A stenograph or stenotype machine is a specially designed machine which is used for taking shorthand. Many court reporters use stenograph machines to quickly and accurately record testimony, and the devices are also used by students to take notes, and closed captioners who want to be able to quickly write captions for live broadcasts. A high quality stenograph machine is capable of networking with a computer and a microphone array, and such machines can be extremely expensive.
Stenography is a special type of shorthand which operates phonetically. This means that a stenographic transcript is actually unique to the person who generated it, as each person hears and interprets sounds slightly differently. Typically, a stenograph machine is used to transcribe information such as testimony, and then the stenotype clerk reads over the transcript and generates a full version which can be read by anyone.
Early stenotype machines date back to at least mid 1830s, when inventors realized the potential value and applications of a phonetic transcription service. In 1938, the Stenograph Company was founded in Illinois to create a wide range of stenotype products. Technically, the correct generic term for such a machine is “stenotype,” meaning that it allows the user to type in stenographic shorthand, but due to trademark dilution, “stenograph machine” is considered widely acceptable, much to the irritation of the Stenograph Company.
At first glance, a stenograph machine looks nothing like a regular keyboard. There are only 25 keys which are used to key out coded words, numbers, phrases, and sounds. Many stenographers develop complex dictionaries for their work, using coded letter combinations to stand for commonly used phrases, for example. The extremely abbreviated shorthand technique allows the typist to reach speeds of up to 300 words per minute, which can be extremely useful during heated court testimony, which can exceed 230 words per minute.
Often, multiple keys are pressed at once, a stenographic technique called "chording." To the uninitiated, the resulting stenographic transcript can look like complete garble, with random strings of letters spaced at seemingly arbitrary intervals along the page.
Traditional stenotype machines output the typed material onto a paper transcript. Modern machines usually come with internal memory storage, allowing the user to transfer the transcript into a computer program which will interpret the shorthand and generate a transcript. For things like closed captioning on live television, the stenograph machine is attached directly to a computer so that it generates a transcript as the typist works.