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VMs: photo finish update - was - Re: Voynichese as an Abugida
Someone asked for an update on the printing of the Voynich, but before that,
a few stale comments.
As Jorge noted, I do take notice of the different plumes. I also make note
of the differences in the <p/f> noted by Jorge, as well as many others.
My "straight legged 9" occurs only 58 times in the herbal section, but
that's far more than many of the obvious "variants" or "wierdos". The
connected "cc" with space on both sides, making it a connected series,
occurs 372 times in this section, while the <in> connected glyph only occurs
262 times. This is a usually unrecorded feature that is more prominent than
a major recorded feature, and the list goes on.
Jorge's on my page on groups of EVA we have come to consider "individual
glyphs", but that we share a similar opinion on this subject is really not
the point. Someone else's views may differ from ours, that is the point
A transcription MUST record as much information as is possible, not as is
convenient. I record the split bottomed 8's though I'm of the personal
opinion that there is no difference. Someone else may find some statistic
that causes them to think differently, just as so many wild ideas have been
generated from the very nature of the EVA transcription. It's the duty of
the transcriber to objectively record what is written, and let others draw
their own conclusions. I admonish you to correct your transcriptions, if
not collectively, then personally, to reflect the most information you can
objectively derive from the text.
A transcription must reflect as many variations as possible until such a
time as certain variations may be statistically or linguistically
eliminated. This has always been the logical and conservative approach to
unknown scripts, and I don't know what changed in your thinking to allow
something entirely different to down-stage this logic. My conservative
logical approach to transcription is the one thing that has placed me light
years ahead of most on this list, but that's all been said before, and this
is really about the printing of the color images.
I just got back some of the laser images of the MrSids files, and I'm quite
pleased. I have one objection to the MrSids files that I know no correction
for however, and that is that they don't provide in any of the files a color
matching strip that is found in the old jpeg files. These strips are set to
specific color frequencies, and can be used to render an accurate balance.
Nothing like this is provided with the MrSids files, unfortunately.
My current prints are done on Kokak Ultima 71 lb. Satin finish. I haven't
found a better photo quality paper as yet. The laser print is brighter and
a little better defined than an inkjet print, and the colors are set to the
paper, less likely to run. There is no "flat finish" photo paper I could
find, but the semi-gloss does not really detract from the image in my view.
All around, it's the best deal I've found, about $1.50 per print, a little
less if I provide the paper.
An interesting aside, for those watchful of monetary outlay - I needed a new
printer, so I went out and compared prices. Generic printers with good
capability ranged from $35 to $80 in my local market. I settled on a $44
printer, based on its capability and the cost of extra ink cartridges. Only
later did I see my mistake. Here's what I finally realized -
Printer - $44 - includes one color and one black ink cartridge.
Black ink cartridge - $27.33
Color ink cartridge - 33.87
Total cost of replacement cartridges - $61.20
If I had 2% of the logical sense Nick's degree in Logic gives him,I'd run
the ink dry in my current printer, and buy another one, instead of buying
replacement cartridges, now wouldn't I? My meager "Common Sense-101" says
that I'd be saving $17.20 by buying an entirely new printer each time I need
to refill the ink cartridges, because it comes fully supplied with
cartridges. Perhaps I should have chosen the cheaper printer to increase my
savings? We live and we learn. I go to the store and choose the larger
portion thinking it's the better deal, but when I look at the price, I now
find that for many items, buying the smaller item is the better deal. They
getcha comin' and goin' - caveat emptor always.
One of the reasons I've been so reluctant to allow for such observations as
Jorge's on the "retouching" question is the fact that when one views the
prints of the manuscript at its actual size, one discovers very quickly that
the text is hand-printed in approximately 9 point type by my measure. We
tend to lose that perspective in the electronic world, where we can
instantly enlarge and over-analyze. My rebuke for so many ideas has always
been "stay close to the text", and I always meant that as a reality check.
When you reduce an image to the actual page size, you see how difficult it
was for the writer to perform such a feat with the tooling available.
There's no other explanation for it other than it simply "makes sense", all
the dark and light, etc. I'm of a middle age where I must wear glasses to
read in the light of a room, though I can read quite well in the light of
the sun. The miniscule size of the writing in the Voynich itself is an
indication that the author was under 35 when the bulk of the Voynich was
written. That's not a solid foundation, but let any of you over 40 attempt
to write this miniscule text in quill by candle light, and you'll find that
the task is impossible. Reduce the Voynich to its actual size and you begin
to see that the text is not "retouched", only slightly smaller sometimes
than the writing instrument can reproduce. I'm currently doing my "blank
stare" thing on f43v, and I can tell you that at this reduction, anyone who
would argue retouching on this folio viewed at its actual size is too
"zoomed in" to see the entire picture.
