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Text Analysis - Transliteration of the Text


The main mystery of the Voynich MS is clearly its unknown writing. This topic is addressed from three different aspects, on three (sets of) pages:

This page addresses the second part, the transliteration of the text. It summarises historical transliteration efforts and describes the present state of affairs. This page is very relevant for those who are interested in the interpretation of the Voynich MS text, but it can be skipped by those who are not.

A section at the bottom of this page explains where one may find the main transliteration files.

There is a second page addressing some more specific topics related to Voynich MS transliteration. Links are provided where relevant.

Purpose and terminology

The purpose of transliteration of the text is the conversion of the handwritten text of the Voynich MS into a computer-readable format (file). The aim of this is to allow computer software to analyse the text, for example in order to derive statistics or to aid the interpretation and ideally translation of the text.

Already in the 1976 seminar about the Voynich MS led by Mary D'Imperio (1) this process was called 'transcription' and to my best knowledge this term has been used ever since, in all discussions and publications about the MS. It has also been used throughout this web site until May 2019, when the difference between transcription and transliteration was clarified to me by a professional linguist (2). In his words:

Transcription means a transformation of a text such that it will be substituted by another text made by a well-known alphabet of phonetic symbols. This is only possible in case we already know how the text reads.
Transliteration is a symbol-by-symbol conversion of one script into another. Transliteration is used for practical purposes, but does not represent any hypothesis on the original pronunciation of the source text. The distinctive feature of transliteration is that it preserves the source text and is reversible. The phonetic data could be totally missing, or not yet available, or irrelevant.

The first time that this type of transliteration was exercised was by William Friedman after WWII, for processing by so-called 'tabulating machines'. Many years before that, in the 1930's, Fr. Th. Petersen of the Catholic University of America already made a complete hand-written copy of the MS using a complete photocopy of the MS and in some cases, in order to transliterate difficult parts, the actual MS. This document, in which he added many interesting annotations, is still preserved in the William F. Friedman collection of the Marshall Library in Lexington (Va) (3).

A transliteration should be clearly distinguished from a proposed translation of the text. The only purpose of a transliteration is to represent each handwritten character in the MS by a symbol in a computer-readable file in a consistent manner. It doesn't really matter which symbol is used for which character. Ever since the 1940's, different people have used different conventions, or transliteration alphabets.



The earliest well-known transliteration of large parts of the Voynich MS was made in the 1940's by the so-called First Study Group (FSG) of William Friedman, which was briefly described here. The group was working from photostatic copies of the pages of the MS, and they worked with a transliteration alphabet agreed by all members of the team. Because of the desire for secrecy by Friedman, for a very long time nobody outside his team was aware of this transliteration exercise or the alphabet they used.

The Friedman transliteration was never meant to be a complete transliteration of all text in the MS. They decided to concentrate on the linear text written in paragraphs, and not bother with the complicated diagrams with labels and text written in circles. This is very clear from handwritten annotatations made on the source copies saying "omit punch" or "punch just this".

The FSG transliteration alphabet uses capital letters and numbers. It has a rather unusual method (by later standards) for transliterating the 'intruding gallows', namely by using a dedicated symbol (Z) for the pedestal (ch).

The FSG transliteration effort is described in detail in Reeds (1995) (4). A printout of the transliteration was discovered by Jim Reeds in the above-mentioned Marshall library, and together with Jacques Guy he entered it in computer readable form. The resulting file is >> still available for downloading. This transliteration is not complete for the reasons mentioned above. It is one of the five main transliterations of the Voynich MS that is used at this site, and will be reffered to with the abbreviation FSG.


In 1976 Prof. William R. Bennett of Yale University published a book on the use of the computer to analyse certain properties of language and text (5). In this book, he dedicated a chapter to an analysis of the Voynich MS text, and for this purpose he needed a transliteration alphabet. Bennett's alphabet has not been used outside of this publication. The transliteration was made from photographs and stored on paper tape. As reported by Brumbaugh (6), Bennett was assisted in his Voynich MS analysis by Jonina Duker, who was then a sophomore student (7).


