Different degrees of the sufficient handwriting quality between longhand and stenography

Hans Treschwig –– Presentation „Different degrees of the sufficient handwriting quality between longhand and stenography“ on July 25th, 2017 in Berlin at the conference during the Intersteno world congress 2017

By Hans Treschwig, Sankt Augustin (Germany)

La scrittura a mano (per esteso e stenografia) richiede una sufficiente qualità grafica per essere leggibile. A parità di grado di leggibilità, la stenografia necessita di maggiore disciplina grafica rispetto alla scrittura per esteso.
Questo è stato dimostrato da un’indagine che ha messo a confronto il sistema di scrittura corsiva latina (scrittura per esteso) e la stenografia unificata tedesca (standard stenografico).
Dal punto di vista matematico, si applicano il principio di proporzionalità e due parametri: il numero di elementi grafici del sistema di scrittura e il volume della sostanza grafica di questi elementi.
Per il primo parametro, la stenografia tedesca (157 segni) rispetto alla scrittura per esteso (59 lettere) necessita di una precisione maggiore di un fattore di 2,66.
Per il secondo parametro, si conta il numero di tratti che richiede ciascun segno: la scrittura per esteso ha una sostanza grafica di 3,45 volte maggiore rispetto alla stenografia tedesca.
Sommando 2,66 a 3,45, si ottiene che per ottenere lo stesso grado di leggibilità, la stenografia tedesca rispetto alla scrittura corsiva latina necessita di una precisione maggiore di un fattore 6.
Handwriting, both longhand and stenography, is based on a norm of its graphic elements. In reality, however, deviation from the norm is the norm. The higher the deviation the more doubtful the correct and economic readability of the written text may get. So for a reliable readability, a sufficient degree of handwriting quality is indispensable.
But there is a difference between longhand and stenography: Stenography, as generally known, clearly needs more graphic discipline than longhand.
This presentation
1. points out the causes of this difference and
2. establishes a quantitative statement for a numerical description of the difference.
Why doesthe requirement on handwriting quality differbetweenlonghand and stenography?

The answer to this question can be derived from two criteria:

  1. from the different number of phonologically or morphologically relevant graphic elements of both writing systems,
  2. from the different extent of the graphic substances of texts written in both writing systems.

In this conclusion, the following the following logical elements are hidden:

  1. The more graphic elements a writing system has, the more similarities among them result; in other words: the more graphic elements, the more the distinctivity of the elements is challenged and the distinctive distances between the them become smaller; or yet in other words: the more graphic elements, the more probable a non-precise handwriting raises the risk of word confusions or unreadability.
  2. The more voluminous the graphic substance of theelements is, the more graphic distinguishing marks can be put at it. Reversely expressed: The poorer the substance of the elements is, the less graphic distinguishing marks can be used by the writing system to guarantee sufficient distinctivity.


The three premiseson aim and objects of the investigation.

Before going into details, three premises are put forward:

  1. A comparing statement about longhand and stenography only makes sense if we assume matching degrees of readabilityfor the concrete application of both writing systems. That is, a text has to be readable completely, correctly and in a speed of 60 syllables/min. One could as well choose a higher speed;that, however, should be applied for both,longhand and stenography.
  2. Regarding the number of graphic elements and the extent of the graphic substance, I choose the Latin cursive handwriting systemas the longhand standard. It is used in many countries in the world. That being said, I donot choose the unconnected block-letter-system which nowadays is taught in many primary schools as the handwriting system for regular use. In my opinion,education leaderstook the wrong track here; I hope, they recognize this fact as soon as possible and reverse it.
  3. Regarding the same two parameters, I choose “Deutsche Einheitskurzschrift” (DEK; German unified stenography),with its official version from 1. August 1968 applied in Germany and Austria, as stenography standard.More specifically, I limit my investigation to its basic standard called “Verkehrsschrift” (correspondence style).


A mathematical process to derive a comparison factor on the realization degree of the graphic norm for both longhand and stenography

Both criteria named above, the number of relevant elements as well as the extent of graphic substance of a text, can be measured. So, they can be operationalized fairly comfortably.

From a mathematical point of view, the minimum realization degree of the graphic norm, on the one hand, proportionally depends on the number of elements of the writing system; on the other hand, it reciprocally depends on the extent of graphic substance of these elements. To allow room for error, I limit the intuitive proportionality and refer to it as “principally proportional” as well as “principally reciprocal”. I do this because one could argue that between longhand and stenography there may be small differences in the frequency distributions of graphic elements; this fact could lead to minor chances in proportionality and inverse proportionality.

This assumption of proportionality now needs to be applied on the comparison between longhand and stenography.