It's humorous to me, the various opinions and ways of looking at things
Voynich. Politically and religiously I'm a liberal, and in both realms I've
often heard it said that the term "activist" applies to liberal thinkers,
attempting to attach a liberal stigma to the term "activist". I won't touch
on religion, that's beyond me, but I can think of a few conservative
"activist groups" others might not want mentioned. The KKK, the Arian
Nation, Skin-Heads, etc. Pat Robertson is often quoted by the Arian Nation,
as is Pat Buchanan. They don't quote Hillary Clinton. I can live with
"Green Peace" and the whole "anti-meat" crowd as my personal ideals carried
to the extreme, but I certainly can't live with the likes of the KKK and the
Arian Nation as any way related to my ideals, no matter how departed they
The Voynich would seem to be the one thing in my life that I approach
conservatively, but that's not entirely true. Most liberals are people who
view the same facts as conservatives, but approach them objectively rather
than emotionally, and therefore reach deeper and more far-reaching
conclusions than their conservative counterparts. In short, being
conservative in my Voynich analysis is an objective adherence to the
gathered facts of the case. I don't walk out on limbs that are unsupported
by the facts - I don't let fantasies and "what ifs" cloud my judgment.
Is there a clear dividing line between one approach and another? No. Is
there a specifically published set of Voynich facts that can be viewed in
one place? No. Do any two of us regularly agree on what is fact and what
is not? No. Has any of this lengthy diatribe been of help to you?
Probably not. I could go on with this senseless dribble, but for your sakes
I won't. Group mentalities don't think as one, and are rarely able to make
intelligent choices. The Voynich is now, and has always been, the realm of
the mind who would dare to differ.
----- Original Message -----
From: "Jorge Stolfi" <stolfi@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
Sent: Monday, July 26, 2004 10:49 PM
Subject: VMs: Re: Voynichese as an Abugida
> > [John E. Koontz] I'm aware that the possibility that the Voynich
> > script is syllabic is generally rejected on the grounds that there
> > are not enough distinct symbols to represent the syllables of the
> > Western European languages likely to underly the script.
> No one knows what is a "letter" in the Voynichese script. That is not
> surprising since the question is not trivial even for known languages:
> Should English "th", Spanish "ll", and Italian "tt" be considered one
> letter or two? Should "é" be considered two letters ("e" + "´")? The
> answer is usually based on tradition, and different languages have
> different traditions: Spanish counts "ll" as one letter for sorting
> purposes, for example, while Portuguese counts the equivalent "lh" as
> two separate letters. In fact you will get different answers depending
> on whether you are talking to a phoneticist, to a grammarian, or to a
> Since we do not know the "language" of the VMS, we can only give a
> "typographical" definition: a letter is a set of strokes that is often
> seen disconnected from other strokes. We are fortunate that the VMS
> was written using "printing letters" rather than "cursive", so most
> words are in fact a disconnected sequence of "glyphs", each consisting
> of a few connected strokes.
> Moreover, except for a few dozen "weirdo" glyphs, each occurring only
> a few times in the whole book, all glyphs seem to be taken from a
> small "alphabet", with the variations expected from hand writing.
> Where larger groups of connected strokes occur, they generally seem to
> be made by two or more of these same glyphs that were "accidentally"
> If we try to make a catalog of glyph types, we get different results
> depending on how strict are our criteria for comparing glyphs. Many of
> us have followed the precedent of Friedman and his colleagues
> who---for instance---assumed that all plumes were equivalent,
> independently of their shape. (The plumes are those reverse-C strokes
> that rise above the "o" height and are unconnected at the top end.)
> This assumption is implicit in the FSG alphabet and most of its
> successors, including EVA. Under that assumption, there are only four
> glyphs with plumes --- "sh", "s", "r", and "n" --- that are not
> "weirdos". Other people --- Glen may be one of them --- have chosen
> not to make this assumption, and so they recognize more than four
> plumed glyphs. Friedman and EVA have also assumed that the little
> "hook" that sometimes ends the arm of EVA p/f is not significant;
> I suspect it is, so by my count there are four one-legged gallows,
> not two.