Roughly at the same time, the cryptanalist Prescott Currier started a major transliteration effort, using an alphabet he designed independently. This alphabet uses the capital letters A-Z and the numbers 0-9 (i.e. all 36). It does not represent some characters which the FSG alphabet does, and it uses single characters for what appear to be composite characters in the MS. When Currier presented his findings at the 1976 Voynich MS symposium, Mary D'Imperio suggested that it would be important that all researchers use a unified alphabet. She had also started transliterating parts of the MS using her own alphabet, which she abandoned in favour of Currier's, and the two files were merged. The combined transliteration of Currier and D'Imperio, and the transliteration alphabet designed by Currier, have been used well into the 1990's, also in the earliest years of the internet. This is the second main transliteration used at this site, and in the following it will be referred to by the abbreviation C-D.

Table 1 below shows the three above-mentioned alphabets together.

Char Bennett FSG Currier   Char Bennett FSG Currier
D 4 4   I I I
Z2 2   IQIR T
ETS Z   NN(*) N
HH P   M M(*) M
KD F    K J
FF V    IK K
CKTDZ X    (6) 6
CFTFZ Y    (7) 7
A A A   Y Y (n)
C C C   V V (v)

Table 1: definition of the main historic alphabets

(*) Note: Tiltman used the FSG alphabet, but instead of N and M wrote IL and IIL.

One thing that immediately appears from this table is that the various researchers did not agree on what constitutes a single character in the Voynich MS text.

Later, Jim Reeds showed that many characters in the Voynich MS cannot be represented exactly by any of the existing alphabets. There are some 'rare' characters, and in addition there are what appear to be ligatures of several characters. These characters have traditionally been called 'weirdoes', though here I will use the term 'rare characters'. Jim Reeds produced a document with an overview of these rare characters, calling them 'X1' to 'X128'. An excerpt of this little known document is shown below.

Table 2: early identification of unusual character combinations

Transliteration in the age of the WWW

With the emergence of the "World Wide Web" and the start of the Voynich mailing list, transliteration of the parts that were still missing from Currier's and D'Imperio's efforts was continued using Currier's alphabet. A number of characters using lower case were added to this alphabet. These are already included (in parentheses) in Table 1. As part of this new transliteration, which will be referred to as "Vnow", a file format for this transliteration file was adopted, about which more will be said further below.

In parellel to this, a completely new type of transliteration alphabet was designed:


The 'Frogguy' transliteration alphabet was designed by Jacques Guy in 1991. It uses lower-case characters, numbers and diacritical marks. Rather than representing complete characters, it represents the 'strokes' or minims of the script of the Voynich MS. As a result of this approach it manages to produce a reasonably close similarity between the script and the transliterated text. At the same time, some characters in the MS which may be assumed to be a single character are represented by several using this alphabet. By its nature, it is the first alphabet that allows to properly represent many of the ligatured characters that were mentioned above. Jacques Guy also introduced the so-called 'capitalisation rule' which means that a character that is connected to the following one should be represented by a capital letter. The Frogguy transliteration alphabet and its use are explained in more detail at a preserved copy of >> one of Jim Reeds' web pages. It may be of interest to show an example of this alphabet:

daiin qotedy dar ochol osaror
8aiiv     40qpc89   8a2   octox     osa2o2

An additional important contribution from Jacques Guy was a tool that allowed translation of transliteration files from one alphabet to another. This tool was called BITRANS, was written in Pascal and ran in DOS (it still would). It could handle complex translation rules, such as needed for the Currier alphabet, where, for example, the translation of the character i depends on context.

The Frogguy alphabet is the closest in appearance to the Voynich MS text, and it solves the main inconsistency of the Currier alphabet, namely that Currier synthesised strings of consecutive i characters into single characters, while this was not done for strings of consecutive e characters (8). However, it has a distinct disadvantage in that it is not very well suited for the type of numerical analysis mentioned at the top of this page, primarily because of its frequent use of the apostrophe, and to a lesser extent the mixture of letters and numbers. No signficant transliterations have been made using this alphabet.

When Gabriel Landini and myself embarked on a new transliteration of the MS, a project that we named "EVMT" at the time, we decided that a new alphabet, but one based on the principles of Frogguy, would be needed.


