21 Jun 2021

Voynich Manuscript Deciphered?

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Gerard E. Cheshire, in a new paper on Academia.edu: “Voicing the Voynich: The Pronuncial Writing System and Graeco-Iberian Language of MS408 (Ischia/Voynich),” claims to have identified the language Yale’s Voynich Manuscript is written in, and proposes a methodology for readers to employ and join in to help compete its decipherment.

This paper provides more precise guidance and instruction with regard to the palaeographic method in translating manuscript MS408 (Ischia, Voynich). Manuscripts of antiquity typically require palaeographic interpretive techniques for the purpose of translation, because they include idiomatic abbreviations, unusual calligraphy, exotic language, unique letter symbols and so on, making them a challenge to read. Therefore, it is necessary to learn and understand the associated peculiarities of the MS408 language and writing system in order to arrive at reasonable translations.

This process requires historical and linguistic research, so that initial translation possibilities can be progressively honed by a process of elimination until the semantics and syntax are workable. This scientific approach ensures that the emergent translations are sufficiently refined to be as close a match as possible to the intended meaning of the text. Due to the mutable nature of palaeographic analysis, there is often room for continued adjustment in translation, so accuracy relies on reprocessing the text time and time again, until new passes offer no further improvement. Thus, by repetition of the procedure the translation becomes more and more precise by degrees: i.e. as near to 100% accuracy as possible.

Initially the language was thought to be an anachronistic or outdated form of proto-Romance, but further research has revealed the language to be the Medieval Iberian variant of Romance known as Galician-Portuguese (G-P), with the inclusion of some Latin, Greek and occasional Arabic. The writing system is phonetic but is heavily abbreviated with enclitics, clitics and plosives, so that silent and junctural consonants and vowels have often become omitted altogether. Thus, the text was written in direct imitation of speech rather than obeying rules of
spelling, grammar and punctuation – thus, it is a pronuncial writing system. In addition, Latin stock words and phrases are abbreviated to initial letters.

As the writing system is pronuncial the consistency seen in its idiosyncratic spelling, from one page to the next, suggests that all of the text was written by the same hand, simply because two or more authors would have arrived at two or more spelling methods, unless there was some agreement, or the scribes were being dictated to. As the text does seem to differ in style, this is a possible explanation, although individuals can and do vary in their handwriting from day to day.

Whichever explanation is correct, the author, or authors, of the manuscript evidently devised a unique writing system, which may have been due to absence of formal education, due to cultural isolation, or it may have been deliberate to keep the information away from male eyes, as it would have been deemed embarrassing due to courtly etiquette, because the contents largely refer to private womanly matters relating to seduction, impregnation, gestation, contraception, abortion, childbirth, gynaecology, paediatrics, medicines, astrology, supernatural beliefs, treatments, therapies, ageing, beautification, illness and death.

Ischia was home to a Greek diaspora population with its own Basilian Orthodox monastery and nunnery in the early 15th century, when the island and its citadel, Castello Aragonese, were appropriated by Alfonso V, of the Crown of Aragon, during his campaign to conquer nearby Naples. Thus, the Iberian language of the newcomers was mixed with the Graeco language of the islanders, resulting in the manuscript language, best described as Graeco-Iberian Romance.

Despite its close geographical proximity to Italy, the island of Ischia had been culturally discrete for centuries when the manuscript was written, and therefore had little linguistic commonality with the contemporaneous Neapolitan culture. The manuscript dates quite precisely because a narrative map within the manuscript describes and illustrates the rescue of islanders from Vulcano and Lipari, with a flotilla of ships from Ischia, following a volcanic eruption that began on the February 4th, 1444, and created the Vulcanello peninsula. The map lies between
Portfolios 86 and 87. …

This paper presents reworked and updated translations of the first lines of the manuscript plant pages 1-10 (Portfolios 2a-6b), so that the reader can see how the translation process is conducted and to encourage the reader to continue translating the pages, by employing deeper knowledge of the writing system, the language and historical botanical information, to arrive at the most cogent translations, based on semantics (meaning) and syntax (structure).

An algorithmic approach is first employed, whereby possible words are listed according to the priority array queue of Galician-Portuguese, Latin, Greek, Arabic. Due to their linguistic stem and cultural assimilation, similar words are also often found in other Iberian Romance languages: Valencian, Catalan, Occitan, Asturian, Aragonese. Many variants are also found in other Romance languages: Italian, Neapolitan, Sicilian, Corsican, Sardinian, Istriot, Ladin, Venetian,
Friulian, French, Romanian, Aromanian.

Cross-reference with historical botanical and medicinal information is then employed to arrive at the most logical semantics and syntax, so that the most likely translations are preserved, and the least likely translations are eliminated. By running sentences through this process a number of times, the translations are gradually perfected.

I’m not at all certain that he’s right, but his paper is intriguing.


Older description from Yale’s Beinecke Library:

Written in Central Europe at the end of the 15th or during the 16th century, the origin, language, and date of the Voynich Manuscript –named after the Polish-American antiquarian bookseller, Wilfrid M. Voynich, who acquired it in 1912– are still being debated as vigorously as its puzzling drawings and undeciphered text. Described as a magical or scientific text, nearly every page contains botanical, figurative, and scientific drawings of a provincial but lively character, drawn in ink with vibrant washes in various shades of green, brown, yellow, blue, and red.

Based on the subject matter of the drawings, the contents of the manuscript falls into six sections: 1) botanicals containing drawings of 113 unidentified plant species; 2) astronomical and astrological drawings including astral charts with radiating circles, suns and moons, Zodiac symbols such as fish (Pisces), a bull (Taurus), and an archer (Sagittarius), nude females emerging from pipes or chimneys, and courtly figures; 3) a biological section containing a myriad of drawings of miniature female nudes, most with swelled abdomens, immersed or wading in fluids and oddly interacting with interconnecting tubes and capsules; 4) an elaborate array of nine cosmological medallions, many drawn across several folded folios and depicting possible geographical forms; 5) pharmaceutical drawings of over 100 different species of medicinal herbs and roots portrayed with jars or vessels in red, blue, or green, oand 6) continuous pages of text, possibly recipes, with star-like flowers marking each entry in the margins.

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SO… What does it tell us???

Or does it just say that they have been trying to get in touch with us to discuss our auto warranty has expired.


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