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Re: VMs: shorthands
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
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
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.
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
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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