New words in Voynichese

The Voynich manuscript seems to me rather interesting. Supposedly dating from the 15th century, the manuscript seems to contain an herbal catalogue, some astrological charts, and other, more esoteric imagery. It also happens to be written in an unknown script.

It has been some years since I thought about the Voynich manuscript and its more refined spiritual cousin, the Codex Seraphinianus. Today I learned of some initial work on deciphering parts of the VM by Stephen Bax. He exploits the herbal parts to obtain what may be ten words and fourteen graphemes in Voynichese.

Naturally I decided to look for more words which we can now perhaps speak in Voynichese. I began with my favorite page, f57v. It depicts what some think is either a star chart or an astrolabe. There are four concentric rings of text, of which the second and fourth outermost rings are apparently sequences of letters repeated four times.

To start I transcribed the outermost ring, which in EVA reads:

v sa l y soeos v s ar okees o d soefchees l g sos okey defo f o rkedam sh ofol sar ddal yhy s y daiir otey dshdy dkalrs ohy peeeey a r ofaiin dal karody v r okeey daram qokar okal okal d o l shekal dydas o k sher saiin

Of these only nine words are “readable”, assuming Bax’s syllabary is accurate:

  1. soeos, /saoas/
  2. okey, /akon/
  3. rkedam, /rkotur/
  4. dshdy, /txtn/
  5. karody, /kuratn/
  6. daram, /turur/
  7. dydas, /tntus/
  8. sher, /xor/
  9. saiin, /suur/

Of course I don’t know what to do with any of this.

Bax’s work gives credence to the assumption that Voynichese is an abjad or a partial abjad, which complicates things further. It’s been noted by other more experienced Voynich hunters that assuming this increases the number of degrees of freedom greatly, which in turn increases the probability of false positives. On the other hand, if the language is an abjad, then it is an abjad, and there’s not much one can do about that.

(I was moderately annoyed to find some internet denizen complain that Bax has “obviously” misindentified f16r as juniper (/arar/, presumed loanword from either Hebrew or Arabic) when it must be marijuana because seven blades per leaf. Alas. Suffice it to say I find the circumstantial evidence on the side of juniper far more convincing.)

If more free time presents itself, I may look for more words decoded by Bax’s syllabary. Perhaps I’ll even get lucky and find a phrase. If anyone could settle on a pronunciation of Voynich ‘l’, it would increase the corpus greatly. A wild guess would be /u/, but this is based on less than nothing.


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