I posted here a few weeks ago about whether the Cisiojanus mnemonic might be in the Voynich zodiac labels, and also about a possible July Cisiojanus crib to look for. Since then I’ve been thinking quite a lot further about this whole topic, and so I thought it was time to post a summary of Voynich labelese, a topic that hasn’t (to my knowledge) yet been covered satisfactorily on the web or in print.

Voynich labelese

Voynich researchers often talk quite loosely about “labelese”, by which they normally mean the variant of the Voynichese ‘language’ that appears in labels, particularly the labels written beside the nymphs in the zodiac section. These seems to operate according to different rules from the rest of the Voynichese text: which is one of the reasons I tell people running tests on Voynichese why they should run them on one section of text at a time (say, Q20 or Q13, or Herbal A pages).

The Voynichese zodiac labels have numerous features that are extremely awkward to account for:
* a disproportionately large number of zodiac labels start with EVA ‘ot’ or ‘ok’. [One recurring suggestion here is that if these represent stars, then one or both of these EVA letter pairs might encipher “Al”, a common star-name prefix which basically means “the” in Arabic.]
* words starting EVA ‘yk-‘ are also more common in zodiac labels than elsewhere
* most (but not all) zodiac labels are surprisingly short.
* many – despite their short length – terminate with EVA ‘-y’.
* a good number of zodiac labels occur multiple times. [This perhaps argues against their obviously being unique names.]
* almost no zodiac labels start with EVA ‘qo-‘
* in many places, the zodiac labels exhibit a particularly strong ‘paired’ structure (e.g. on the Pisces f70v2 page, otolal = ot-ol-al, otaral, otalar, otalam, dolaram, okaram, etc), far more strongly than elsewhere

That is, even though the basic ‘writing system’ seems to be the same in the zodiac labels as elsewhere, there are a number of very good reasons to suspect that something quite different is going on here – though whether that is a different Voynich ‘language’ or a type of content that is radically different from everything else is hard to tell.

Either way, the point remains that we should treat understanding the zodiac labels as a separate challenge to that of understanding other parts of the Voynch manuscript: regardless of whether the differences are semantic, syntactic, or cryptographic, different rules seem to apply here.

Voynich zodiac month names

If you look at 15th century German Volkskalender manuscripts, you’ll notice that their calendars (listing local feasts and saint’s days) typically start on January 1st: and that in those calendars with a zodiac roundel, January is always associated with an Aquarius roundel. Modern astrologically / calendrically astute readers might well wonder why this would be so, because the Sun enters the first degree of Aquarius around 21st January each year: so in fact the Sun is instead travelling through Capricon for most of January.

However, if you rewind your clock back to the fifteenth century, you would be using the Julian calendar, where the difference between the real length of the year and the calendrical length of the year had for centuries been causing the dates of the two systems to diverge. And so if we look at this image of the March calendar page from Österreich Nationalbibliotech Cod. 3085 Han. (a Volkskalender B manuscript from 1475 that I was looking at yesterday), we can see the Sun entering Aries on 11th March (rightmost column):

Note also that some Volkskalender authors seem to have got this detail wrong. 🙁

All of which is interesting for the Voynich Manuscript, because the Voynich zodiac month names associate the following month with the zodiac sign, e.g. Pisces is associated with March, not February (as per the Volkskalender), etc. This suggests to me (though doubtless this has been pointed out before, as with everything to do with the Voynich) that the Voynich zodiac month name annotations may well have been added after 1582, when the Grigorian calendar reforms took place.

Voynich labelese revisited

There’s a further point about Voynich labelese which gets mentioned rarely (if at all): in the two places where the 30-element roundels are split into two 15-element halves (dark Aries and light Aries, and light Taurus and dark Taurus), the labels get longer.

This would seem to support the long-proposed observation that Voynich text seems to expand or contract to fit the available space. It also seems to support the late Mark Perakh’s conclusion (from the difference in word length between A and B pages) that some kind of word abbreviation is going on.

