Gabelsberger stenography

The Gabelsberger shorthand system was invented by Franz Xaver Gabelsberger in 1817 and finally published in 1834 as the textbook Anleitung zur deutschen Redezeichenkunst oder Stenographie.

It is said to have been used by about four million people, mostly in southern Germany and Austria, before it was superceded in 1924 by the Deutsche Einheitskurzschrift which is still in use today. Kurt Gödel learned to read and write the system in his school days between 1919 and 1921, and his textbooks Lehr- und Übungsbuch der Gabelsberger Stenographie are preserved in his Nachlass. Aside from Gödel, many of his contemporaries like Edmund Husserl, Rose Rand, Paul Bernays and Erwin Schrödinger, to name just a few, used the Gabelsberger system.

The System can be divided into two levels of shortening, namely the Verkehrsschrift and the Redeschrift. While the latter (used for simultaneous transcription of speeches) includes the possibility to shorten single words and even whole sentences by leaving out syllables or entire words, Gödel himself nearly exclusively used the Verkehrsschrift for his scientific and personal notes. On this level, all the words of a sentence are spelled out while the following means are used to save time as well as space when writing down a single word:

  • Each letter of the modern Latin alphabet is represented by a corresponding simplified character, often just a single loop or stroke. Also, there are special characters for common letter combinations, like sch or ng.
  • Vowels are frequently suppressed unless they appear at the beginning or at the end of a word. If in the middle of a word, they are indicated by special treatment of the surrounding consonants, for example by rising or lowering the following or by rounding off the preceding consonant.
  • Many word endings that can be reconstructed on the basis of the underlying German grammar may be suppressed, i.e. conjugation and declension of words are reduced to a necessary minimum.
  • Many common pre- and suffixes (like durch-, unter-, -ung, -schaft, etc.) are encoded by either a single character or a short combination.
  • The so-called Sigel, abbreviations consisting of single Gabelsberger letters or special symbols, represent a complete corresponding word. Sigel are frequently used to abbreviate common words like articles and personal pronouns but also other frequent words like Mensch or Punkt.

Taken together, these rules omit many of the redundancies occurring in ordinary longhand writing. While Gödel's handwriting is generally very clear and neat, the challenge when transcribing his notes mainly lies in the reconstruction of grammatically correct sentences. The reading of Gödel's Gabelsberger is, even for an experienced reader, a combination of syntax and an understanding of the content of what Gödel is saying, with a clear dose of guesswork. Our project is in the lucky position that no less than three of its members are able to read the Gabelsberger system, a fact that simplifies the reconstruction of Gödel's scientific notes to a great extent.

Unpublished works of Kurt Gödel are Copyright Institute for Advanced Study and are used with permission. All rights reserved by Institute for Advanced Study.