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Re: Request For Status: Language vs. Cipher
> [Andreas Wilhelm:] Who are the "key-players" in this discussion
> (if I may ask so bluntly)?
I seem to be the most vocal defender of "natural language" theory,
although not its originator.
> What are main arguments for the thesis that MS408 is written in
> cipher, and what are the main arguments for it being a (maybe
> artifical) language?
My arguments were posted to the list, and some can be found in my web
In short: I don't believe it is a "common" language in cipher, because
a simple cipher would have been cracked by now, and a complex cipher
should not preserve (or produce) the language-like statistics and
structures that we see in the VMS. Moreover, it is hard to imagine why
the author would have wanted to encrypt a whole 250-page book,
while devoting 2/3 of the space to illustrations.
Also, I don't believe it is purely random text (glossolalia, madman's
drivel, etc.), because it has too much structure and homogeneity, and
I cannot see how those features could be faked (or even perceived) by
a 15th century author.
I cannot believe it is a fraud, either, because the feeling is all
wrong: it would be like counterfeiting a 3-cent coin. A scholarly
hoax, say on Baresch or Kircher, is somewhat more likely; but that too
has its problems.
So, almost by exclusion, my current opinion is that Voynichese is a
rather straightforward encoding (e.g. a phonetic transcription) of
some "exotic" language; and the structures that we see in it are
basically those of the language itself.
If that assumtion is true, the structure of the "words" seems to imply
that they are actually syllables. Moreover, since most labels are
single "words", the language must be monosyllabic; and since there is
a large number of distinct "words", the language is probably tonal --
which would mean an East Asian language, such as Tibetan, Chinese,
The "exotic language" theory seems quite plausible historically
(indeed Baresch himself apparently believed in it), and seems to
explain many features of the VMS that are hard to explain otherwise.
For instance, why the text does not include any words in "classical"
scripts (Roman, Greek, or Hebrew), why there are no number-like
symbols, why we don't see any grammatical structure, why the plants
and cosmology look so alien, etc..
An invented language is also a possibility, of course. However, it
seems that invented languages are either utterly logical, and hence
utterly unnatural (like Dalgarno's, if I got it right, or
Loglan/Lojban); or quite similar to the natural languages known to the
inventor (like Hildegarde's, Esperanto, Enochian, Klingon, etc.). Now
Voynichese seems too irregular to be a "logical" invented language, and too
bizarre to be calqued on European or Semitic language. In other words,
if it is an invented language, the inventor must have modeled
it after some "exotic" language...
> There are a great many papers on entropy and Zipf's laws, but is
> there also already a summarized (somewhat final) conclusion of
> the findings?
Those studies generally show that there is nothing terribly wrong
with Voynichese as a natural language, although it doesn't seem
to be a standard one.
Some statistics change (sometimes radically) from section to section,
while others, including the basic "word" structure, are surprisingly
constant. There is good evidence that the pages and sections were
bound in the wrong order.
The entropy studies are inconclusive, since entropy is a property
of the encodingand not of the underlying language -- and we don't
even know what are the letters of the alphabet.
> Are there people actively working on a "decipherment" of the
> book or are people mainly envolved in the structural and
> linguistic (semantic) analysis?
I think that both teams have many players. However, most people
working on decipherment seem to be assuming a complex code. Under that
approach, there is not much chance of doing "a little progress" --
either you crack the code, or you stay stuck at the beginning. So the
mailing list tends to be dominated by linguistic and historical
speculation, and occasional bean-counting.
> Is the text of Newbold's "decipherment" and possibly the
> counter-arguments available online or digitally?
I don't know whether the text is available through the net. (In fact I
don't know whether he deciphered more than a few sentences.)
Some of the couter-arguments have been quoted in the mailing list,
over the last few years.
All the best,