Saturday, October 7, 2017

Which Shorthand Did Aurelia Teach?

Gregg shorthand, its first manual published in 1888 by Robert Gregg, who initially called his phonetic shorthand system "Light-Line Phonography," evolved along with the business world’s requirements and vocabulary. Periodic revisions also made it leaner and easier to learn. 

Aurelia Schober (b. 1906) was probably schooled in what is now called “Pre-Anniversary” Gregg, likely that edition’s fifth and final iteration (1916). In 1929 the “Anniversary” edition superseded it. Mrs. Plath would have taught that edition at Boston University’s College of Practical Arts and Letters from the time she was hired in 1942 until the “Simplified” edition of Gregg came out in 1949. The “Simplified” edition was later superseded by the “Diamond Anniversary” edition (1963-1978), the edition I learned.

No iteration of Gregg is a truly radical departure, but each can be different enough so that, for example, a single shorthand character formerly transcribed as “love” now represents the phrase “will have.” Gregg’s efficiency is such that the stroke representing “d” can also be read as “would,” “did,” “dear,” “date,” “dollars,” or the suffixes “-ward” or “-hood”; pre-1963 it might also represent the diphthong “ch”. Context is everything. Change the angle slightly and write it as a downstroke instead of an upstroke and it's the letter "j." How to know an upstroke from a downstroke? Context is everything.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Doing the Numbers

In the Lilly Library's Sylvia Plath archive collection of correspondence known as Plath mss. II, boxes 1-6a, we can find Aurelia Plath's shorthand annotations. The first instance is on correspondence dated July 8, 1948 and the last dated July 1974.

Mrs. Plath wrote her Gregg shorthand annotations on letters and/or their envelopes -- very often on their envelopes. She was careful not to overwrite or deface any of Sylvia's letters (except the two black-marker redactions we can see in The Letters of Sylvia Plath, volume 2).

Of the Gregg shorthand instances, many relate to Aurelia Plath's editing of Letters Home in 1973-74. These, always in margins, are "typed" or "excerpted" or "omit" or "used."

Of the Gregg shorthand instances, two were so vigorously erased as to be illegible, but they are recognizable as Gregg shorthand.

Mrs. Plath made many more annotations in longhand on the correspondence than she made in shorthand.