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Analysis of the writing (script)

Introduction

Almost the entire Voynich MS is written in a script that is not found in any other surviving document.

Most of the text has been written in a line-by-line manner, obviously from left to right and from top to bottom. Especially on the herbal pages it appears that the illustration (or at least its outline) was on the page before the written text, and the text carefully avoids these illustrations.

In some places, single 'words' are written near elements of drawings. These have come to be called 'labels'. Other, more complicated, pages contain (often circular) diagrams, and the text occasionally seems to form an integral part of these. It may be written along radii or along circumferences of the circles.

In various places, short words or even single characters in the Voynich script form what are called 'sequences'. Their meaning is not yet clear, but they deserve special attention.

In addition to the above, there are a few lines or words in the MS which are not written in the Voynich script. This so-called 'extraneous writing', even though obviously in the normal Roman alphabet, is almost all unintelligible. These occurrences will be described below, after a more detailed discussion of the Voynich MS script.

Similarities with other scripts

To be included here are general observations about:

Latin abbreviations

Capelli

alchemical symbols

15th C cipher

Characters such as found in Tranchedino.

The encrypted works of Fontana.

Transcription of the Voynich MS

Introduction

All those who studied the Voynich MS text realised the need to be able to convert the text to Roman characters. The only exception to this rule was Fr. Th. Petersen of the Catholic University of America, who made a complete hand transcription of the MS using the original alphabet. This was in the 1930's, well before the introduction of the computer, of course.

Various transcription alphabets for the Voynich MS script have been devised in the past. The First Study Group (FSG) of Friedman defined an alphabet agreed by all members of the team. Using this alphabet, they transcribed almost the entire MS in the 1940's. Because of the desire for secrecy by Friedman, nobody outside his team was aware of this transcription exercise or the alphabet they used.

Prof. Bennett of Yale University was one of the first to use the computer to analyse parts of the Voynich MS text, and he therefore needed a transcription alphabet.

Currier, working on his own, also devised a transcription alphabet. When he presented his findings at the 1976 symposium, Mary D'Imperio suggested that it would be important that all researchers use a unified alphabet, and announced that she would abandon here own in favour of Currier's.

Later, D'Imperio showed that many characters in the Voynich MS cannot be represented exactly by any of the existing alphabets. There are some 'rare' characters, and there are what appear to be ligatures of several characters. This was reflected in a new generation of transcription alphabets.

The first example of this was the 'Frogguy' alphabet by Jacques Guy, first presented in 1991. This alphabet uses characters which represents common 'strokes', and thus allows the representation of the many ligatured characters using these strokes.

The second example of this is the EVA alphabet which will be used throughout this site.

After this, Glen Claston devised a transcription alphabet which he called Voynich 101, (here V-101 for short) which again includes 'composite' characters as single elements, and which distinguish between several variants of characters that were considered one in all previous alphabets. He used this in his transcription of the entire Voynich MS.

Both for EVA and V-101 True Type fonts have been designed, allowing a rendition of the Voynich MS text in documents.

Overview of the alphabet

The following table gives an overview of the alphabets mentioned above, presenting the most frequently used characters of the Voynich MS script. The columns of the Currier and EVA alphabet have been highlighted. After that, some further information about the four most relevant alphabets is presented. The V-101 font is still missing and needs to be added.

In this table, the characters of the Voynich MS are being shown using small gifs presenting the characters according to the EVA Hand 1 font of Gabriel Landini. Elsewhere on this site, the characters may only show up if this font is available to your browser.

Bennett FSG Currier Char Frogguy EVA V-101
D4 4 4q
OO O oo
S8 8 8d
GG 9 9y
Z2 2 ss
LE E xl
QR R 2r
CTT S ctch
ETS Z c'tsh
HH P qpt
Bennett FSG Currier Char Frogguy EVA
PP B qjp
KD F lpk
FF V ljf
CHTHZ Q cqptcth
CPTPZ W cqjtcph
CKTDZ X clptckh
CFTFZ Y cljtcfh
AA A aa
CC C ce
II I ii
Bennett FSG Currier Char Frogguy EVA
ILIE G ixil
IILIIE H iixiil
IIILIIIE 1 iiixiiil
IQIR T i2ir
IIQIIR U ii2iir
IIIQIIIR 0 iii2iiir
UL D vn
NN(*) N ivin
MM(*) M iiviin
IMIIIL 3 iiiviiin
Bennett FSG Currier Char Frogguy EVA
 K J igm
 IK K iigim
 IIK L iiigiim
 IIIK 5 iiiigiiim
 (6) 6 cgg
 (7) 7 &j
YY (n) nx
VV (v) ^v