EVA originally stood for European Voynich Alphabet, but later became 'Extensible Voynich Alphabet'. It was designed to be similar to Frogguy, but to use only alphabetical characters. It was designed by Gabriel Landini and myself with important contributions and suggestions from Jacques Guy. Its design was part of a larger scheme which included:

'Basic Eva' is the set of lower case characters that was identified, and 'Extended Eva' includes the representation of all types of rare characters. The basic Eva alphabet was chosen such that the transliterated text is almost pronouncible. This excellent idea from Gabriel was not to be able to 'speak Voynichese', but to make it very easy for the human brain to recognise and remember transliterated words.

The rare characters can be classified into four categories:

  1. Unusual or rare single characters
  2. Ligatures of only 'Basic Eva' characters
  3. Ligatures including rare single characters
  4. Anything else

These were all identified in the course of the transliteration exercise, which was based on two documents: the Petersen handwritten copy of the MS already mentioned above (see note 3), and the Yale "copyflo" (11). As it turned out, there were three single characters that might be called unusual because they did not appear in any of the previously defined transliteration alphabets, but which occurred several times in the MS. These three characters: b, u and z were assigned their own 'Basic Eva' letter (b, u and z respectively). The table of Basic Eva is included here:

Table 3: definition of 'Basic Eva'

What appears from this table is that the characters in and iin that have typically been considered units, and transliterated as N and M in both FSG and Currier, are transliterated in Eva as "in" and "iin". It is very important to point out that Eva is not attempting to identify semantic units in the text. It simply represents in an electronic form the shapes that are seen in the MS. It is left to a later step by analysts to decide which combinations should be seen as units. There is probably no right answer to this question, and the problems how to transliterate these strings of minims is addressed in a dedicated area.

Strings of i's

While defining the alphabet, individual rare characters, or rare parts of ligatures, were assigned a 'high ASCII' code, and the way to include them into transliteration files is defined as follows: @185; for ascii code 185 (12). Table 4 shows all such rare characters.

Table 4: the 'Extended Eva' character set

This table has been re-drawn using the Eva Hand-1 font. The original table by G.Landini may be found here: IMG: Extended Eva character set   (13).

Ligatures of characters may be represented in two ways. The first is the previously mentioned capitalisation rule introduced already by Jacques Guy. As Table 3 with the definition of basic Eva shows, this method allows an accurate representation of the text using the Eva True Type font. A capitalised character always connects to the next one. In addition, there are the following special cases:

Often, the characters Sh, cTh, cKh, cPh and cFh are simply written as sh, cth, ckh, sph and cfh respectively. This is more convenient, but it has the result that their rendition in the True Type Font is sub-optimal.

The second way to indicate ligatures in transliteration files, which is more intuitive for the human reader, is to enclose the connected characters in curly brackets (14). Table 5 shows examples of this. The script representation in this table uses the capitalisation rule.

EVA Capitalised EVA Using TTF
{ao} Ao Ao
{ee} Ee Ee
{cthh}ey cTHhey cTHhey
{ith} ITh ITh
{oy} Oy Oy
sh 1 Sh  Sh
{yk} Yk Yk

Table 5: use of ligatures and the capitalisation rule

1 Example of standard though not optimal use.

Takeshi Takahashi

The Eva alphabet, primarily in its basic form, found great reception in the community, and it was used by the Japanese Takeshi Takahashi to produce a new transliteration, also based on the Yale "copyflo" (see note 11), which was the first that could be considered essentially complete. He used 'capitalised Eva' to represent all benched or pedestalled characters, e.g. 'Sh' for Sh. He has also updated his transliteration over time, based on reports from users. This is the third main transliteration at this site, and it is referred to by the abbreviation TT. It is published by Takeshi at his web site (for which see the table with links near the bottom of this page. Alternative forms derived from this are available in several places, see for example the following section.

The interlinear transliteration file

Based on an initial effort by Jim Reeds, Gabriel Landini collected the important older transliterations mentioned above into a single interlinear file, meaning that they were presented together line by line. They were all converted into Eva, since this conversion is consistent and reversible, as mentioned above.

The brazilian Jorge Stolfi took this interlinear file and put very significant effort into improving it, adding further transliterations. This included the complete transliteration of Takeshi Takahashi (status of 1999), where he converted the capitalised Eva to lower case. He also added his own transliterations and partial transliterations from several others, for example John Grove. As a result, this interlinear file has become the de facto source for transliteration data. In the following, it will be referred to as the Landini-Stolfi Interlinear file, with abbreviation LSI.

