The field of professional reporting and transcription is diverse and multi-faceted. The techniques used range from classic pen shorthand to different types of machine stenography and automatic speech recognition. Furthermore, these methods are used in a variety of ways from parliamentary and court reporting to forensic transcription, captioning, speech-to-text interpreting, transcription for academic purposes and many more. All these reporting and transcription styles, environments and professions have their own principles to follow and subtleties to master.
Despite these differences, there is also something that ties us all together: the challenge of transcending semiotic modes and representing meanings in a different channel of communication. For most of our professions, that’s the task of presenting speech in writing. This might sound simple to a person who is not experienced in it but, as we all know, representing speech in writing is far from a simple task and full of difficult choices. These include the challenge of presenting the nature of the interaction and the style of the speaker both reliably and readably.
Speech and writing are different mediums of interaction. Speech is an auditive process, captured by the ear, whereas writing is a visual object, perceived by the eye. The non-verbal resources of people speaking and interacting face to face, such as intonation, emphasis, pauses, gestures, postures and facial expressions, have no straight equivalents in written communication. Also, unlike the majority of written texts, the production of spontaneous speech is fast and inseparable from the final product. This leads to, for example, real-time planning, observable repair expressions and a variety of unique grammatical constructions that are usually absent from written texts. Professional reporters and transcribers work as intra-linguistic, intermodal mediators who balance these and many other differences when representing speech in written form.
Despite their great impact, not all choices in reporting and transcription can be explained by the differences between speech and writing. For example, although editing informal speech into standard language has been traditionally seen as a property of writing, instant messaging and social media demonstrate to us daily that writing can deviate from the conventional norms in many ways and still be understandable to the reader. How we balance the linguistic standard and the different dialects, registers and styles of the speakers is affected by many things. These include the genre of reporting (e.g. court reporting vs. research transcript) with its socio-rhetorical aims and conventions; the expected needs and expectations of target audiences; the values, goals, guidelines, training and culture of the professional community; and the personal preferences and ideals of the reporter or transcriber. In the end, a network of various factors defines what we consider appropriate, high-quality work in our respective professions.
The quality of reporting and transcription is strongly present in this issue of Tiro as we enter our second year of publication. In his article, Henk-Jan Eras discusses how the quality of professional reporting and live captioning in the Dutch Parliament has been ensured by methods like peer feedback and customer panels. In his regular column, Carlo Eugeni takes on a more general approach by analysing the shifting notions of quality through the concept of skopos, i.e. reason or purpose, from the field of translation studies. Helen Fraser deals with the problems of quality in Australian police transcripts and discusses the reasons behind them. Tony Minichiello and Jonathan Hoare, on the other hand,provide an overview of how the norms and traditions of producing high-quality reports are passed on to new professionals in the British House of Commons.
The different methods and techniques of reporting and transcription are also well presented in this issue. Boris Neubauer introduces us to an online shorthand library that brings access to thousands of books and magazine issues about the principles and practices of shorthand across the world. Tatsuya Kawahara, in turn, sheds light on some of the current and future possibilities in the field by introducing a new Japanese captioning software that uses automatic speech recognition.
Finally, as the global pandemic continues, so does our series of articles about how different reporting and transcription professions and communities have dealt with such a difficult situation. Leah Willersdorf makes observations about working remotely from the perspective of a freelance stenographer and court reporter. Maarit Peltola and Pauliina Peltokorpi tell us about the changes that have taken place in parliamentary reporting in Finland during the coronavirus pandemic. John Vice, on the other hand, writes about how the parliamentary reporters of the House of Lords have coped with the challenging circumstances in the United Kingdom.
The similarities and differences in our professions and our professional communities show us how much we can learn from each other. Since many of us don’t have a lot of colleagues in our own countries, opening up to international communication is the best way to share views and exchange best practice. As our second year progresses, we are again happy to welcome manuscripts from all fields of reporting and transcription around the world!
Eero Voutilainen is Tiro’s editor-in-chief.