number of rules and exceptions to rules is greatly reduced. Pitman 2000 also gets rid of the heavy dot, which New Era used to distinguish between short and long vowels. Its designers estimated that Pitman 2000 was faster to learn, and still capable of speeds up to 140 words per minute.

Unlike previous incarnations of Ptiman, Pitman 2000 wasn’t intended to replace the system that came before it, and New Era stayed in print. Those who wanted a “lite” shorthand for occasional office use learned Pitman 2000. Those who wanted the highest speed learned New Era.

Which should you learn? It’s a no-brainer – New Era! Both systems will take you time and effort to learn, but Pitman New Era is capable of twice the speed. Plus, New Era lets you precisely record almost any sound you can say, but, because Pitman 2000 kills off some vowels, it loses the ability to write the full range of sounds.

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