And at the same time, even this pattern isn’t completely clear: the dark Aries 15-element roundel has both long labels (“otalchy taramdy”, “oteoeey otal okealar”, “oteo alols araly”) and really short labels (“otaly”), while whereas the light Aries has medium-sized labels, some are short despite there being a much larger space they could have extended into (“oteeol”, “otolchd”, “cheary”). Note also that the two Taurus 15-element roundels both follow the light Aries roundel in this general respect.

It therefore would seem that the most ‘linguistically’ telling individual page in the whole Voynich zodiac section would seem to be the dark Aries page. This is because even though it seems to use essentially the same Voynich labelese ‘language’ as the rest of the zodiac section, the labels are that much longer (or, perhaps, less subject to abbreviation than the other zodiac pages’ labels).

It is therefore an interesting (and very much open) question as to whether the ‘language’ of the text presented by the longer dark Aries labels matches the ‘language’ of the circular text sequences on the same page. If so, we might be able to start to answer the question of whether the Voynich labels are written in the same style of Voynichese as the circular text sequences on the same pages, though (with the exception of most of the dark Aries page) more abbreviated.

Speculation about ok- and ot-

When I wrote “The Curse of the Voynich”, I speculated that ok- / ot- / yk- / yt- might each verbosely encipher a specific letter or idea. For example, in the context of a calendar, we might now consider whether one of more of them might encipher the word “Saint” or “Saints”, a possibility that I hadn’t considered back in 2006.

Yet the more I now look at the Voynich zodiac pages, the more I wonder whether ok- and ot- have any extrinsic meaning at all. In information terms, the more frequently they occur, the more predictable they are, and so the less information they carry: and they certainly do occur very frequently indeed here.

And beyond a certain point, they contain so little information that they could contribute almost nothing to the semantic content, XXnot XXunlike XXadding XXtwo XXcrosses XXto XXthe XXstart XXof XXeach XXword.

So, putting yk- and yt- to one side for the moment, I’m now coming round to the idea that ok- and -ot- might well be operating solely in some “meta domain” (e.g. perhaps selecting between one of two mapping alphabets or dictionaries), and that we would do well to consider all the ok-initial and ot-initial words separately, i.e. that they might present different sets of properties. And moreover, that the remainder of the word is where the semantic content really lies, not in the ok- / ot- prefix prepended to it.

Something to think about, anyway.

Voynich abbreviation revisited

All of which raises another open question to do with abbreviation in the Voynich Manuscript. In most of the places where researchers such as Torsten Timm have invested a lot of time looking at sequences that ‘step’ from one Voynichese word to another (i.e. where ol changes to al), those researchers have often looked for sequences of words that fuzzily match one another.

Yet if there is abbreviation in play in the Voynich Manuscript, the two syntactic (or, arguably, orthographic) mechanisms that speak loudest for this are EVA -y and EVA -dy. If these both signify abbreviation by truncation in some way, then there is surely a strong case for looking for matches not by stepping glyph values, but by abbreviatory matches.

That is, might we do well to instead look for root-matching word sequences (e.g. where “otalchy taramdy” matches “otalcham tary”)? Given that Voynich labelese seems to mix not only labelese but abbreviation too, I suspect that trying to understand labelese without first understanding how Voynichese abbreviation works might well prove to be a waste of time. Just a thought.

Dark Aries, light Aries, and painting

As a final aside, if you find yourself looking at the dark Aries and light Aries images side by side, you may well notice that the two are painted quite differently:

To my mind, the most logical explanation for this is that the colourful painting on the light Aries was done at the start of a separate Quire 11 batch. That is, because Pisces and dark Aries appear at the end of the single long foldout sheet that makes up Quire 10, I suspect that they were originally folded left and so painted at the same time as f69r and f69v (which have broadly the same palette of blues and greens) – f70r1 and f70r2 may therefore well have been left folded inside (i.e. underneath Pisces / f70v2), and so were left untouched by the Quire 10 heavy painter. Quire 11 (which is also a single long foldout sheet, and contains light Aries, the Tauruses, etc) was quite probably painted separately and by a different ‘heavy painter’: moreover, this possibly suggests that the two quires may well not have been physically stitched together at that precise point.

