We know court reporting today as a technology-driven method of preserving and recording testimony in various legal settings. Did you know that court reporting is actually a very old profession that was once as low-tech as they come?
Court reporters are part of a rich background of professionals who have come alongside some of the greatest minds in history, listening to them speak before throngs of people and dutifully recording every word. While not known as “court reporters”, scribes of ancient times performed very similar roles, recording speech in a form of shorthand. The first known scribe to do so was a freed Roman slave who lived in the 1st century B.C., named Marcus Tullius Tiro. He provided trusted and invaluable support to his patron Cicero, the famous Roman philosopher, politician, lawyer, orator, political theorist, consul and constitutionalist. Trio’s style of shorthand still lives on today through of one of his shorthand devices, the ampersand.
Fast forward more than a thousand years to when another innovation impacted the world of stenography. In the 1500s, Timothie Bright, a British physician and clergyman, developed the first system approaching fully phonetic shorthand. In 1588 he published his shorthand treatise , Characterie. The system has an alphabetical basis, but signs for letters are not readily joined to one another. Bright’s system became popular with scholars and ministers for writing letters and sermons.
Next came John Willis and his book, the Art of Stenographie, published in 1602. It promoted a new form of shorthand that was found to be more practical and formulaic. His system that is recognized as the foundation of later systems of shorthand was based on a system of symbols that stood for each single letter of the alphabet. Other notable forms of shorthand in this era were Edmond Willis’s An Abbreviation of Writing by Character in 1618 and Thomas Shelton’s Short Writing in 1626, which was later re-issued under the title Tachygraphy.
Thomas Gurney was the next major innovator in the world of court reporting. Grurney was the first recorded official shorthand writer appointed anywhere in the world, appointed between 1737 and 1748. He practiced in “all the Courts of Justice in the Cities of London and Westminster, Admiralty Courts, Courts-Martial, and trials in divers parts of the Kingdom” of Brittan, according to his book Brachygraphy.
The late 1700s and 1800s brought about even more systems of shorthand. Samuel Taylor’s 1786 geometric shorthand, which was similar to another system by John Byrom, was the first English shorthand system to be used all over the English-speaking world. Taylor’s system fell out of fashion when Sir Isacc Pitman introduced his form of shorthand in 1837. Pitman’s system spread world-wide in English-speaking countries and was even adapted to several other language. Pitman’s system uses phonemic orthography, in which written symbols correspond to spoken sounds instead of letters. Pitman’s shorthand is still used today by journalists and administrative assistants worldwide. There are also thousands of educational institutions teaching Pitman’s shorthand system, primarily in Europe.
In the US, the Pitman system was fairly quickly taken over by John Robert Gregg’s Phonetic Handwriting. Like Pitman, Gregg’s system is phonetic but also adds another element. Pitman’s system uses thick and thin strokes to distinguish related sounds.
What we know as modern shorthand began with the introduction of the stenotype machine in the late 1800s and early 1900s. A court reporter named Miles Bartholomew obtained a patent for the first American shorthand machine in 1879, revolutionizing the industry and rendering the pen somewhat obsolete in court reporting. The steno machine revolutionized court reporting and stenography as a whole because of its uniformity and reliability. By pressing one or more keys at a time, reporters capture the sound of words in a phonetic code, with each line of characters usually representing one sound or syllable.
Computers entered the picture in the late 20th century and again revolutionized the world of stenography. Modern stenotype machines are more akin to a computer than a typewriter. They have microprocessors, individual keys with different sensitivity settings and LCD screens where the shorthand words appear in English.
Technological advances will continue to impact the realm of court reporting. For instance, the relatively recent addition of real-time reporting, where notes are converted into text and projected on screens as they are recorded, allows for synchronized video testimony. This allows the court reporter to provide an instant transcript to be displayed on computer monitors for viewing by everyone including the vision and hearing impaired.
You can rest assured that when you trust Diamond Reporting & Legal Video with your deposition, mediation and arbitration needs, you’ll get the best, most reliable and technologically-forward service available today. Diamond has been serving the New York and New Jersey legal communities for more than 35 years. Contact us or schedule your deposition today to see why we have been a trusted partner in litigation services for decades.