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RE: Re: Piraha and the VMS
What Jorge says is correct, regarding Amerind languages. Since virtually
all of them hae been handed down via a strictly oral tradition, it is not
always possible to know what would constitute appropriate breakpoints in
their words. They are, to a large degree, agglutinating tongues, as
indicated by Jorge's example in Pirahã below. The Navajo dialects tend to
be a bit more fragmented, at least according to examples I've seen in recent
years, but as with the others, who's to say where the appropriate
breakpoints are? Since these are languages born and promulgated by a
pre-literate society, such distinctions in the written form would have been
It's probably moot anyway, since it seems pretty clear that the author(s) of
VMS aren't likely to have had access to any lexicon even describing, much
less translating, said languages.
And the beat goes on...
[mailto:owner-voynich@xxxxxxxxxxxxxx]On Behalf Of Jorge Stolfi
Sent: Thursday, September 26, 2002 9:01 PM
To: Voynich Ms. mailing list
Subject: VMs: Re: Piraha and the VMS
> [Jacques:] It might, only just might do, for Piraha, an
> Amazonian language with 7 consonants and 3 vowels, ignoring its
> two tones, and breaking up its consonant clusters, Linear-B
> style. (Jorge, they're your next-door neighbours, how about...
> oh, just pulling your leg).
By amazing coincidence, I happen to have a book about the Pirahã
language (which had about 110 speakers left in ~1980). Here is a
sample sentence from that book:
(1) xaíti xaibogi xaigahápiso xisibáobábagaí sagía xabáobihiabá
which the author parses as
and translates as
"while the peccary was fleeing, I almost shoot an arrow at it; it
As you can see, Pirahã has rather long words, usually made of
a root with a couple of syllables and several suffixes, which
are often just one syllable or part thereof. I gather that most
American native languages follow this pattern, which also
fits Turkish and Hungarian (IIRC).
Now, this pattern defintely does not fit the VMS word length
distribution, which is practically zero beyond 10 letters or so.
Jacques suggests that those languages may show a better match to the
VMS, if each word element is written as a separate word, eg.
(2) xaíti xaibogi xaig ahá p i so xisib áo b ábagaí sagía xab áo b i hiab
However, it seems to me that a full decomposition would have the
opposite problem, namely we would get many more 1- and 2-letter words
than we see in the VMS. So, in order to get a good match, we may have
to assume a partial decomposition, where certain combinations of
suffixes are still written as single words.
Another problem with the "Amerind" theory is that the main roots in
indian languages are often 2 or 3 syllables long. These words would
not have the peculiar structure we see in the VMS words (at most one
gallows, different letters at beginning/middle/end, etc.).
Finally, the idea of writing each suffix as a separate word, as in (2)
above, would be rather peculiar, since all early European
transcriptions of Amerind languages which I have seen wrote them
attached to the root, like (1).
All the best,