Note that there is an ugly paint contact transfer between the two Aries halves (brown blobs travelling from right to left), but this looks to have been an accidental splodge (probably after stitching) rather than a sign that the two sides were painted while stitched together.

68 thoughts on “Voynich labelese…

  1. Helmut Winkler on September 3, 2017 at 6:36 pm said:

    Judging by the script, I think it is not possible to date the zodiac month names to the second half of the 16th c., the script is certainly before 1500, even the Beinecke 408 script looks more modern. It is much more likely that the ms. author was interested in or concerned with calender reform, the time of B.408 is the time of the reform councils, Konstanz and Basel/Firenze/Ferrara and its failed calender reforms which lots of people were interested in

    It is not likely that ok or ot are a ciphre or rather abbreviations for saint /sanctus, The saints in calendars are called not sanctus but papa, episcopus, confessor, martyr, virgo etc.

    Btw, it is obvious that some kind of abbreviation is going on in B. 408, I only would liike to remind you that in the Middle Ages abbreviation by contraction is much more common than abbreviation by truncation

  2. Helmut Winkler: I completely agree that the zodiac month hand appears to be fifteenth century, it’s in fact a point I’ve argued quite passionately about in the past.

    Yet the link between Pisces and March is something that – as far as I can have been able to determine – people didn’t make until the Grigorian calendar came into effect. So my underlying point was – as with so many Voynich-related things – that even something as apparently straightforward as the link between signs and months can hide historical complexity that would be easy to overlook. I would be a little surprised if the zodiac month hand writer was in any way connected with the Voynich except as a later owner, though.

    As far as ot/ok go, I thought I made it reasonably clear in the post that I didn’t think this was likely that these were cipher tokens for saint etc. It also depends which calendar you are looking at: many 15th century German calendars listed many more bishops than saints. 🙂

    And finally: I also agree that abbreviation by contraction was more common than abbreviation by contraction. Yet in the case of the Voynich, we see EVA -y at the end of so many words that it cannot easily be a vowel, or even a consonant (except in some kind of artificial language): so it seems a reasonable guess that the shape denotes truncatio rather than contractio. If there are other explanations that are consistent with the specific detail of what we see, I’d be happy to hear them.

  3. In my opinion, it is simply simply plants and their names. I do not think of scientific names, but the names he knew.

    I look at the sequence of the months.
    I have a double number of nymphs, especially in the Aries and the Bull. This increases not only in the number, but also changes its appearance.
    At the beginning of Aries they are still well dressed in baskets or pots. This changes with the bull until they stand naked and alone.

    Exactly in the spring time is to be considered with the plants. I now still take the 11 days where there is still missing (correction Gregorian calendar), then it fits perfectly.

    And since the whole book is about plants anyway, it is for me actually on the hand.
    Therefore, I can not believe a holiday, or other special days.
    But that’s my opinion.

  4. @Nick
    What you see as “EVA -y” could be a shortcut for small. If one is familiar with German, then the ending is usually for the reduced or vernied form.
    Blume / Blümchen. Gänseblume Gänseblümchen, Rose / Röschen etc.
    Geht auch mit Haus / Häuschen, Vogel / Vögelchen. etc.
    It always goes.
    I do not know if it is so in the English

  5. re
    “he link between Pisces and March” see e.g.

    Brit.Lib. MS Egerton MS 3277 (second half of the fourteenth century) fol.1v.

    A calendar’s months run by rote, but in terms of an agricultural calendar the constellation’s actual time of rising is more relevant.

  6. Sorry – I don’t think I made it clear. The constellation is set in the middle of the month here, and in that calendar (the Bohun Psalter calendar) it is clear that the interest was in when the constellation appeared. In some cases, you find two constellations shown for the same month.

