Phoenix Theory: What Makes Phoenix Theory Unique - 1
Q. What Makes Phoenix Theory Unique?
A. It's more phonetic than other theories.
Just How Phonetically Do You Write?
Historically, machine shorthand theories have required that shorthand strokes be conformed to vowel spelling. For example, verse = VERS, worse = WORS, curse = KURS, first = FIRST. The vowel sounds are identical; but shorthand strokes follow the vowel spelling. Since nearly everyone knows how to spell those words, why is that a problem? Isn’t spelling important?
Any work product should reflect perfect spelling, of course. But there’s a big difference between preparing a perfectly spelled transcript with the aid of an English-language dictionary or a spell checker and making sure your shorthand strokes reflect correct vowel spelling while writing machine shorthand at high speeds. And there can be a huge difference between being a "good" speller—or even an "exceptional" speller—and being a "realtime" speller.
Click to take the "Are You A Realtime Speller" challenge!
Consider the following when deciding whether it makes sense for realtime shorthand theories to be spelling dependent:
Published reports predict the English language will reach 1 million words by the end of 2006—of which the average adult has a recognition vocabulary of approximately 30-35,000 words and a use vocabulary of only approximately 10,000 words. The fact that you recognize a word from having heard it before doesn’t necessarily mean you know how to spell it, and the fact that you’ve never seen a word before probably means you can’t spell it—but it shouldn’t mean you can’t write it in shorthand.
A theory which requires knowledge of correct spelling before words can be written for realtime translation no longer meets the needs of real people, of the business community, or of the court reporting profession.
Question: Why doesn’t everyone just create their own translation dictionary? Then they could use shorthand outlines that match however they think words might be spelled.
Answer: If someone can’t remember the spelling of the word, it’s just as unlikely they’ll remember the spelling they decided to use in their dictionary entry. Also, creating a translation dictionary which is adequate for realtime writing is a very time-consuming, labor intensive project. Several thousand hours were spent creating the Phoenix translation dictionary and verifying that it is free of conflicts.
Question: If spelling dependence is such a big problem, why is Phoenix the only theory which has done something about it?
Answer: Before CAT (computer-aided translation of shorthand), it wasn’t that important. If we didn’t know the spelling, we just wrote the sound. It didn’t matter how we wrote a word as long as we could read it.
But for realtime electronic shorthand, if steno strokes don’t exactly match preprogrammed entries in a translation dictionary, they won’t translate. Technology has changed and the needs of the profession have changed.
Question: So how can we write realtime electronic shorthand without having to know how words are spelled?
Answer: English has a vowel sound called the schwa vowel—sometimes aptly called the unvoiced vowel because it has no distinct sound. It sounds like an unstressed uh or, less frequently, a soft, unstressed ih or eh. It’s the unstressed vowel sound heard in license, valance, grievous, parrot, rivet, palace, service, defendant, dependent, etc.
In kindergarten, we learned the vowels A, E, I, O, U—but nobody said anything about a schwa vowel. So it would be easy to assume it’s an uncommon sound, not found in many words, and couldn’t be that important to writing shorthand.
To the contrary! Per Funk & Wagnall, the schwa vowel sound "occurs in most of the unstressed syllables in English speech." The schwa vowel sound is actually the most frequently used vowel in English speech. The majority of words of more than one syllable are pronounced with one or more schwa vowels.
One of the main reasons English is so difficult to spell correctly with any degree of certainty, the culprit in the majority of spelling errors, is this schwa vowel sound – because it can be spelled 43 different ways! Consider the various spellings of just one ending sound – uhs. Premise, palace, crevice, campus, jealous, Dallas, lettuce, painless, etc. Yes, these particular words are common words everyone knows how to spell, but in conventional theories you not only have to know and stroke the correct vowel spelling, you have to avoid the conflicts palace/pal ace, campus/camp us, lettuce/let us, painless/pain less. The Phoenix Theory steno eliminates spelling dependency and potential conflicts: PREM/-S, PAL/-S, KREV/-S, KAMP/-S, JEL/-S, LET/-S, PAIN/L-SZ.
In the Phoenix Theory we write the schwa vowel sound by sound or we omit it based on one very simple, easily applied Vowel Omission Principle – totally eliminating this spelling dilemma.
Question: Writing vowels by sound makes sense so we can write words we don’t know how to spell. But why omit vowels?
Realistically, we must be able to write machine shorthand by sound, without a need to know how words are spelled in order to receive realtime translation. If we write by sound, we must have a key/key combination for the schwa vowel sound. But there’s no unused key or key combination on the keyboard!
After analyzing the problem, it was determined that the simplest and most effective solution is to omit most schwa vowels. (Phoenix Vowel-Omission Principle, patented.)
Question: Doesn’t omitting vowels make shorthand difficult to read?
Answer: As a matter of fact, it makes it easier to read. If a stroke doesn’t include a vowel, it’s verbalized with an uh sound: DAM/-J DAM uhj; VES/-L VES uhl, PAR/L-R PAR/luhr. You’re less likely to mispronounce a word if you’re not influenced by seeing a vowel which doesn’t represent the correct pronunciation.
Click to see examples of the Vowel-Omission Principle in action.
Question: Doesn’t omitting vowels create an awful lot of conflicts?
Answer: To the contrary! A major advantage of omitting vowels is that it automatically eliminates the vast majority of conflicts in word boundaries.
Homonyms are a nuisance. But they’re easy to recognize and they’re a nuisance we’ve learned to cope with.
The biggest area of conflict in machine shorthand, the one which has frustrated court reporters for the past 20-plus years and forced conventional theories to add dozens of rules which shorthand writers have to memorize and apply while writing, is the conflict in word boundaries. English uses the identical spelling for words, word beginnings, and word endings. For example: or, ordeal, candor; enclose, golden; in, insert, robin, etc. Frequently we even have one word spelled exactly the same as two words: carpet/car pet; bargain/bar gain, madam/mad am, tillage/till age, etc.
Notice we said the spelling was identical. Other than homonyms, there are very few instances where pronunciation of a word or words causes conflicts. If we write shorthand by sound, and eliminate the schwa vowel sounds, we eliminate the majority of conflicts in word boundaries. It’s almost ironic that stubbornly clinging to an insistence on conforming steno strokes to vowel spelling is primarily responsible for creating the conflicts which we’ve been trying so hard—and sometimes so unsuccessfully—for 20 years to eliminate.
Click here to see Examples of Dropping the Schwa Vowel to Write Phonetically While Eliminating Word Boundary Conflicts
Click to see examples of Rules from Conventional Theories that are simply not needed in Phoenix Theory due to the Vowel-Omission Principle.