Tuesday, October 1, 2013

I guess this is Voynich month

I hate to get stuck on things, but I feel like I have to exhaust this idea that the Voynich gallows letters could be stressed vowels.  I'll call this the GAV (gallows-as-vowels) hypothesis.

I was in a hurry with my last few posts, and I'm not someone who is extremely familiar with the VM, so I overlooked something that should really be incorporated into the proposal.  First, the gallows letters have an alternate form called "platform gallows" where they appear in ligature with another grapheme represented in EVA as <ch>.  Since it is not uncommon in Latinate scripts to form ligatures of vowels (like œ, æ) and vowels are by far the most common carriers of suprasegmental markers (like á, ä, ā, â) it seems reasonable to count <ch> and the apparent variant <sh> with the vowels somehow.

So the GAV thesis is this:
The [main] underlying language of the VM is a language with a bias towards stress on the first syllable. The words of the text are abbreviated by writing primarily the consonants, and excluding most unstressed vowels. The vowels that are retained are represented by gallows letters, by <ch> and <sh>, and by the ligatures of <ch> with the gallows letters.
This system of abbreviation would introduce a certain amount of collision, where the abbreviated forms of different words would be written the same.  However, many ambiguous forms could be understood from context, and there could also be a mechanism to avoid collisions for frequent or important words.

Interestingly, if this is really how it works, it suggests that the alphabet was deliberately designed to mislead the uninitiated by making the vowels look like consonants by giving them large, imposing shapes, while some consonants were given shapes more like vowels.

So, where do we go from here?  I think we go to syllable structure.

It has long been known that Voynich words adhere to some kind of structure.  Under the GAV thesis, much of this structure will correspond directly to the structure of the stressed syllables. If we look at the multiliteral clusters that appear before the *vowel, there is a set of common permissible clusters in <q, qo, qol, o, ol, l>, together with a set of largely impermissible clusters <*oq, *oql, *lq, *ql, *lo, *loq>.

If the language were English, the permissible clusters could represent (for example) [s, st, str, t, tr, r], while the impermissible ones could represent [*ts, *tsr, *rs, *sr, *rt, *rts].  Other solutions are possible, both in English and in other languages.

So, which languages should we look at? The manuscript is supposed to have been sent to Athanasius Kirscher from Prague, so we would probably start there.  The languages of Bohemia included Bohemian (Czech), which stresses the first syllable of words; and German, which tends to stress the first syllable.  Hungary is not far away, but while Hungarian stresses the first syllable, it doesn't tend to have as many word-initial consonant clusters as would be required under the GAV theory.

Lastly, we should probably throw in English just because Johannes Marci told Kirscher that Ferdinand III's Bohemian tutor thought the book had come from Francis Bacon.

So, given that <ol> is a common word, as well as being a member of the permissible consonant cluster series above, we should probably assume it is unstressed and written without its vowel.  Among these languages, where can we find a permissible consonant cluster series like <q, qo, qol, o, ol, l> where the term <ol> in the series could plausibly be a common word?

No comments:

Post a Comment