  7. “the Voynich zodiac month name annotations may well have been added after 1582, when the Grigorian calendar reforms took place.”

    That is a very interesting observation and a great piece of research. If the zodiac names were added decades after the ms was written, but no other ‘decodes’ then perhaps whoever wrote those names could not read the writing.

    “in the case of the Voynich, we see EVA -y at the end of so many words that it cannot easily be a vowel, or even a consonant (except in some kind of artificial language): so it seems a reasonable guess that the shape denotes truncatio rather than contractio.”

    I see it as contractio. EVA -y, if Latin, would be the suffix -cum. In ‘voynichese’ it appears to be used as ‘-um’.

    I continue to use statistical analyses of letter frequencies to determine most probable expansions of the glyphs. It takes time because every projected expansion must be tested with all the ‘voynichese’ words to which it may apply.

    initial y likely expands as ‘co’ or ‘con’.


    ykoiin > colamus = strain / filter / purify
    ykor > coloris = colour / complexion
    ykol > coloque = place / location
    ykoiin > colonus = cultivator / gardener
    yly> coquum = cook

    I read EVA-l as ‘qu’ before a vowel, else ‘que’. EVA-ol as ‘oque’ makes no sense, but ‘coque’ is applicable to cooking, boiling, heating as e.g. of herbs to extracts oils. Also: ‘al’ seems to be an exception where ‘l’ = ‘qua’, so al > aqua= water, also spa, also urine. EVA-lol, if I am correct, is ‘quoque’.

    I am trying to automate as much transcription as possible, so as to be objective, but that means spending a lot of time programming.

    I frequently refer back to the illustrations to verify the transcription. It can be hard to distinguish some shapes, also the spaces need to be verified. The more I transcribe, the more context I have for the difficult parts.

    Two more points: the words offset at the bottom of paragraphs appear to be very brief summaries and the writer’s Latin is likely to be a local variant.

    dain os teody > sanis oesus (o)leosum = health use oil
    otol daiin > oleoque sanus = health from oil
    dChaiin > seramus = we begin (as e.g. a book)

    Still working on ‘ydaraiShy’. It can be expanded and split in too many ways.

    Your thoughts are welcomed.

  8. @Patrick Lockerby
    So far I agree with you. Where I at the prefix (que) also the prefix (ex) consider. Depending on which one he uses (sharp or round).

    Like us between t and f. small difference …. great effect,

  9. Mark Knowles on September 4, 2017 at 1:31 pm said:

    Nick: I am somewhat troubled by talk of the Voynich language being different all over the place.

    If this is really the case then I think the author would need to have had another guide to decipherment explaining how the different rules or features of the language operate in different parts of the manuscript as doing this from memory would seem to be infeasible. Having 2 manuscripts one the Voynich and the other rules for deciphering the Voynich would seem superfluous as the individual wanting to read or write in the Voynich would need 2 manuscripts not 1 probably both kept in broadly speaking the same place.

    If there was no guide to reading the manuscript then one can only assume that the author would inevitably have forgotten many of the rules and so been unable to read his/her manuscript. I think the author would have realised this problem before writing 200 pages, so it unlikely the author made this mistake.

    On the basis of this I can only conclude that the apparent differences in Voynichese across the manuscript are not as great as some believe. If this is the case my temptation is to explain this in part due to the presence of null text which could easily have muddied the waters and so making the Voynichese seem more different than it is.

    I do wonder about the parallel between null text and the idea of the manuscript being a hoax. Clearly “null text” is like “hoax text” though if only some of the text is null that means other parts of the text have meaning therefore one is not talking about a true hoax.

  10. Mark: some researchers have tried to explain away the difference in Voynich ‘language’ between sections as being a consequence of the different vocabulary in those sections. But this falls down because we have Herbal A and Herbal B pages: if they are both simply herbals (and I must admit to having strong doubts, though I may be the only person to do so), then it would seem particularly strange if they were to require two different types of language.