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

FSG
The FSG alphabet uses capital letters and numbers. It has an unusual method for transcribing the 'intruding gallows', by using a special symbol (Z) for the intruded pedestal.
The FSG transcription is well described in a paper by Jim Reeds (ref). A printout of this transcription was found by Jim in the Marshall library, and together with Jacques Guy he entered it in computer readable form. This file is >> available for downloading.

Currier
Currier had transcribed a significant part of the MS in his alphabet. This uses the capital letters A-Z and the numbers 0-9 (i.e. all 36). Currier's alphabet does not represent some characters which FSG does, and uses single characters for what appear to be composites. Mary D'Imperio had also started transcribing parts of the MS using her own alphabet, which she abdicated in favour of Currier's. The two files were merged and the result is the most often-used transcription of the MS, which, however, has some lacunae, which is not always realised by its users.

Frogguy
This powerful alphabet was devised by Jacques Guy. It uses lower-case characters, numbers and diacritical marks, and represents the closest similarity with the original script. As a result of its analytical nature, some characters which appear to be one, are represented by several in this alphabet. It is well explained at >> one of Jim Reeds' web pages

EVA
The EVA alphabet was designed in the framework of a more recent transcription effort. It is analytical, like Frogguy, but it uses only lower-case alphabetical characters. These have also been chosen in such a way that the transcribed text is almost pronouncible. The power of this alphabet lies in the fact that it allows the definition of 'rare' characters or character components using numerical strings, in such a way that the entire MS can be represented. This is explained in detail at a local copy of the EVA alphabet reference page.
This alphabet is used in Takeshi's transcription, the future EVMT transcription and at this web site.

Some observations about the script found in the existing literature

Using the EVA transcription alphabet as described above, it is possible to point out a number of .... (Include the various observations about the scirpt found in D'Imperio, Currier, Tiltman and the mailing list.)

Currier's Hands

While various experts have stated that the handwriting appears to be uniform throughout the MS (refs: Watson, Toresella, other?), Prescott Currier (ref) was the first to point out a variation in handwriting style. He correlated these with textual statistics, as will be described later). The following 'cuts' from various pages of the Voynich MS show the different handwriting styles usd in the different sections of the Manuscript. Currier's classification of languages into A or B has been reflected in the font used in the captions. Red and bold for A-language, blue and italic for B-language and neutral when no identification was given.

Each image represents a 32mm x 32mm section of a page. They were scanned from Friedman's copy of the Voynich MS now kept at the George C. Marshall Library and Archives in Virginia.

f2r, Herbal f26r, Herbal f70r2, Cosmological
f79v, Biological f86v5, Text-only f88v, Pharma
f116r, Recipes

At first sight, only the Herbal-B page seems different, but more samples should be compared before any conclusions can be drawn. Pending that, it would appear that Currier's correlation between hands and languages, which he based mostly on the herbal section, may not be valid for the other sections.

Special Topics

Labels

'Labels' is the term used for the appearance of single words or short phrases near drawings. The suggestion is very strong that the label gives the name of the item shown. The following types of labels may be found in the Voynich Ms:

Titles

The term 'titles' was introduced by John Grove. It is a term used for the occurrence of words appearing at the end of a paragraph of text, written somewhat away from the main text (usually at the right margin or centred). They are discussed at one of his pages (reference to be included).

Character or word sequences

In some circular designs and in the margins of some pages, sequences of single characters or short words may be found. These are usually referred to as key-like sequences.

These are:

(This needs to be checked for completeness)

Extraneous writing

Only very few barely legible phrases in the normal (non-Voynich) alphabet may be observed in the Voynich MS. These are:

Gathering marks

To be written...

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Copyright René Zandbergen, 2013
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Latest update: 16/11/2013