It includes in particular the above-mentioned version of the Takeshi Takahashi transliteration, as it was in 1999. This copy of the Takahashi transliteration will be referred to as IT.

Landini-Zandbergen effort

The above-mentioned EVMT project was partially completed, and led to two complete, but different transliterations. Alignment of the two versions was started, but not completed. The resulting files, which may be referred to under the heading LZ, were never published.

At a later stage, the Zandbergen part of this transliteration has been gradually improved, and is now publicly available. This is the fourth main transliteration used at this site, and it is referred to with the abbreviation ZL. I acknowledge the important influence of Gabriel Landini in creating this transliteration.


A few years later, Glen Claston embarked on a complete transliteration of the Voynich MS and devised a transliteration alphabet which he called Voynich 101 (here v101 for short). The v101 alphabet was designed to keep stroke combinations that appeared to him to be single signs as single characters. Furthermore, it distinguishes between several variants of characters that were considered to be one and the same in all previous alphabets. He transliterated the entire text of the Voynich MS using this alphabet. Following is his definition of the alphabet, and allocation to ASCII values.

Table 6: the v101 basic character set

Table 7: the v101 extended character set

These tables have been re-drawn using the v101 font. The original tables by GC may be found here: IMG: v101 keyboard assignments , IMG: v101 extended glyphset.   (15)

Also for the v101 alphabet a True Type font has been designed, and like the Eva font it allows high-quality rendition of the Voynich MS text in electronic documents (HTML, Word). Also this font can be downloaded at the site map. This is the fifth main transliteration used at the site, and in the following, it will be indicated by the abbreviation GC.



Several independent transliterations of the Voynich MS are available. Among the ones listed above there are four that are almost complete:

A more complete overview of these transliteration efforts is given below.

Problem areas

Transliteration of the Voynich MS is particularly difficult, because one cannot read the text. One has no help from context. The biggest problem is to decide whether two almost-similar-looking written shapes are two different ones, or two representations of the same one, where the variation is just caused by handwriting variations. While transliterating, one is continually forced to make such decisions, and it is unavoidable that these are subjective.

A similar problem exists in deciding about word spaces. Sometimes, characters are offset just a bit and it is hard to decide whether there is a space or not. Traditionally, word spaces have been indicated by a period (.) in transliteration files, while whitespace is irrelevant and used occasionally to improve the layout. Even the introduction of the comma to represent an uncertain space doesn't completely resolve this problem.

One way out of both these problems would be to have these decision made more objectively, i.e. by a piece of software (OCR) but it will take a bit more time before we can do this.

A second general problem is the lack of standards. As mentioned above, the transliteration files all have rather significant differences in format. There is no place where they are all collected together. Of the interlinear file there are also several versions. Takeshi Takahashi's transliteration is represented in HTML format, separated into individual web pages for each MS page. This makes it very suitable for browsing, but less for text processing.

Until the year 2017 it was impossible to present the "GC" transliteration in any of the standard formats, because many of the symbols that have a special meaning for annotation in the "LSI" (and the "LZ") file are representations of Voynich MS text characters in the "GC" transliteration. A solution to this problem had to be found.

It is almost always impossible to repeat analyses done by others since one doesn't know which data they used, and there isn't really any clear way how they could have specified it. The file format(s) used nowadays are far removed from modern representation standards. Already more than a decade ago, Rafał Prinke suggested the use of TEI (Text Encoding Initiative) but it never took off. There are a few more comments about this general topic on the final page of this site, and a more detailed description of the problem and its resolution is provided on a separate page:

Next-generation transliteration of the text

Transliteration file format


For the analysis of the various Voynich MS text transliterations, it is highly desirable that these transliterations are contained in files with a well-defined (standardised) format. Such files should be 'annotated', meaning that they include so-called metadata, which is not the text itself, but information about the text. This metadata should indicate, for example, for each particular piece of text on which folio or page it is located, and where it is on the page. This location information was called the "locus", a term that I shall continue to use. Additional relevant information about the pages or the text may be included. Analysis software should be able to either interpret this information or to ignore it.