    Other researchers have proposed that one Voynich ‘language’ may have a Latin plaintext, another a different plaintext: but we would surely see very different word constructions in the two sections, because of different word-endings, grammar, structure, etc.

    And so the different Voynich ‘languages’ remain a very problematic part of the Voynich mystery: the oddities of labelese form yet another confounding feature. :-/

  11. Did Tycho Brahe add notes to the Voynich ?

  12. xplor: currently, there is no evidence that Brahe, Kepler or even Tadeáš Hájek ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tade%C3%A1%C5%A1_H%C3%A1jek ) ever saw the Voynich Manuscript, let alone added any notes to it.

  13. Mark Knowles on September 4, 2017 at 4:09 pm said:

    Nick: To what extent do you think the author must have used some encryption tool? Purely as an example the simplest tool being something like a look up table.

    Such as in our latin alphabet.



    i.e. a character pair lookup table.

    How many rules do we think the author could realistically commit to memory?

    I suppose it is possible that the author had a facility for remembering a vast number of distinct rules so as to be able to read and write the manuscript at reasonable speed. However this seems to me to be less likely.

    As an example if the rules were so complex that it took the author 10 minutes or so just to read or write a single word the manuscript would be unmanagable and impractical to use.

    My attraction to the idea of null text or null characters is that it could account for a lot of the variation. The author could have inserted more of some character nulls in some parts of the manuscript and different null text in other parts of the manuscript. I have long suspected that the repeated words and words with 1 character difference next to each other must be indicative of null text or possibly verbosity.

    The author might have had a penchant for inserting some null text in some parts of the manuscript and just switched to other null text elsewhere.

    Clearly differences can be accounted by varying vocabulary, however as you point out this does not seem enough.

    If the manuscript were a hoax, which I don’t believe it is, obviously we could never prove it as such. Similarly the more null text or characters the harder it is as we are left wading through a swamp of nonsense in search of the slightest bit of meaning.

    Still as far as I am concerned the jury is still out.

  14. Mark: devising one fairly impractical encryption scheme and then rejecting it isn’t really strong grounds for rejecting the idea of encryption. 🙂

  15. Mark Knowles on September 4, 2017 at 5:39 pm said:

    Nick: I think one can’t reject the idea of encryption; in fact that is an idea I am now confident in. As I don’t believe, for a variety of reasons that I need not go into here, that it can be a hoax. Similarly the case that we are dealing with an unencrypted language, now and for some time, has seemed unlikely to me, even if it is embedded in null text.

    However I find it very hard to accepted that the cipher is so complex as some seem to imply as it would be absolutely unwieldy and impossible to work with unless the author was some kind of savant, which I don’t believe.

    So my inclination is that the differences one sees may be in some instances due to different vocabulary, but not due to significantly or probably even mildly different cipher rules.

    A smattering of null text and null characters and possibly more than one character corresponding to the same character could explain a lot. As an example in one part of the manuscript the author might frequently use null text “z£z” and elsewhere “q$q”, which could account for the noticeable differences.

    One thing of possible note, although not something I would be inclined towards, is that if there are different authors there would be different writing styles and vocabulary used even if the same cipher was applied; this could of course account for some variation.

    I still find it hard to believe the author was such an idiot that he managed to produce a nonsense manuscript that he couldn’t read back by including far too many rules though it is possible.

    So in conclusion I would caution against the idea that everything is so fundamentally complicated in the Voynich cipher.

  16. Mark: I would tend to expect that the author could very nearly read the decryption off the page, and that almost no external knowledge (e.g. a cipher key) would be necessary to do this. But few other people to date have taken this kind of position.

  17. Patrick: I actually meant the post-1582 dating speculation more as a provocation than a firm result. The pre-1500 dating suggested by the handwriting sits uncomfortably with the Pisces-March link, and I don’t yet know how to reconcile the two.

