News (Languages) Mystery of the Voynich manuscript SOLVED!

Callaina

Feles Curiosissima
This just came out today: https://phys.org/news/2019-05-bristol-academic-voynich-code-century-old.html?fbclid=IwAR2eV7inzWBAzCWxG_-23SHNOflphvAJAllPj-zdK_kvDG6bDmLe7yWaVIU

Probably the most surprising thing about the discovery is that the Voynich manuscript does not use (as was long thought) a secret language known only to its creator. Rather, it uses an extinct proto-Romance language! :eek:

From the article:

A University of Bristol academic has succeeded where countless cryptographers, linguistics scholars and computer programs have failed—by cracking the code of the 'world's most mysterious text', the Voynich manuscript.
Although the purpose and meaning of the manuscript had eluded scholars for over a century, it took Research Associate Dr. Gerard Cheshire two weeks, using a combination of lateral thinking and ingenuity, to identify the language and writing system of the famously inscrutable document.
In his peer-reviewed paper, The Language and Writing System of MS408 (Voynich) Explained, published in the journal Romance Studies, Cheshire describes how he successfully deciphered the manuscript's codex and, at the same time, revealed the only known example of proto-Romance language.
"I experienced a series of 'eureka' moments whilst deciphering the code, followed by a sense of disbelief and excitement when I realised the magnitude of the achievement, both in terms of its linguistic importance and the revelations about the origin and content of the manuscript.
"What it reveals is even more amazing than the myths and fantasies it has generated. For example, the manuscript was compiled by Dominican nuns as a source of reference for Maria of Castile, Queen of Aragon, who happens to have been great aunt to Catherine of Aragon.
"It is also no exaggeration to say this work represents one of the most important developments to date in Romance linguistics. The manuscript is written in proto-Romance—ancestral to today's Romance languages including Portuguese, Spanish, French, Italian, Romanian, Catalan and Galician. The language used was ubiquitous in the Mediterranean during the Medieval period, but it was seldom written in official or important documents because Latin was the language of royalty, church and government. As a result, proto-Romance was lost from the record, until now."
Cheshire explains in linguistic terms what makes the manuscript so unusual:
"It uses an extinct language. Its alphabet is a combination of unfamiliar and more familiar symbols. It includes no dedicated punctuation marks, although some letters have symbol variants to indicate punctuation or phonetic accents. All of the letters are in lower case and there are no double consonants. It includes diphthong, triphthongs, quadriphthongs and even quintiphthongs for the abbreviation of phonetic components. It also includes some words and abbreviations in Latin."
The next step is to use this knowledge to translate the entire manuscript and compile a lexicon, which Cheshire acknowledges will take some time and funding, as it comprises more than 200 pages.
"Now the language and writing system have been explained, the pages of the manuscript have been laid open for scholars to explore and reveal, for the first time, its true linguistic and informative content."
 

Pacifica

grammaticissima
Staff member
As I said on Facebook, the proto-Romance thing sounds surprising, even suspicious, to me. The Voynich MS was supposed to have been carbon-dated to the 15th century. Was that datation wrong? Is it actually much older? The article doesn't touch the subject.

Proto-Romance is very unlikely to have been written in the 15th century. The various Romance languages had long been formed by that time — French was already past Old French into Middle French! It is also unlikely (though I guess not impossible) that anyone in the 15th century had learned proto-Romance as an ancient language, let alone enough to write a whole book in it, given how scantly attested proto-Romance is.

Now, perhaps this MS could be a copy of a much older one.
 

Pacifica

grammaticissima
Staff member
Back in January 2018, they apparently thought the language of the Voynich manuscript was Hebrew, even though they couldn't find any actually coherent sentence in it.

A researcher was reassured when Google Translate made some sort of semi-grammatical sense of their transcription "following tweaks to the spelling":

However, following tweaks to the spelling, the scientists used Google Translate to convert it into English, which read: “She made recommendations to the priest, man of the house and me and people.”

“It’s a kind of strange sentence to start a manuscript but it definitely makes sense,” said Professor Kondrak.

Some other scholars also recently claimed to have deciphered 30% of the manuscript, which according to them is written in phonetic Old Turkish.
 

Glabrigausapes

Lammergeyer
Man, I was just talking to my mom about this a few days ago. She'll be thrilled by this article, whether or not it's bogus.
 

Callaina

Feles Curiosissima
Lol -- proto-Romance, Turkish, Hebrew, or none of the above? I guess we'll have to wait and see.
 

Callaina

Feles Curiosissima
I finally was able to open it in a different browser. It does seem like this study is...fishy.

