Not quite a Theory, but a Start

Dear all,

The “submit your own theory” option of this blog has found resonance for a second time, this time with Tomi Malinen, shifting the centre of Voynichology slightly towards Finland.

Tomi writes:

Could it be possible that the VMS text lines were written bottom to top? For example if you look at the page 53r there seem to be occurences that the upper line yeld the characters on the line below. Best example of this on the page 53r is on the third line from the bottom and the fourth word. The gallow character is tilted up as if it’s yelds the gallow character below. If you think about writing the text from top to bottom on a blank page there should be no reason to yeld characters that haven’t been written yet. Also the text lines seem to bend more on the topmost lines compared to the bottom lines.

The page bottom in question can be found here, and this seems to be the culprit in question. Thanx for submitting your thoughts, Tomi.

In general, the assumption is that the VM was written in conventional western manner (top to bottom, left to right). Look at the last lines of the various pages (f53r among them); they are shorter than the rest, and they have a ragged right margin, while the left margin is flush. This is difficult to explain, unless you assume the text was written top to bottom.

On the other hand, your find does look like the gallows character was pushed upwards to make room for the gallow below. As a note of caution, the gallows always appear to stand a bit above the baseline, but this one is really strong… interesting find…

Anybody else with comments on it?


Numero Uno

(This is more of a working note than an actual find. It’s all very much in flux…)

In Currier “B”, the most frequent single-letter words are (along with their number of occurences):

y    63
s    50
r    40
l    34
o    30
d    7
m    4...

Thus, there appear to be five frequent one-letter words, namely “y”, “s”, “r”, “l” and “o”; after that, the frequency drops sharply, and it’s probably more sensible to consider the counts from “d” on mostly transcription errors, since the word boundaries aren’t always well defined.

Since under the dogma of the Stroke theory each ciphertext word represents one or more plaintext letters, we may safely assume that a ciphertext word boundary is equivalent ot a plaintext letter boundary. Which means that single-letter ciphertext words must correspond to plaintext letters which consist of a single stroke.

Which letters can readily be drawn in a single stroke? — These are “c”, “i”, “l”, “o”, “C”, “I”, and “O”, in alphabetical order, with the possible addiition of “s”/”S”, and “u”/”U”. Here are their respective frequencies, in promille:

i/I    114
o/O     54
c/C     40
l       32

Note that “l” is a special case, since here only the lower-case letter can be written with a single stroke, while the uppercase “L” requires two strokes to be reasonably drawn. “I” could also be split in three strokes, if you draw top and bottom horizontal bars, so we remain with six candidates. Under duress, we could drop “O” and/or “C”, saying they require two strokes (“O” could be drawn as “()”, “C” could be rendered as “c'” to distinguish it from the lower-case “c”.

As usual, the statistics don’t quite pan out. “i” should be twice as frequent as “o”, but “y” is only slightly more prominent than the runner up “s”. OTOH the plaintext ratio of “i”/”l” should be 3.5:1, which isn’t that far out from the “y”/”o” ratio of 2.something:1.

There remains a tangled skein…