    As with so much Voynich evidence, it’s a bit of a minefield: tread carefully!

  18. There have always be two different ways of mapping the zodiac signs with the months.

    One is related to the ‘largest overlap’. The Sun spends most time in zodiac sign ‘Z’ during month ‘M’. The other is concerned with the month in which the Sun enters the sign in question.

    In the very interesting Byhrtferth diagrams from the 10th Century (Oxford St.Johns MS 17 or BL MS Harley 3667) , Pisces is associated with March, Aries with April, etc, just like in the Voynich MS. This is the ‘largest overlap’ case.

  19. Mark Knowles on September 4, 2017 at 7:43 pm said:

    Nick: I am inclined to agree. If this manuscript is intended for practical usage on a regular basis it ought to be something that the author could pick up and read without too much difficulty. It is possible that the intention was to read the manuscript infrequently only when specific information was required in which case a slower and more difficult process of reading the manuscript might be acceptable.

    However if the author was carrying out recipes then one might imagine these would be done frequently. Nevertheless it is not completely obvious to me how often the author would refer to the manuscript for information. That is assuming that the author was not merely using the manuscript to store information in transit similar to your Averlino hypothesis in which case a more difficult process of encipherment and decipherment would be viable.

    If he could read the manuscript easily was that because he had a really good memory for all the rules, well maybe I suppose. However my instincts are against that.

    So what is the explanation? Well, the best I can come up with is either a certain amount of junk or a transformation with a different simple input in the differing sections of the manuscript, which would transform the appearance of much of the text in that section in a way that was easy for the author to apply, where presumely that input would be specified at the beginning of each section. I err in favour of the junk theory, but I can’t say that I am hugely confident with that.

  20. Rene: in the tenth century, the calendar hadn’t yet “slid back” quite as much as it would do by the time of the introduction of the Grigorian calendar reforms, so back then each zodiac sign fell in about 50% of one month and 50% of the next.

    With the further sliding that happened by 1450, the largest overlap then was with the preceding month (i.e. in the 15th century calendar shown, Pisces started on the 11th February). So the largest overlap after the 10th century or so was always with the preceding month: which is perhaps why the 10th century or so was the last calendrical chance for a ‘largest overlap’ following-month case. :-p

  21. Karl K. on September 4, 2017 at 8:01 pm said:

    Mark: “A smattering of null text and null characters and possibly more than one character corresponding to the same character could explain a lot.” — that was essentially John Manly’s theory of the cipher (see http://www.as.up.krakow.pl/jvs/library/0-8-2008-05-23/nill_ring_binder.pdf).

    This is a testable hypothesis, _assuming access to corpora of texts in relevant 15th (and possibly pre-15th Century) languages (including transcriptions that preserve use of abbreviations)_. This highlights the need to locate and assemble pointers to such resources as a tall pole in Voynich research.

    Like any other cryptanalytic hypothesis, this has to explain the low 2nd order entropy, the observed “word” morphology, the observed correlations between glyphs across spaces, the vocabulary obeying Zipf’s law, and the binomial(ish) word length distribution — I think there are multiple items on that list that would be problematic for this theory.


  22. Mark Knowles on September 5, 2017 at 4:17 am said:

    Karl: Thanks for your very interesting message.

    I wonder to what extent each of the items you list are problematic. To me the idea of null text does not mean that it is random text.

    For example if I insert the words “empty”, “nothing” etc. In the text or append the string “null” at the front of words at regular intervals then this has the appearance of pattern where in fact there is no real underlying pattern. This is something that I can naturally see myself doing if I were the author doing rather than writing down random words. In fact using repeated junk text as one sees fit seems more straightforward.

    Of course if you have junk text you still.need to.easily be able to distinguish between the junk and the meaningful text.

    So I am not sure if or how the points that you mentioned go against my perspective on null text.

  23. Nick, that’s true enough. Around 1000, it would be about 50/50, and one could rephrase ‘largest overlap’ by ‘where the Sun is at the beginning of the month’.

