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A Brief History of Court Reporting & Shorthand

Court reporting has been around for centuries and has been a vital part of the legal system. In a way, court reporters can trace their history back to the ancient scribes in 3500 BC. These ancient scribes performed similar functions to that of a modern court reporter. In fact, these scribes were tasked with recording speech and did this through shorthand.

Shorthand is an abbreviated symbolic writing technique. By using shorthand, a person can rapidly write out what is verbally being said. Shorthand notes are meant to be temporary and are later transferred into longhand (ordinary writing). Ancient Greek, Roman, and Egyptian scribes used shorthand to capture the speeches of politicians, debaters, philosophers, legal figures, and other public figures. The shorthand techniques used by the ancient scribes mainly involved abbreviated spelling. The abbreviated spelling techniques used marks to signify a common groupings of letters.

In the 1800s, an English teacher named Sir Isaac Pitman developed a strictly phonetic shorthand. This type of shorthand involved transcribing spoken sound instead of abbreviated spellings. His system of shorthand is called Pitman shorthand, and it became widely used throughout Europe. Although the Pitman shorthand system made it to the United States, another phonetic system developed by John Robert Gregg took over.

Then, with the introduction of the stenotype machine in the 1800s, modern shorthand developed. The world’s first shorthand machine was created by a German inventor called Karl Drais in 1830. In the late 1800s, Miles Bartholomew patented the first American shorthand machine. This invention practically made transcribing shorthand by pen obsolete. Court reporters could transcribe in shorthand with this new invention by pressing multiple keys at once. Different combinations of keystrokes represented different sounds and syllables.

Later, towards the end of the 20th century, modern stenotype machines were developed. These contain microprocessors and could automatically translate shorthand into English using user-created dictionaries. Although technology and the shorthand system have evolved and advanced over time, court reporters are still held to high standards with their accuracy and speed.

If you are looking to hire a court reporter in San Francisco, contact us today! We have over 50 years of experience. Outside of California? We’re not just a local company. We provide services throughout the United States.