In the earliest days of the internet, when the transliteration by Currier was being extended, a format was agreed for this new file. This format was extended in the course of the EVMT transliteration by Gabriel Landini and myself. It was further modified by Jorge Stolfi, and used in this final version in the main resource: the Stolfi-Landini interlinear file.

Unfortunately, the differences between the above three formats are quite significant, and the v101 transliteration file uses yet another, completely different representation. It is not particularly useful to describe any of these formats in more detail.

New file format

In order to be able to represent all existing transliterations in their own original transliteration alphabet, using a single file format, a number of issues had to be resolved, primarily related to the character set of the v101 alphabet, which was shown above.

The result of this exercise was the definition of a new format, which I have called IVTFF (Intermediate Voynich Transliteration File Format).

Table 8 explains the conventions used for this format.

The complete format description (version 1.7 of April 2020) may be found here.

# (hash) at start of line The entire line is a comment.
<f ... > With the < character in the first position of the line. This is a locus indicator, and appears at the start of each text segment. It explains where this text is to be found. The format of locus indicators is explained further below.
<! ... > With the < *NOT* in the first position of a line. All text between the delimeters is a comment. This may appear anywhere in a line.
. A word space (word separator).
, An uncertain word space.
[ ... ] Used for alternative or uncertain reading. [ao] means it could be an a or an o, but it is not certain. The options may be separated by a : which is optional in case there are only two, but obligatory when there are more, e.g. [r:s:d]. If possible, the most likely option should be the first one.
{ ... } A ligature of standard characters. Only used with the Eva and Frogguy alphabets
@nnn; A high-ascii code. nnn must be in the range 128 to 255
<-> A drawing intrusion in the text.
<%> at start of line. Start of a paragraph.
<$> at end of line. End of a paragraph.
/ at end of line This locus is continued on the next line in the file. That line must also have a / in the first position.
? A single illegible character.
??? An uncertain number of illegible characters.

Table 8: main elements of the IVTFF format definition

There are three types of locus indicators:

<f17r> A locus indicator without a period means the start of a new page, in this case f17r. There will be no Voynich MS text following this, but there may be a comment, with metadata referring to the entire page.
<f17r.N,@Ab> This is the start of a piece of text of locus type 'Ab'. The value of N must increase monotonously, starting at 1, for each page. @ is a placeholder for various different symbols, which is explained in the detailed format description. The locus type Ab is listed in Table 10 below.
<f17r.N,@Ab;T> Same as above, but identifiying the source of the transliteration (a person or a group) by the character T.

Table 9: the IVTFF locus definition (format)

Inventory of the transliterated text

As mentioned above, three nearly complete transliterations of the text exist. To establish the coverage of the Voynich MS text by each of them, I have compared all three with each other, and with the digital images of the MS. In this exercise, I used the "IT" version of Takeshi Takahashi's transliteration. This showed that there are some minor inconsistencies in counting the different loci, which could be resolved.

The analysis showed that the "LZ" transliteration, which benefited strongly from the work of Theodore Petersen, was most complete. It lacked only:

As mentioned above, I have created a new file which includes only my own part of the LZ transliteration effort, and updated it to include all 5389 loci. This file ("ZL") is being updated continually, and is presently at version 1r.

All loci have been classified into different types, which are identified by two characters. Following is the distribution of the loci over these types, for the entire MS (16).

Type Subtype Meaning Count
P - All running text in paragraphs 4130
- P0 Standard left-aligned text 3885
- P1 Lines indented significantly due to drawings or other text 72
- Pb Dislocated text in free-floating paragraphs 134
- Pc Centred lines in normal paragraphs 17
- Pr Right-justified lines in normal paragraphs 12
- Pt "Titles" in normal paragraph text (see here) 10
L - All labels and dislocated words or characters 1033
- L0 Individual words or characters not near a drawing element 297
- La Labels of astronomical or cosmological elements which are not stars or zodiac labels 7
- Lc Labels of containers in the pharmaceutical section 40
- Lf Labels of herb fragments in the pharmaceutical section 195
- Ln Labels of nymphs in the biological/balneological section 63
- Lp Labels of full plants in the herbal section 3
- Ls Labels of stars 76
- Lt Labels of 'tubes and tubs' in the biological/balneological section 47
- Lx Individual pieces of 'external(?)' writing 6
- Lz Labels of zodiac elements 299
C - All writing along circles 84
- Ca Anti-clockwise writing along circles 1
- Cc Clockwise writing along circles 83
R - All writing along the radii of circles 142
- Ri Inwards writing along the radii of circles 75
- Ro Outwards writing along the radii of circles 67
Total     5389

Table 10: IVTFF locus types (type of text)

Table 11 summarises the coverage of these loci in each of the five main transliteration files.