    Whatever the motivation, it was certainly being used.

  24. Another reason for the shift is that during the medieval centuries, the year began with Easter, not Christmas or New Year.

    On the other hand, in some regions the financial year began in January when debts were settled.

    Secular calendars sometimes began in December.

    The sailing year began in March (or so) and as I’ve pointed out, the months in the Voynich calendar are those of the sailing year in the Mediterranean, with the non-sailing months being omitted.

    It’s probably fruitless to say this again – but there is no necessary connection between a calendar and astrological calculations, and for medieval people – and especially illiterate people – the months of the year were signalled by the presence of one or another of the twelve constellations. That’s why they are carved into caledrals and made into mosaics from such an early period, within the very precincts of those who most inveighed against the superstitious use of natural phenomena, including stars.

    I really cannot understand the fixation on imposing astrology on a series of images whose only obvious connection to the months are the month-names written in that fifteenth-century hand. Not even the images in the centres conform to Latin zodiac types, nor to they form a zodiac series. It’s even a bit of a stretch to identify them with the months, except for those late inscriptions – after which we have to presume it used as a calendar, but there is no evidence of any intention to use it for astrology. Same is true, actually, of most calendars before the popularist printed books which appear later than the ms was made.

    Not that such quibbling about historical fact is likely to trouble many.. but if the calendar wasn’t intended to be a standard Latin liturgical roster sort of calendar, and is too early to be a popularist German astrological pastiche, then perhaps the labels are talking about some other system altogether. One possibility is equation between places and times. After all the figures called ‘nymphs’ are clearly related to the tyche figures in the ‘bathy-‘ section, and tyches were (so to speak) pre-Christian patron saints of specific places.

    but I’ve said all this elsewhere… carry on..

  25. Diane: the idea that this series of images is not a zodiac sequence is (as far as I can tell) yours and yours alone. I’d be interested to see the reasoning behind any other zodiac denialist theorists you happen to stumble upon.

  26. One interesting observation is that all the word types together build a single network full of words that fuzzily match each other. The network exists not only since glyphs can be added and removed. It also exists since glyphs are replaces with similar ones. For instance beside the word [chedy] not only the words [chey], [chdy], [cheedy] and [cheody] exists. It is possible to find words as [shedy], [cheky] and [cheda]. Therefore abbreviatory matches are not enough to explain all the similar word types.

  27. Torsten: I don’t claim for a minute that abbreviatory matches do (or even could) explain everything odd about Voynichese. Rather, the real point of the post was that I think Voynich “labelese” (and in particular the Voynich zodiac labelese) should be taken more seriously on its own terms as a separate ‘dialect’ / ‘language’ / corpus, because understanding its nuances may well reveal much more about its specific dynamics than trying to do composite statistics on all the text at the same time.

  28. Nick: The point was that there is only one network. Therefore it doesn’t matter if the statistics are build for the whole manuscript or only for a part of it. The result is always one network of similar words.
    Only on glyph level it is possible to describe rules like almost no zodiac labels start with [qo-] or disproportionately large number of zodiac labels start with [ot] or [ok]. But on word level there is always just one network of words similar to each other. Sometimes this network gets more obvious like in the sequence of labels [otaral] [otalar] [otalam] [dolaram] [okaram] on page f70v2.

  29. Torsten: the notion that there is only one network even though different sections (Herbal A, Herbal B, zodiac labelese, Q13, etc) behave differently is your working hypothesis, it is not a proven thing.

    In my opinion, the essential nature of “the network” remains unclear: much of it could very well be explained as properties of a covertext (e.g. the sequence of shapes implied by a verbose cipher) rather than by a single semantic network. That is, much of what you are concerned with could very well be an orthographic (fake-letter-expressive) network.

    I suppose the unanswered question is this: why is there only a single network yet multiple languages?