The German alphabet as used in the Latin cursive handwriting system comprises 26 basic letters in addition to 3 vowel mutations as well as the letter “ß” (Eszett). That makes a total of 30 lower case letters. The basic letters and vowel mutations also exist in an upper case letter version, totalling 29 upper case letters. The grand total is 59 letters.

The equivalent to the stock of letters in longhand also exists in stenography, called signs. Deviating from the wording in the standard, I include the representation of vowels in the stock of signs, too. I do not include, however, elements that do not have equivalents in longhand, e. g., the hook. Neither do I include the “vowel-y” due to the fact that it is also used as a consonant and counted as such. For counting purposes, one has to account for the fact that the signs l, s, ss/Eszett exist in two rotational variants. Their shape is the same, independent of the rotation direction. Yet, in connecting with neighbouring signs, i. e., in their individual perception that look different; thus, in accordance with their alternative rotations, one has to count them double.

So, DEK – not incorporating short forms (“Kürzel”) – includes 57 consonant signs, 3 alternative variants of  l, s, ss/Eszett, 12 vowel signs, 12 representations of vowels and 5 signs for syllables, which makes a total of 89 basic signs. What’s more, a relatively high number of signs must be added that is part of the short form list of Verkehrsschrift, if and only if they differ from the 89 basic signs in shape or position. The number of these signs is 68. That makes a grand total of 157 signs or elements, resp.

This total of 157 elements in basic stenography is now divided by the total of 59 elements in longhand. That brings us to an interesting interim finding: To rely on a comparable readability, DEK-Verkehrsschrift compared to longhand needs a higher precision by factor 2.66 only due to its more numerous element stock.

Now, let’s turn to the second parameter: the magnitude of signs’ graphic substance. To measure that, one chooses the number of strokes each sign requires. The number of strokes include upstrokes, downstrokes, flatstrokes, dots. Some strokes are counted twofold because of their special shape. Stroke counting can be compared analogously in longhand and stenography because the latter practically uses components of the Latin handwriting system.

With the intention of establish a solid representative lingual survey, I have selected ten sentences. I used a mechanism of coincidence to select a text length of 336 syllables from different text sources, text types and topical or specialist fields. I wrote each sentence in both, in DEK-stenography and Latin cursive writing in full accordance to the norms. Then, I counted the strokes for each variant. Finally, I divided these totals reciprocally, given the inverse relationship, i. e., I divided the total number of strokes in longhand by the total of stenography. The result is shown as a table (the figures in brackets are standardized to a text volume of 100 syllables):


sentence no. number of syllables Total of writing strokes in Ratio longhand vs. stenography
stenography (DEK-Verkehrsschrift) longhand (Latin cursive writing system)
1 30 82 (273) 283 (943) 3.45
2 42 125 (298) 321 (764) 2.57
3 32 80 (250) 300 (938) 3.75
4 29 85 (293) 277 (955) 3.26
5 34 78 (229) 332 (976) 4.26
6 25 73 (292) 294 (1176) 4.03
7 45 118 (262) 462 (1027) 3.92
8 25 77 (308) 282 (1128) 3.66
9 41 111 (271) 272 (663) 2.45
10 33 89 (270) 343 (1039) 3.85
Total→ 336 918 (273) 3166 (942) 3.45


As the data shows, the extent to graphic substance of DEK-stenography compared to Latin cursive writing is the inverse of 3.45; in other words, Latin cursive writing has 3.45 times more graphic substance than DEK-stenography. So, only based on the extent of graphical substance, basic DEK-stenography is 3.45 times more sensitive than Latin cursive writing.

Given that both parameters work together, one must add both statistics: 2.66 + 3.45 = 6.11. The decimals can be disregarded easily because an approximation is sufficient. The approximation is even more warranted given the aforementioned small limitation of proportionality.


The comparison statistic is found

Thus, the finding of this analysis is: Assuming comparable and adequate readability (complete, correct, economically justifiable reading speed of 60 syllables per minute), handwriting in DEK-stenography needs a discipline in precision that is greater than that of Latin cursive writing by factor 6.

I assume that this type of comparison statistic has not been calculated and published before.

Three final remarks:

  1. In my opinion, the comparison factor 6 can be of great use to inform new learners of stenography. It transfers a raw perspective on how more important it is in stenography than in longhand to write precisely.
  2. Naturally, the comparison factor raises even further when higher levels of stenography (typically called “Schnellschrift”/fast writing) are considered. Here, the stock of signs grows and the graphic substance decreases.
  3. I would like to make a suggesting to the auditorium. I would be pleased if international stenographers that use other stenographic systems also calculate the specific comparison statistics and report at the next Intersteno Congress. ■

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