Don't Eat With Your Mouth Full

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Shorthand for Internationalists
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What is this beautiful, flowing calligraphic script, I hear you ask? Perhaps you are murmuring in self-reply, "It looks like shorthand - but it's not like any shorthand I've ever learned." If so, have a cookie.


My cousin was having a clear-out recently, and came across some books by my grandfather, Montagu Butler, which (knowing my interests) she kindly passed to me. I must admit that this one - Raporta Stenografio - is my favourite, exhibiting as it so admirably does what I long ago dubbed the Curse of the Butlers, namely "the tendency of my (paternal) ancestors to choose some obscure, inkhorn subject, about which only half a dozen people in the world give more than a passing hoot, and then to devote their impecunious lives to it. [...] In its most aggravated form the Butler chooses two apparently unrelated (but equally obscure) subjects, and then shrinks the available audience still further by obsessing about them only in combination."

Here, then, we have a guide to shorthand, but shorthand adapted from the Pitman system so as to take into account the peculiar needs of Esperanto. Avo (as his grandchildren knew him) penned the introduction 96 years ago this month. I like to imagine that my father (a toddler at the time) would have been at his side:

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It's rather typical that he managed to squeak the name "Butler" into the illustrations:

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It will join the others on my Esperanto shelf. The only other one of Avo's publications that I feel the lack of (but watch this space) is First Lessons to Young Children, his account of bringing up my father and his siblings bilingual in Esperanto and English. Will it be drily linguistic, or will it offer some charming vignettes of life in Kingston-upon-Thames in the years during and after the Great War? We shall see...

Wow. It's a delight.

I noticed he's Montagu Christie Butler, so as I have relatives named Christie it is dimly possible that we may be thus related. Or is it not a family name?

Of course everyone is distantly related anyway, but it would be rather fun.

Montagu is very much a family name (he was always Christie to his friends) but the only other Christie I've found is George Christie (son of William Christie and Elizabeth Beath), who married my great-great aunt Frances in St. Lukes, Chelsea in 1842.

Unlikely then. Our Christies were apparently from Scotland. And now that I think about it we are actually not related to them on the Christie side anyway. (I realize I am starting to sound like Miss Climpson in the Lord Peter Wimsey books.)

:) I feel I should now say something like, "Ah that would be the Arbroathshire Christies, a mere cadet branch..."

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I hadn't thought of linguaphiles - but I fear that if I start posting family stuff there I might never stop...

There was a bit of Esperanto in the house, but my father let his slide sadly, and my grandfather died when I was young. "Avo" was the only word I ever used regularly, and I remember believing for a long time that it was his name. I did try to learn it at one time, but the fundamental pointlessness of the exercise overcame me.

Montagu (sans final 'e') is indeed a great name. There are quite a few in the family.

I know what you mean about the pointlessness of learning Esperanto, though there are quite a lot of Esperanto speakers in the world these days and they go to conferences and meetups etc.

However, Benny the Irish Polyglot recommends that beginners to language learning should do a quick couple of weeks immersion in Esperanto before starting to seriously study their language of choice. The idea is that you start with something easy to learn and focus simply on speaking, to just get used to the idea of strange new words coming out of your mouth. I haven't tried it myself because I'd already done a lot of Welsh before I came across this tip, but it is an interesting use for a language that otherwise is just an academic curiosity.

If I were linguistically gifted I would certainly be interested to try it. But that advice only seems to make sense if Esperanto can be regarded as a nursery-slope version of the language you eventually wish to learn - otherwise, it's a lot of effort for very little. I suspect it's more useful for Romance (and to a lesser extent Germanic and Slavic) language learners, since those languages contributed a lot of its vocabulary. I doubt it would have helped me in Japanese much; I'm not sure about Welsh.

Certainly in my father's day Esperanto speakers could recognize each other because there was a badge they had to indicate their familiarity with the language. That must have been quite fun, like being in a Sekrit Club.

This is marvellous! :)

It is indeed!

What an amazing book to have! I love the idea that your ancestors were geeks and nerds long before the terms were invented. :)

They called it being "a gentleman and a scholar" but yeah, same diff.

ESPERANTO SHORTHAND. That is better than I could ever have imagined. I yearn for you to get First Lessons to Young CHildren and tell us all about it. Did his children appreciate the linguistic gift he was giving them?

Some more than others, I think it's fair to say (he had five). His eldest, Myfanwy, was giving short speeches in Esperanto at Hyde Park Corner from a young age, I believe. That's got to have some kind of effect. Otherwise my only evidence is these satirical portraits...

This is lovely, and intriguing.

Pitman's shorthand in Esperanto

Esperanto and shorthand have a long joint history. Both attracted those committed to self-improvement. The first text book on shorthand in Esperanto appeared in Stockholm in 1897. A shortlived shorthand magazine in Esperanto was published in the Netherlands in 1903.

Esperanto versions of Dutch and Swiss German shorthand systems were published in the Netherlands and in Switzerland in 1904. A Swiss Protestant Pastor called Schneeberger used his system to take notes and minutes at the First World Esperanto Congress held in Boulogne, France, in 1905. Different versions of German shorthand systems and one devised in Hungary appeared in the years before the First World War. Montagu C. Butler’s “Raporta Stenografio Esperanta, alfaro de l' sistemo Pitman” was first published in 1920. You can see that the version shown here is the Kvina Eldono (=Fifth edition). Butler’s system was more widely used than one might think. I met a number of people who made full use of it in the 1960s and 1970s.

Re: Pitman's shorthand in Esperanto

Thanks very much for the background. I must admit I'm surprised it was widely used, but - well, 'Fifth Edition' speaks for itself, no matter how small the print run!

Pitman's shorthand in Esperanto

I can even name some of those known to me who used your Avo’s version of Pitman’s shorthand. There were Alexander William Thomson (Avoto)(born 1896), a journalist and scout leader, Don Lord of Manchester, Dermod J.F. Quirke of Yorkshire and Edward Ockey of Surrey, Griffith Griffiths of Liverpool who also used a version of Pitman’s adapted to Welsh, and Florence Brownlee who took notes at meetings of the British Esperanto Association, using this system. Sadly none of those named are with us now.

Wow, shorthand for Esperanto--that's very cool!

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