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VMs: VMs Origin of the "Chinese theory" (out of the archives)

Yesterday I looked into what I have of the archives.
About 3 megabytes, which cover only the first two
years. Surprising stuff in there. I had completely forgotten
what seriously started the "Chinese theory". Here it is,
dated December 14 1991.

Date: Sat, 14 Dec 91 07:59:47 EST
From: j.guy@xxxxxxxxx (Jacques Guy)
Message-Id: <9112132059.AA15796@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
To: voynich@xxxxxxxx
Subject: a utility coming up, and some wild ramblings

[snip the utility]

I was browsing through d'Imperio's book when I hit upon this 
table on
p.105, which I shall reproduce hereunder, both in Currier's 
and Bennett's
transliteration systems:

(Currier's Transliteration)

Roots                  Suffixes

OF-, OV-              -AD, -AN, -AM, -A3
OP-, OB-              -AR, -AT, -AU, -A0
4OF-, 4OV-            -AE, -AG, -AH, -A1
4OP-, 4OB-            -OR
S-                    -OE
Z-                    -C9, -CC9, -CCC9
8-                    -C89, -CC89, -CCC89

Fig. 27 -- Tiltman's Division of Common Words into "Roots" and 
(Tiltman 1951)

[snip alternative transliteration]

What does it all mean? This: take anything from the left
column, whack on anything from the right column, and,
Abracadabra, Hocus Pocus, Presto Shazam! here's a Voynich
word. Now those of you who have studied Chinese (I am sure
there are some) will have recognized there something very
similar to the fanqie of the traditional analysis of Chinese
words. Traditional Chinese scholars analyze the Chinese
syllable into initial, final, and tone. The initial is the
initial consonant of the syllable (sometimes none), the
final is the rest. In Mandarin (by which I mean the learned
variety of the Peking dialect, used for administrative
purposes), there are only about 400 possible different
syllables, and a final can only end in a vowel or either of
two consonants: "n" or "ng". Further, "ng" never occurs as
an initial, and syllable-final "n" is acoustically quite
distinct from syllable-initial "n". What am I driving at?
That the startling repetitive patterns and co-occurrence
restrictions of the Voynich language (IF it is one), are
compatible with an imperfect phonetic rendition of a
language such as Chinese. I do not remember whom I first
bombarded with my pet tongue-in-cheek theory about the
Voynich manuscript. Was it Michael Barlow, or Brian Winkel,
editor of Cryptologia? Here it is: the Voynich manuscript
was written in Venice by two natives brought back by Marco
Polo, probably from China (tongue, stay firm in my cheek).
They devised the alphabet after what they had seen our
writing, which they probably could not read.

[snip story of the Cherokee syllabary]

{Chinese] sound patterns
(phonology, in our jargon) are not easily amenable to
sensible alphabetical or syllabic writing. And how, as a naive
native speaker, would you represent tones in a writing
system to which you have just been exposed? That, together
with tone sandhi (quite extensive in those language
families) would account for the strange repetitive, but not
quite exactly repeating, patterns of the Voynich language.
Let me give you one example. In Mandarin, the word for
"Miss" is made up of the same syllable twice repeated: jie3.
The "3" here just means that it is in the third tone:
starting on a low pitch, going lower, then rising sharply.
However, when two third tones occur in succession, the first
becomes a second tone, rising sharply from middle pitch.
Finally, to confuse things further, the second "jie" becomes
unstressed, loses its tone, and is just uttered on a pitch
slightly lower than the end pitch of the first "jie"!
Imagine now that you were a 13th century Chinese speaker
suddenly transported to England. The notion of an alphabetic
writing system would be novel to you. You would have great
difficulties finding correspondences between the sounds of
English and those of Chinese. Sitting down to write an
encyclopaedia in alphabetic writing, you would soon be
confronted with delicate decisions: "'Map' is not too
difficult to write, it sounds about like the English word
'too'. So I write it 'too'. Uh, uh, but 'earth' too, is
'too', and so is 'to spit', only they are in different
tones. Oh, well, not to worry, there can hardly be any
confusion, given the context, so I'll write them all the
same. Whenever there is a serious risk of confusion, I'll
make something up. 'Too' (earth) is third tone, down then
up, so when the need arises, I'll write it 'too-oo' or
something like that, or perhaps I shall stick a tall
squiggly letter in it".

Yes, I do have my tongue in my cheek when I say that the
Voynich was written by two Chinese speakers brought to
Venice by Marco Polo. To be honest, I estimate the
likelihood of it to be so small as to be negligible. At the
same time, I think it infinitely more probable than
Brumbaugh's and especially Levitov's decipherments (John
Baez, you're the mathematician, so tell us: does it mean
that I believe Brumbaugh's and Levitov's decipherments to be
worth exactly, precisely zilch and not even one
googolplexeth more?)

---------------end of 10-year old quote----------------