> Our perception of the alphabet is also modified by statistical
> analysis. For instance, the EVA letter "e" is special because it often
> occurs three times in a row. After uncounted tabulations, I have
> tentatively concluded that the pair "ee", even though it seems to be
> two disconnected glyphs most of the time, should be considered a
> single letter like "ch" or "sh". It occurs in the same contexts where
> those two occur, with similar relative frequencies, and that pattern
> of occurrences clearly separates the three glyphs --- "ch", "sh", and
> "ee" -- from other glyphs. In fact, it is possible that "ch" is the same
> as "ee", the top ligature being merely a device optionally used by the
> scribe to remove ambiguity. By similar arguments, the sequences
> "ii", and "iii" have come to be considered two single
> One also should take into account handwriting variations from page to
> page. For example, in the Zodiac pages (which, to my eyes, are the
> oldest in the book) one often sees an EVA "a" which is open at the
> bottom. In extreme cases, this "open a" can almost be confused with a
> "ch". But since the "normal a" is under-represented in those pages,
> and common words that are written with "normal a" elsewhere are
> written with "open a" on those pages, most transcribers have assumed
> that they are the same letter.
> The point of all this discussion is to say that the size of the
> Voynichese alphabet depends on who is counting; but, according to most
> people, it has only between 20 and 30 distinct glyphs, even counting
> "ee", "ii", and "iii" as separate glyphs. Since a syllabic alphabet,
> or an abugida, would need at least 50 or so distinct glyphs, a strict
> syllabary seems to be ruled out.
> It may be that in Voynichese one of the vowels is left out, while the
> others are written as separate gliphs. That is, instead of "pa pe pi
> po pu" one would write "p pe pi po pu". However, at the stage we are,
> it seems hard to distinguish that system from a simple alphabetic one.
> I cannot comment much on your specific proposals that certain groups
> of glyphs represent syllables in some abugida system. That is possible
> and in fact the problem is that there are too many possible
> alternatives. In any case the rigid word structure is a problem,
> unless you assume that different conventions have been used for the
> beginning, middle, and end of the words. (Arabic has something like
> that, but the three variants of each letter can be seen as extreme
> calligraphic variations on the same original glyph---which is hardly
> the case in Voynichese.)
> The only way I can understand that rigid structure in terms of natural
> languages is by assuming that each word is a single syllable. That, as
> you are all bored to know, points towards an East Asian language. So
> far all statitistics seem to fit that theory better than any other
> alternative --- including theatrical Middle English, vowelless Arabic,
> letter-based ciphers and Rugg's gibberish --- except for
> codebook-based cipher, which I put in second place only because it
> seems too cumbersome for a whole book.
> > To return to the logic of the system, I'm suggesting that a series
> > like l, il, iil, iil represents, e.g., pa pe pi po or p pa pi pu
> > or pa pi pu p or something like that. The set of grades in a
> > series R IR IIR IIIR (once IIIIR?) doesn't provide for many vowel
> > distinctions.
> Another problem is that these sequences, with very few exceptions,
> only occur at the end of the words.
> > I'm assuming that the O characters are something different -
> > syllable codas - but perhaps they simply augment the vowel set.
> > There are languages with only three (or four) vowels, but this is
> > not typical of Western Europe
> Arabic has only three vowels (a,i,u), although it has a distinction
> between strong (consonantal) and weak ones. Arabic was the language of
> administration in parts of Spain and Portugal for several centuries,
> until 1480 or so (You can't get more 'Western' in Europe than that!).
> In fact, Arabic books were read and sought by learned doctors and
> alchemists all over Europe, since 1300 or so until the late 1600s at
> least. Between 1300 and 1500 they were probably the main source of
> scientific knowledge in Europe, even for knowledge that ultimately
> came from the Greek. So Arabic is definitely not an "exotic"
> alternative for Voynichese. It has been largely abandoned only because
> its statistics do not seem to match.
> > where the Classical Languages have aeiou systems (with length and
> > diphthongs), and many of the modern languages added additional
> > rounded front vowels.
> Actually Greek had at least seven vowels (alpha, eta, epsilon, iota,
> omicron, upsilon, omega). I am not sure about Latin; the alphabet had
> only aeiou, but the language may have had more. Italian and several
> other Romance languages have at least two sounds for "e" and two for
> "o", so I would guess that Latin did, too. (Besides there are those
> "ae" and "oe" ligatures --- are they Classical or Medieval?)
> All the best,
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