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Re: Request For Status: Language vs. Cipher

On Stolfi's post:

> [...] 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 do not think it's random either. What's also important is that the
structure depends on the context. An apparent list of star names in the
Ms has almost unique words (in the sense that they do appear elsewhere
in the Ms but are almost unique withing the list). The list is 300 items
long and I do not think there is any other stretch of 300 words in the Ms
with so little repetition.

> 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.

For a scholarly hoax it is *far* too long. 
(But we should always be careful with 'feelings', since our feelings
belong to a different world than those prevalent in the 15th-17th
Century.) If it's a fake, it would have to be for monetary gain,
or for elevated status. In modern terms: like writing a fake operating
system in order to gain millions. (Sorry, Mike)

> 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. 

Let me surprise you by saying that I tend to agree. I would add that 
the structures may also come from the writing system rather than the
language itself. Of course, my definition of exotic differs a little
from Stolfi's. 

> 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..

Apart from the alienness of plants and cosmology, which is open to 
debate, the above are all valid points in favour of a translation
(or transcirption or encoding) of an 'exotic' language. Depending
on the extent of the author's world, exotic could also include
Hebrew, Arabic, Syriac or Persian, which would not distinguish numerals
from alphabetical characters, and which should not be expected to
include Latin or Greek words or symbols.
There are more exotic possiblities beyond the above, still not being
quite as exotic as the far East...

> 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.). 

Of these, Hildegarde's is most interesting chronologically. Of course,
she only invented a long list of nouns. In the 2 centuries leading up
to the creation of the VMs, someone just might have taken the
next step...

Let's also not forget Roger Bacon, who claimed to have devised a 
'common language' using which he thought he could teach people other
languages in only a fraction of the time needed using a standard

>     > 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.

Let's say that in most statistics, the VMs text scores outside the
interval occupied by 'normal' languages. (I'm thinking of languages
written in an alphabetical script with 24-36 characters).

> 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.

What seems certain is that they were not bound in the order in which
they were written. The next step implied above is a very reasonable
interpretation. (i.e. I also think they are bound in the wrong order.
I even think we can restore the order, with a little more effort).
>                                                  [...] 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. 

Yes. And worse: most people who have proposed a solution in the past,
appear to have at one point assumed a theory including author, language,
contents of the MS and everything, and then started translating.
When counter-evidence showed up, this was either discarded or molded 
to fit the theory. (Of course, there may have been those who realised
they were on the wrong path and we just never heard of them).

I think that what some of the list members are doing, namely analysing
the structure of the words, the script, and the phrases, is the
one way in which incremental progress is possible. Little bits of
evidence (or just strange features) have been found over the last
decade and maybe, hopefully, one day someone has the idea that puts
it all together.
>     > 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.)

The one thing that may be said about Newbold's solution is that he has
produced a good quantity of grammatical (I think) and totally sensible
plain text. He even produced plain text which included information
that he was supposedly not aware of and which could be verified afterwards.

This brings me to a question I've been wondering about for some time,
and which I will address in a separate post.

Cheers, Rene