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Conflict Resolution in Stenographic Transcription

The purpose of this question is for stenography. Stenographers often have “conflicts” in their writing, or in their typing using machine shorthand. This means that a stenographer might write two random words exactly the same way. Just as an example, I will use the words frog and hide.

When reading back/transcribing, these two words should be impossible to mistake because the context should make it obvious which word was actually said.

In this example, I know that these are generally unmistakable because of the words' respective parts of speech: frog happens to always be a noun, and hide happens to always be a verb.¹

But the situation described above is an ideal one, and I’m not sure how one could go about evaluating something like sport and support, both potential nouns.

Some words obviously can be a poor choice as a conflict; for example, legal and illegal. It can get even more complicated, however, because in stenography we also have “phrases”, which are two or more words written in one stroke. And these “phrases” can also be “conflicts”, meaning they look the same.

Right now I stroke American and work in the same way. Is there a somewhat simple procedure I can follow to decide whether these two sets of word or words are acceptable as a “conflict”?

The more I understand this process the better, because what I’m really trying to do is not only decide whether I myself can correctly decipher between the two possibilities, but also create a system using rules and parts of speech so that my computer can translate these “conflicts” correctly in real time.


  1. Chappo and Edwin pointed out that hide and frog can both be nouns and verbs. I guess I couldn’t have gotten away with that one :)
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    Not to be overly pedantic, but "hide" is also a noun. It can mean the tough skin of an animal, and also a place to hide within, especially to observe animals. If the hide were at the edge of a swamp, a frog could be next to the hide…. – Chappo Apr 9 '16 at 8:55
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    @Chappo Being overly pedantic, there is also a verb frog . – Edwin Ashworth Apr 9 '16 at 9:09
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    @EdwinAshworth It does however raise the very real linguistic question of what degree and sorts of ambiguity a language, written or spoken, can tolerate, and what sorts of rules of disambiguation can be discerned or devised. – StoneyB Apr 9 '16 at 10:10
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    I'm going to (work in/American) Samoa. – Neil W Apr 9 '16 at 11:55
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    There are sentences where it's impossible to tell, from context, which of two differently-spelled homophones was used. – Hot Licks Apr 9 '16 at 12:46
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Most court reporters and other machine stenographers (those who take depositions or dictation, for instance) develop their own systems for deciphering potential conflicts, including quickly spelling out or marking off problem words or phrases. It's been too long since I learned machine shorthand to offer specifics, but I regularly took my machine to movies (including films of Shakespeare's plays) and rarely could not figure out the word or phrase from context. (This was before DVDs and even VHS, of course.)

That said, with the advent of computerized transcription, again it would seem that even marking would help you spot and resolve potential conflicts. Is it possible to "train" your transcription program to read a nonsense stroke or extra space as a "mark," for instance, or are you stuck with rigid, proprietary software? How often are conflicts a problem for you? If you are already a court reporter, you are highly gifted and literate, not only in the vocabularies of law and medicine but generally as well. Do you have the speed to spell out specific words and/or create new strokes to differentiate between problem words and phrases? In the old days we developed our own strokes, unique to each stenographer, to help with such things, but I realize you are living in a different world today. One or two additional strokes would easily distinguish between American and work, for instance. I never could get my speed high enough to use machine stenography professionally. It is similar to playing the piano -- either your fingers can move quickly enough or not. Mine could not.

Best of luck in solving this dilemma, and congratulations for keeping the tradition alive. Remember that while you are always aiming for 100% accuracy, it is actually rare that a full transcript achieves that, especially in lengthy court cases. Becoming a court reporter is a lucrative and rewarding profession.

P.S. Probably my best advice in terms of an "answer" is to grab the phone book and call some other working court reporters and ask if you can have fifteen minutes of their time to interview them. If you show up on time and are well prepared with written questions, most will be surprisingly generous with their tips and techniques.

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    Thanks Mark. The software I use has improved the profession considerably. I can "mark" problem strokes, but my goal is to write with as least strokes as possible. The thing is that, my software will auto-resolve these for me based on the POS of the words directly before and after the conflict, but only if they match properly. At this point, I think that my best bet is to come up with a list of all possible combinations of POS, and using Excel programming I should be able to find potential "wholes" in any given conflict. Hard to explain, but if it works maybe I'll post. – bmende Apr 11 '16 at 3:02
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    Also, your comment about transcripts rarely achieving perfection is most helpful. As court reporters, I think we just have to accept that we will be wrong "some" of the time, otherwise it's just impossible. – bmende Apr 11 '16 at 3:14

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