An article from the Guardian which is likewise critical: https://www.theguardian.com/science/2019/may/16/latin-hebrew-proto-romance-new-theory-on-voynich-manuscript

Although the meaning of the volume has tantalised experts since it first came to scholarly attention in the early 20th century – it reportedly eluded both Alan Turing and the cold war-era FBI – Cheshire says he unpicked its mysteries in just two weeks “using a combination of lateral thinking and ingenuity”.
Yeah, I'd say that's a big red flag right there. :shakehead:
 

Callaina

Feles Curiosissima
I've gotta say that (as the Twitter thread points out) somebody really must have dropped the ball in the peer review process. Once the details are given, it sounds like this "theory" is complete balderdash.
 

Callaina

Feles Curiosissima
From the paper:

Figure 33shows two women dealing with five children in a bath. The words describe different temperaments: tozosr (buzzing: too noisy), orla la (on the edge: losing patience), tolora (silly/foolish), noror (cloudy: dull/sad), or aus (golden bird: well behaved), oleios (oiled: slippery). These words survive in Catalan [tozos], Portuguese [orla], Portuguese [tolos], Romanian [noros], Catalan [or aus] and Portuguese [oleio]. The words orla la describe the mood of the woman on the left and may well be the root of the French phrase ‘oh là là’, which has a very similar sentiment.
Whaaaaaa???? Now I have to wonder whether this guy is just trolling the academic community.
 

Pacifica

grammaticissima
Staff member
somebody really must have dropped the ball in the peer review process.
It was able to pass through the review of I know not how many brilliant people with dazzling titles, and a poor loser of a semi-educated woman with not even an MA smelled the fishy odor right away.
 

Issacus Divus

H₃rḗǵs h₁n̥dʰéri diwsú
The Voynich manuscript, folio 70v, detail: an illustration of a bearded monk in his washtub, from the monastery where the manuscript was created; the words read: opat a sa (it is abbot); his is one of very few male faces seen in the manuscript; the word opát survives to mean abbot in Polish, Czech and Slovak, demonstrating that proto-Romance reached as far as Eastern Europe;
........
 

Pacifica

grammaticissima
Staff member
Peer review may be dead.

Some students on my course have marveled, with reason, at how some papers that we were given to read could have passed peer review, for they were written in very poor English. In the field of translation, it's especially ironic.
 

Callaina

Feles Curiosissima
It was able to pass through the review of I know not how many brilliant people with dazzling titles, and a poor loser of a semi-educated woman with not even an MA smelled the fishy odor right away.

See, this is what I meant when I said you deserved to have your linguistic brilliance recognized. ;)
 

Pacifica

grammaticissima
Staff member
The manuscript velum has been carbon dated to 1404–38 (Reddy and Knight 2011 Reddy, S., and K. Knight 2011. “What We Know about the Voynich Manuscript.” In Proceedings of the 5th ACL-HLT Workshop on Language Technology for Cultural Heritage. Social Sciences and Humanities: 78–86. Stroudsberg, PA: Association for [Google Scholar]), indicating that the velum used for the manuscript was already a few years old when used. It may also be the case that some of the manuscript was written and illustrated before the map was created c. 1444–45. By that period the language of neighbouring Naples was already well on its way to becoming early Italian, and the writing system was early Italic. So the language and writing system of Ischia were evidently localized and anachronistic due to the sociocultural, political and religious isolation of island life.
Queen Maria and King Alfonso were raised and educated in Castile, Spain and would have been familiar with the separate languages and writing systems of their homeland, of Ischia and of Naples, which were all linguistically related, but distinctly different too. They were also well versed in Latin, as it was the written language of royalty across Europe. As monarchs of the Crown of Aragon, their kingdom extended from the Iberian peninsula and southernmost France in the west, to the Italian peninsula in the east, with many islands in between, including the Balearics, Corsica, Sardinia, the Phlegreans, the Aeolians and Sicily.
Their kingdom would therefore have encompassed numerous early Romance language variants due to the many peoples under their rule, and with varying levels of linguistic meme flow between populations. In truth, proto-Romance would always have been a spectrum of language variants across the entire Mediterranean, always in flux and evolving at different rates, depending on geographic contexts. By the 15th century, some variants had evolved dynamically whilst others had remained in relative evolutionary stasis, which is why we see the difference between the languages of Ischia and Naples. Even though they were only a few miles apart physically, their linguistic distance had become marked by the difference in their levels of contact and interaction with the outside world: Ischia had only low passing traffic whilst Naples was the hub of activity for traders, slavers, travellers, invaders and economic migrants.
What the fucking fuck? The author is really claiming that proto-Romance was spoken in the 15th century!

No, no way; this has to be a hoax. Someone making fun of academia, as Callaina hypothesized. I mean, even the most basic research into the topic — I mean, for example, a Google search of the term "proto-Romance" — would tell you that there's a huge period mismatch.
 

Issacus Divus

H₃rḗǵs h₁n̥dʰéri diwsú
If only the main idea of this article were true.
 

Callaina

Feles Curiosissima
No, no way; this has to be a hoax. Someone making fun of academia, as Callaina hypothesized.
Either that, or he's just utterly deluded by his conception of his own "brilliance"?
 
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