The Longman Dictio nary of Contemporary English defines stenograph “as a system of writing quickly by using signs or shorter forms for letters, words and phrases”.
An average employer perhaps feels as much dignified when he summons his stenographer as the later feels when he introduces himself as one. The profession seems to lift a man from his commonplace vocation into something not so common.
Shorthand writing in some form or other was in demand and use long before it was organised into a scientific system.
Some individuals always practiced some kind of improvised shorthand. For instance, it was said that a literary “pirate” printed Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” from “shorthand notes” of some sort.
Commenting on the early use of shorthand, a shorthand teacher at the National Institute of Professional Academy (NIPA) in Port Harcourt, Mr. Smart Chuku said.
“Long before now the Romans used a method of recording the speeches delivered in their senate. They placed a number of their fastest writers in different parts of the hall, and put their notes together, and so built up a more or less record of speeches”.
But shorthand, as it is understood today is a system of rapid writing by means of abbreviated signs. This was a much later innovation by Isaac Pitman, who is unarguably the founder of modern shorthand. In 1837, he wrote a book “Stenographic Sound Hand”, which was considered a distinct landmark. Since then shorthand had been used for reporting speeches in parliament and proceedings in law courts until recently.
Before and immediately after independence, stenography developed rapidly in Nigeria and became both a subject that was learnt at school and a profession that enjoyed passionate practice in establishments. But surprisingly, interest in the subject has waned.
Mrs Gladys Olabisi, a secretary and stenographer, attributed the development to the lack of interest in the profession by students.
“Younger generation has no interest. It sees it as a profession for dropouts. Shorthand requires patience and most students lack this virtue to study it. Today, shorthand has been replaced with French and computer in our institutions of higher learning”, said Olabisi.
Similarly, Mr. Andrew Omoniwari, a secretary, stated that it was no longer economically viable. Few establishments needed it, he said. For him, many people thought with the advent of computer, shorthand was no longer necessary. However, he admitted that some establishments still used stenographers.
In spite of the declining interest in the profession, some still think stenography remains indispensable. Time is of the essence. This is because there is more work to be done than time to do it. Hence the endeavour is to put in maximum quantity of work within the briefest compass of time. With the aid of shorthand, more work will be done within the shortest possible time.
This is also the view of Mrs Kehinde Iwundu, a teacher at a private commercial school in Port Harcourt.
“Shorthand is relevant particularly to administrative work. The administrator has to write letters, reports and instructions the moment he enters his office. He would never be able to do it successfully if he does not have a capable hand of stenographers to take down his dictations and type them, “Iwundu declared.
When asked how many students offered the subject in her school, she said they were many.
“Many students are interested in the subject and have registered it in the Senior Secondary Certificate examination,” she concluded.
Some persons think stenography is useful in that it aids good governance in a modern democratic government run by legislatures, councils and committees. They argue that if a capable stenographer does not keep adequate record of their proceedings, the work might be in hopeless confusion.
The media industry is also seen as another area stenography could be useful. This is because inaccurate report by the media is attributed to inaccurate recordings of official statements and reports. A journalist, Godwin West, identified this as a factor which impeded the practice of journalism in the country.
“To avoid inaccurate reports in our media, media outfits ought to have a staff of stenographers to make notes of statements, proceedings in our legislative houses and law courts. With this arrangement in place, the demand for stenographers will not grow less”, West stated.
In order to attain proficiency in stenography, one must seek to have a sound educational background. This includes expertise in English language and knowledge of other subjects particularly in the arts. One must also keep abreast of world affairs.
An official of the Nigerian Union of Secretarial and Stenographic Workers in an interview with The Tide, agreed that stenography was a profession with challenges and required strong educational background. He, however, debunked the notion that shorthand was dying.
“Shorthand is not dying in any way. There are stenographers in the ministries and companies who discharge their professional duties. Although it is correct that computer has taken over the work of the stenographer, he remains useful to the society. This profession is very important. Let government pay its stenographers well and inspire interest in the profession”, the union official added.
However, a third year secretarial administration student of the Rivers State University of Science and Technology (RSUST), Port Harcourt, Alapuba Amachree, confirmed to The Tide that shorthand had ceased to exist in the department. She said stenography used to be a core and compulsory subject for all secretarial studies students. But it had been scrapped at the moment.
“We did not meet shorthand. At the time we were admitted, the subject had been scrapped. I don’t know why. Any way, I like it because those who did it and had left, said it was hard, I mean it was a hard subject,” Amachree explained.
In these days of international conferences and contracts, can the shorthand writer dictate his terms? This will depend on the status of the profession in the near future.