Steno machine

The InnoCaption team has had a number of users ask us about why our app sometimes shows seemingly odd all caps letters from time to time. To help us answer this question, Thomas, one of our long-standing captioners, has written the blog post below, explaining how our stenographers caption live conversations.

Hello, and welcome to the first InnoCaption Captioners’ Blog post. So maybe you’re new to using captions, or maybe you’re not but have always wondered about the crazy inner workings of captioning. Perhaps you’ve seen things from time to time and say “why am I seeing that?” So first a little back story, captioning first started in the late 1970s at a PBS station that felt the need to have inclusion for deaf and hard of hearing viewers. Working with stenographers, PBS created real-time captioning! That was groundbreaking work that led to the widely available captioning for television and internet streaming that we see today (as drafted into law as part of the ADA act in the 1990s). 

How Stenographers “Write”

Stenography is a tried and true method for recording the spoken word dating back to the early 1900s. It is used for court reporting and legal proceedings, and CART is an offshoot of that industry. Stenographers use a shorthand machine and write (we don’t call it typing) words varying from 180 to 225 words per minute and well beyond. Stenographers write these speeds at an extremely high rate of accuracy, and this includes proper punctuation, listening through ambient noise, and representing changes in speakers. This is done by using more than one key at a time, similar to playing a piano which enables writing several words at once. For example, “Thank you for calling” in steno would be THAUFBG, which is one stroke. The word “dog” could be TKAUG and “doctor” would be TKORBGT. Essentially, we combine multiple keys instantly to create words and chunks of words. 

Symbols And Stacks

Now that you have this basic knowledge of the nerdy ins and outs of steno, we can talk about what you will see in English as you read captions. CART captioners use symbols (») to identify new speakers. If someone is captioning an event and has information about the speakers, this will be followed an identification of the speak such as:

» Professor Jones: Hi, good morning, everyone. 

So, if you see the chevrons on an InnoCaption call, it means your steno is identifying a new speaker. You may also be wondering why you see the long dash symbol (—) in your captions. There could be a few different reasons. Captioners write as verbatim as possible, and writing the spoken word does not include cleaning up speakers. If someone stutters, pauses, is talking and changes their train of thought mid-sentence, you will see the dash to represent those actions. It will also be used in the case of a speaker interrupting another. Concurrently, you may also see a dash if a captioner makes an error and self-corrects such as: it’s a bait — it’s a date. This is a captioner self-correcting an error that already went to your app. 

Captioners may also use the long dash symbol to stitch words. If you see a stitched word, that means a speaker is spelling something out, such as S—m—i—t—h. You may see stitched words in all caps, or mixed case, depending on the software the captioner is using. Either way, a stitched word means the speaker is spelling something out. 

Sometimes you may see something that doesn’t look quite like English, and it will be in all caps. [STKPWHRAO—BG] for example. This is usually called a stack, which is when two words are bunched together and the computer software doesn’t know which English word to choose. Stenographers strive for you to never see these, but if you do, rest assured that the words that follow are the instant correction of those caps such as: 

[STKPWHRO—RBG].
» Okay. 

Conclusion

I hope the peek behind the curtain was helpful. If you have questions about other things related to captioning, please feel free to reach out to the InnoCaption support team and we’ll attempt to address those in future blog posts.