[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index][Thread Index]

VMs: Re: Gallows - diverting the eye?

    > [Jon grove:] Since the script in general seems to flow rather
    > neatly, it seems a bit odd to me that the author would choose to
    > write these characters in such an interrupted way when they
    > could be done without lifting the pen from the page. Could it be
    > that originally the gallows characters were written as short
    > vertical strokes only, and the tops were added at a later time?
    > If so, why?

Velum is hardly a smooth surface, and a quill pen was trimmed so as to
have a chisel-like nib; thus the pen could be pushed "upwards" (away
from the scribe) or sideways only if held very lightly, and even then
it would ocasionally "catch". Moreover, ink flowed only when the quill
was pressed against the medium. For these reasons, scribes who used
quills generally evolved writing styles where the quill was pulled
"downwards" most of the time. Thus, for instance, an "O" was more
commonly written written with two downward strokes, rather than a
single circular one (which would have been fine for a wax tablet).
That surely must have been the reason for the popularity of Fraktur
and other similar medieval letter-styles.

In fact, the Voynichese alphabet seems to have been designed
specifically for fast writing with a quill pen. Most of the alphabet
seems to have been generated by combining two mosty-downward strokes:
a left half which is either EVA "i" or "e", and a right half which is
either an "i", a mirrored "e", or one of six plumes and ligatures, in
(almost) all possible ways. Thus we have 13 characters that can be
arranged in a 2 × 7 table:

    e   o  a  c  s  b  y  g  d 
    i   *  ii I  r  n  l  m  j
The only combination that does not occur in the manuscript ("*" in the
table) is an "i" with a mirrored-"e", which would look like a mirrored
"a". However, it is possible that some of these right-hand plumes are
merely calligraphic variants of each other, e.g. the "y"-plume or the
"n"-plume may be merely variants of the mirror-"e" right stroke. So
perphaps the missing combination *is* present, but is always written
as EVA "l" or "n", respectively.

The gallows glyphs likewise appear to be written in two strokes, as
Jon observed; and the four glyphs are simply all combinations of a
left leg ("k/f" or "p/t") and a right leg ("k/t" or "p/f"). 

This minimalistic, combinatorial scheme is quite typical of shorthand
systems, and adds weight to the connections that Glen has been
pointing out. At the very least, the design shows that the author 
was very "quill-conscious", and that writing speed was one of
his/her main goals.  (Count that as another argument against the 
"hoax" theory.) 

On the other hand, if the VMS alphabet was indeed designed in this
way, then any resemblance with other alphabets, "natural" or
cryptographic, is just a coincidence. After all, there aren't many
possibilities for a two-stroke glyph! In fact, in light of this
analysis, the VMS alphabet stands out precisely for its disregard of
tradition in favor of cold "mathematical" logic.

On the other hand, the VMS two-stroke design is somewhat naive, in
that it uses glyphs of similar complexity for 13 letters with very
different frequencies. In contrast, naturally-evolved alphabets and
scripts tend to reserve the simplest symbols for the most common
letters. (Cf. the Roman letters C,I,S,U, or handwritten e --- which
are all single-strokers, especially on wax tablets.) However, it is quite
understandable that a 15th century scholar would overlook this
"maximum entropy" priciple when designing a new alphabet.

All the best,