Individuals familiar with chorded systems will likely know about stenography before they hear about Palantype. Palantype is the European invention while stenography is an American one. They are actually very similar in some core ways, but each has their slight advantage. If you are blindly going to start learning one, you might want to look at their pros and cons.
Speed and Output
In terms of speed, stenography and Palantype let the user write at speeds of human speech once experienced. They both serve the same purpose of writing at over 200 words per minute in order to keep up with human speech. The output is the same, which can be court transcripts or live captioning or just plain old text in a web browser. A Palantypist is a friend to a stenographer and vice versa, as both are at least double the speed of what one can achieve with a QWERTY-style layout.
Stenography is much more popular than Palantype. There are still many schools teaching stenography and machines are readily available. The Palantype is hardly taught nowadays and machines are rare.
Stenography has fewer keys than the Palantype, but that means that the Palantype has fewer conflicts. One issue common to both systems is that the stenographer/palantypist needs to resolve phonetic conflicts. For example, “there”, “their”, and “they’re” all sound the same, but have different meanings. It is slightly easier to resolve these conflicts with the Palantype due to its higher number of keys and disambiguators. For this reason, the learning curve on the Palantype is less.
The stenotype has fewer keys and less travel while writing, giving it a clear advantage over the Palantype for ergonomics. Furthermore, steno machines often have a very light touch, especially in the lever-action keys that you find in professional machines. Many Palantypes have regular Cherry switches which are heavy to press in a chorded manner. Be sure that if you are looking for a Palantype machine that you aim for one with a light touch, or even the Neutrino Group’s option which uses a steno-lever system with the Palantype layout (albeit at a prohibitive cost). The Palantype has the user moving their hands around the board more. This can be seen by looking at videos of writers in each system on YouTube.
- Palantype demos:
- Stenography demos:
However, both Palantype and stenography likely offer ergonomic improvements over QWERTY, where there is a lot of travel and many more key presses as the user needs to hit every key in a word instead of making hand shapes.
Due to stenography’s popularity, there are many standard theories to pick from when starting out, which will define most of the English language for you. Palantype, however, has no such standards and one usually starts from a very basic dictionary and builds it up. This can be an advantage depending on your personal preference. For steno, it’s a lot easier to get direction at the early stages of learning, but for Palantype you are not limited by the creator’s accent or pronunciation. It will cost, though, as you must build up your own Palantype dictionary, giving an entry for every new word you come across.
Generally, if you are getting started and can’t decide on a machine shorthand system, I recommend stenography as it’s well-supported. However, if you are adventurous, have a strong accent, are very opinionated, enjoy being unique, or want an easier learning curve, the Palantype might be for you. Luckily, with Plover you can try both systems on an NKRO keyboard and find out which feels better for you.