Code P L C R Total
FSG 3962 98 0 0 4060
C-D 2175 21 0 0 2196
IT 4119 883 72 142 5216
GC 4130 1011 84 142 5367
ZL 4130 1033 84 142 5389

Table 11: locus counts in the main transliteration files

To pre-process all files in IVTFF format, a tool called IVTT is available.

Voynich Transliteration Tool

Location of main transliteration resources

Following are links to the original transliteration resources that are known to me, and to the new copies in IVTFF format. They are presented roughly in chronological order.

Code Description Alphabet Original Copy in IVTFF Notes
FSG A copy of the FSG transliteration, created by Friedman's First Study Group, in the format prepared by Jim Reeds and Jacques Guy. FSG >>Link version 1c (17)
C-D The original transliteration of D'Imperio and Currier Currier >>Link beta version 0d (18)
Vnow The updated version of the C-D transliteration, made during the earliest years of the Voynich MS mailing list. Currier >>Link Temporarily unavailable ! (19)
TT The original transliteration by Takeshi Takahashi. Eva At a >>set of separate pages at his web site. Not yet available. (20)
IT The converted transliteration by Takeshi Takahashi that is included in the Landini-Stolfi interlinear file. Eva See "LSI" below. version 0d (20)
LSI The Landini-Stolfi Interlinear file Eva At a >>page at Stolfi's site with links to the file in various compressed formats. beta version (23/08/2017)
GC The v101 transliteration file. v101 Local copy. version 0c (21)
ZL The "Zandbergen" part of the LZ transliteration effort. Eva - version 1r (22)

Table 12: links to the main transliteration files

A list of older versions of some of these files, useful for regression testing, may be found here.

The >>Voynich Information Browser by Elias Schwerdtfeger allows extraction of individual transliterations from the "LSI" file, with many useful options.


See D'Imperio (1976).
I am grateful to prof. Artemij Keidan of the Sapienza University in Rome. His interesting paper refuting the incorrect proposed solution to the Voynich MS by G. Cheshire included clear statements about this terminology, which he was later able to clarify to me in great detail.
It is contained in items 1615.1 and 1615.2 of the William F. Friedman collection. For more about the Marshall Library, see here.
See Reeds (1995).
See Bennett (1976).
See Brumbaugh (1978).
I am grateful to Jonina Duker for her recollections of these events of 40 years ago.
Of course, we have no way of knowing whether either assumption is correct or not.
On the other hand, it should be clear that not all features of a transliteration made directly in Eva can be converted into the older transliteration alphabets in a reversible manner.
Such a font has been designed by Gabriel Landini, and is used extensively at this web site. See the site map.
A black-and-white printout of a microfilm made in the 1970's, see also here.
This used to be &185; but in the 2017 conversion exercise described in the following this has been changed. See also here.
Some characters have been moved when changing from v1 to v2 (details will be added).
This used to be between parentheses but in the 2017 conversion exercise described in the following this has been changed. See also here.
Characters "O", "=", "@" and high Ascii 152, 157, 159, 160 and 205 have not been assigned. Characters 172, 182, 195 and 216 have been assigned, but do not appear in the transliteration file. Character 167 was omitted in GC's original table. It is used in the transliteration file.
See also the page about the writing system.
Extracted from the LSI file and converted back to the FSG alphabet. Checked against the original and against the full ZL transliteration.
Converted from the original.
Extracted from the LSI file and converted back to the Currier alphabet. It turns out that the LSI file was incomplete, so this has to be re-done. Important, since this file was used by Reddy and Knight, and part of it by Hauer and Kondrak.
The "IT" version has been extracted from the LSI file, and represents the state of this transliteration in 1999. The more up to date "TT" version still has to be processed.
The file has been verified and minor bugs in the locus order fixed.
Version 1r of 11/04/2020 with numerous improvements. Supports file format 1.7.


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