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Re: VMs: shorthands

Dear William,

At 12:53 29/01/2004 +0000, William H Edmondson wrote:
Recently I was doing some work in the British Library looking at some 17th C manuscripts on speech and language, and came across Lodwick's attempts to devise a script for a universal language (a popular concern at the time as I'm sure you all know).

If any of you have access via your institute's library have a look at the EEBO electronic resource (Early English Books Online) and you'll find some facsimile material there.

I followed the trail/train of thought having noticed vague visual similarities with V.
Has the anyone seriously considered/dismissed 'universal language' type of explanations?

One of the intriguing aspects of the Voynich is that, like natural language, it appears to contain subtly different structure at every level, whether stroke / letter / word / line / paragraph / page / bifolio / quire. I do not claim to be an expert on the history of universal languages, but it seems to me that these may all be characterised by a shared desire/need for referential simplicity and logical regularity - neither of which are apparent within Voynichese.

I am intrigued by the shorthand possibilities, as opposed to cryptography per se - it seems more parsimonious to think of shorthand as a simple scheme of writing for relative secrecy. I plan to spend a couple more days in BL later in Feb.
What shorthands have already been considered, and as shorthand representations of what languages? Any hints as to what I might usefully look at.

I've already looked at a large number of shorthand histories (both in the BL and in other libraries with shorthand collections): however, I remain deeply dissatisfied with (the mostly Anglo-centric) accounts of shorthand that begin with Timothy Bright's "Characterie", as they leaves a gaping lacuna of shorthand practice between the slow dwindling death of Tironian notae and 1568.

Here's what I wrote on-list in August 2002 about shorthand history:-

* * * * *

Isaac Pitman's "A history of shorthand" (I read the 1891 edition, though there are others) mentions a shorthand system designed by a Mr Radcliff (or Ratcliffe) of Plymouth, apparently first published in 1688, but believed to have been designed at least a century earlier.

Radcliff's system was based on aggressive textual reduction, discarding vowels and stopping words short once it was apparent what they were: the Lord's Prayer, for example, became:

        Our Fth wch rt n hvn ; hlwd b y Nm
        Y Kgdm cm Y wl b dn n rth z it s n Hvn

As far as Bright goes: in 1572, he spent some time in Paris, and found his way to the embassy while the massacre of the Huguenots was happening - he too was a Protestant, staying with Huguenots, and was lucky to escape being caught in the middle of that particular storm.

As I mentioned in a previous email, Paris had had a guild of tabletiers (wax tablet makers) for many centuries, so my current best guess is that Bright saw, on his trip there, abbreviated letters being used to take down sermons on a wax tablet.

To stand any chance of keeping up with the flow of natural speech, just about any abbreviated alphabet (rather than an extended alphabet) would need to have the property of being, like the VMS, based on single strokes.

So: I believe that Bright's particular innovation was the arbitraries, rather than single-stroke alphabets per se - I believe that these would have been in existence long before him.

                                * * * * *
((( ...also, from 11 October 2002... ))
                                * * * * *

In the Warburg Institute Library, I found an excellent book on the history of tachygraphy: "Storia della scritture veloci", Francesco Giulietti, 1968. Giuletti comments:-

        John Jewel (1522-1571), di Bowden (Devonshire), morto vescovo,
        protestante, di Salisbury, ideo un sistema abbreviativo, forse
        derivato dalle teoria del Ratcliff, col quale raccoglieva
        <<literibus quibusdem novis at pecularibus>> i Sermoni del
        suo maestro ed amico, l'Italiano Pietro Martire Vermigli (1501
        Firenze - 1562 Zurigo).

Which I translate as:-

        John Jewel (1522-1571), of Bowden (Devonshire), who at the
        time of his death was the Bishop of Salisbury, devised an
        abbreviating system (perhaps derived from Ratcliff's system),
        with which he wrote (in "literibus quibusdem novis at pecularibus")
        the Sermons of his master and friend, the Italian Pietro Martire
        Vermigli (b.1501 Florence, d.1562 Zurich)

Ratcliff's abbreviatory system ("A new art of Short and Swift Writing without characters, etc") was first published in 1688, which Giulietti places as 150 to 200 years after Ratcliff's death.

Frustratingly, the book contained neither footnotes nor a bibliography. :-((((

* * * * *

Overall, I have yet to find any *early* non-English account of the history of shorthand, and so believe that this would be a good research direction to follow. Finding any collection of shorthand-related documents from mainland Europe might be a good starting point.

Francesco Giulietti (who died in 1978) would perhaps be a good author to find more about, though neither no library in the M25 consortium (including the BL) has anything by him: the "Rivista degli stenografi" (published by his memorial foundation?) may have some interesting (Italian language) papers. But overall, shorthand history post-Tironian-notae pre-characterie is somewhat empty.

As another lead entirely, you might also think of looking at the Porphyrogenitus Project at the Royal Holloway, a large-ish collaborative project based around compiling a kind of "Capelli for Greek tachygraphy".

This has been ongoing for over 10 years, and may well be coming to some kind of completion soon (I hope). When I contacted them in 2002, they were kind enough to give me a list of references on the subject: as far as I know, no comparison between the Voynich and Greek (and Byzantine) tachygraphic systems (which were still in use circa 1600) has been carried out.

Just in case you think this is an interesting direction to follow, here are those references (though I haven't checked if any of these are held by the BL):-

On cryptographic systems in Greek Mss. see J.F. Boissonade, Anecdota graeca
e codicibus regiis, vol. II (Paris, 1830), pp. 459-61; C. Wessely, 'Ein
neues System griechischer Geheimschrift', Wiener Studien 26 (1904), 185-89;
V. Gardthausen, 'Zur byzantinischen Kryptographie', Byzantinishe Zeitschrift
14 (1905), 616-19; C.E. Ruelle, 'La cryptographie grecque. Simple notes,
suivies d'un tableau général des alphabets secrets', in Mélanges offerts à
M. Émile Picot, I (Paris, 1913), pp. 289-306; G. Mercati, 'Kryptographica',
Bessarione 30 (1914), 353-56; J. Doresse, 'Cryptographie copte et
cryptographie grecque', Bulletin de l'Institut d'Égypte 33 (1950-1951),
215-28; J. Noret, 'Le cryptogramme grec du Laurentianus, XXVIII, 16',
Scriptorium 30 (1976), 45-46; M. Zorzi ed., Venetiae quasi alterum
Byzantium, vol. III, Greek trans. A. Tselikas (Athens, 1994), p. 38.

On byzantine tachygraphy/brachygraphy see S. Lilla, Il testo tachygraphico
del "De divinis nominibus" (Vat. gr. 1809), Studi e Testi, 263 (Vatican
City, 1970); N.P. Chionides & S. Lilla, La brachigraphia italo-bizantina,
Studi e Testi, 290 (Vatican City, 1981)

If you accept my argument that the strange structure depicted in the centre of the "9-rosette" map -page might well be Venice, then this might perhaps prove a good lead to follow. Just a thought. :-)

Best regards, .....Nick Pelling.....

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