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posted by LaminatorX on Thursday February 20 2014, @01:25AM   Printer-friendly
from the somebody-call-in-Enoch-Root dept.

Thexalon writes:

"University of Bedfordshire professor and applied linguist Stephen Bax has decoded 10 words of the baffling Voynich Manuscript. He focused on proper names that would match the accompanying drawings, which allowed him to find similar drawings in other books of the period."

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  • (Score: 3, Informative) by johaquila on Thursday February 20 2014, @06:11PM

    by johaquila (867) on Thursday February 20 2014, @06:11PM (#3609)

    Stephen Bax's paper is available here: oynich-a-provisional-partial-decoding-BAX.pdf []

    I find the paper convincing. It does appear that the Voynich manuscript is a real book about medicine in the widest sense: botany (for medical plants), anatomy, and astronomy (for astrology). It does appear to be in an as yet unidentified though possibly well known language.

    There are European influences (castles, people who look European), influences from further east (plants that have been identified as Asian), and an import influence from semitic languages (Arabic, Hebrew, Phoenician etc.): The writing system seems to share features with semitic languages, which seems to be why the high-level statistic approaches are having difficulties. Vowels are sometimes included, sometimes dropped, as is usual in scripts for semitic languages.

    All of this made me think of Maltese. The Voynich manuscript has been dated to the 15th century. At the time the island of Malta was under Sicilian rule, but the (Christian) population was still speaking (and is still speaking today) the semitic language of which we don't really know whether it goes back more to the Phoenician era or more to later Arabic rule. It was shortly before the time of the Knights of Malta.

    At the time there was a pressure to replace the Maltese language by Latin and Italian. It was not a good time for writing in Maltese. According to the French Wikipedia language on the Maltese script, before 1750 essentially no written Maltese is known - neither in the Latin script nor in the Arabic script.

    To me this appears to be an ideal environment to come up with a semitic-style script with letters that look more similar to Latin and Greek, used to write in an essentially European culture about plants which include some from further east.

    While researching this I learned that Malta was closely related linguistically and politically to a part of Sicily which was under Arabic and Berber rule 831 to 1072. The Emirate of Sicily was on the island of Sicily, close to Salerno, the medieval centre of medical sciences in the time 10th-13th century.

    Now this made me think about a possible Berber influence. This is what I found:

    Bax has tentatively identified a number of Voynich letters. They correspond quite well to letters of modern Tifinagh, the Berber script, and of Phoenician, from which it is derived:

    According to Bax, the Voynich letter that looks like a small o, commonly transcribed as O, has the phonetic value of a. Tifinagh has precisely the same letter with the same sound.

    According to Bax, the Voynich letter that looks like a capital R without the stroke on the left, or like an incomplete Q, which is commonly transcribed as R, has the phonetic value of r. Turns out that one of the two Tifinagh letters with r-like sound values is a capital Q. (The other is a capital O.)

    According to Bax, the Voynich letter that looks like the number 9 has the phonetic value of n. The Phoenician n is very similar: It looks like a 7 with an extra stroke up on the left, or like a sloppy 4 written with a single stroke. You just have to close it at the top to get a 9.

    Bax has identified a certain complicated Voynich letter as a probable k. One of several Berber k letters (yak) is quite similar. In fact slightly more so than Greek kappa / Latin K.

    Bax has identified a sequence of two letters as ir. The first is a Latin i (though there is a similar Tifinagh j; note that vowels are more likely to be taken from Latin in a script based on earlier semitic scripts which lack them), the second is a variant of the letter mentioned earlier as an r written like a Q. And in fact it looks like a capital O, just like the other Tifinagh r does.

    A weird letter which Bax identifies as something like ch (either as in English or as in German) looks a lot like a script version of Tifinagh yaʕ, a letter for a very weird sound of which I don't know if it is related.

    Bax has identified the Voynich letter that looks like c as o, and cc as long o. The Tifinagh letter for o looks like --, so similar enough.

    So my guess is: The Voynich manuscript was written in Malta or Sicily in the local language, for which no script is known to have been in use at the time. The script was related to Phoenician, Tifinagh, and likely also Latin and Greek.

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