  30. Nick: You describe the VMS yourself this way. You didn’t say that a specific word type or feature is unique for the Zodiac section. Instead you make statements like a disproportionately large number of zodiac labels start with EVA [ot-] or [ok-] or many words terminate with EVA [-y]. This way you describe words sharing the same features which can also occur in other sections of the manuscript. I call what you describe a network of similar words.

  31. Torsten: we’re in agreement that the mode of writing is essentially the same across all Voynich sections. And we’re surely not in disagreement that the text in different sections behaves differently.

    The key evidential difference between our positions seems to be that I think that there is a substantial divergence between the ways that individual sections work. It is true that ot- and ok- words appear all through the text, but it is also true that a feature doesn’t need to be unique to a section to make it significant, e.g. chol in Herbal A, etc.

  32. About prefixes ot and ok EVA : Maybe the change is related to the person’s gender, one for male characters (father, abbey) and the other for female characters (mather).

  33. Ruby: Mr + Mrs, eh? That’s a very good suggestion, thanks! 🙂

  34. Alternatively, it is occasionally said that labels should not be plural words. I think that this isn’t necessarily a hard rule. Anyway, if the initial 4 is a plural marker, both its rare appearance in labels, and the appearance of words with and without it in the main text, would be explained.

  35. Rene: in addition, the apparently strong linkage between qo- words and a preceding -y word has been mentioned many times. Hence it could be that qo- actually ‘pluralizes’ the preceding word, not the word of which it would seem to be the prefix. Something to consider, anyway. 😉

  36. Nick: If you search for differences each page of the manuscript is unique. For instance the word type [chol] occurs 7 times on page f3r but there is not a single instance of this word type on page f5r. Did this mean that the two pages contain different dialects?

    If you ask what have the same two pages in common you will find that page f3r and f5r share for instance the words [daiin], [cthy] and [cheor]. They also share that a good number of word occur multiple times and they also share that they contain particularly strong ‘paired’ structures (e.g. on the f3r page [chol] beside of [cthol] and [chor] and on page f5r the sequence [ckhoy cthey chey]). You have described similar features for the Zodiac section in this blog post.

    The question is, should we focus on the differences between single pages or should we focus on features common for all the pages?

  37. Torsten: my preferred third option would be to build (and expand) on the work of Prescott Currier by focusing on the systematic differences between groups of pages that behave in manifestly different ways to each other.

    There is clearly a functional layer of differences beneath “the network” and above the individual page: and the sooner we find a way to systematically determine what those page groupings and group differences are, the more constructive our conversations will become.

  38. Nick: Currier clearly described local variations as part of a larger system. For instance he described statistical differences like “the symbol groups ‘chol’ and ‘chor’ are very high in A and often occur repeated; low in B”. Currier was clear about what he was describing: “These features are to be found generally in the other Sections of the manuscript although there are always local variations.”

  39. Torsten: …and yet Currier is remembered not for pointing out the encompassing orthographic network, but for pointing out the two major page groupings, A and B.

    For me, the existence of different functional behaviours of specific sections of the Voynich is axiomatic, whether Herbal A, labelese, or whatever. I just wish you could turn your sharp brain and eyes to consider this even hypothetically, rather than turn everything round into a discussion of the network. 🙁

  40. Nick: There is a reason to use the illustrations to divide the manuscript into sections. From the text itself no clear indications to divide the manuscript into sections are known. It is on you to demonstrate evidence for your hypothesis that there is different functional behaviour somewhere in the VMS.

    It doesn’t matter what you compare for the VMS. You can compare two pages, two quires, two sections or Currier A with Currier B. The outcome is always that there are differences and similarities. Both the differences and the similarities are part of the system. With other words whenever you think that you know what the rules are each new page will demonstrate you wrong. Therefore I find it far from surprising if you describe some special features for the Zodiac section. If the Zodiac section would be behave like another section of the VMS this would be a surprise.

  41. Torsten: OK, so would I be right in saying that you believe that Prescott Currier had no significant evidence for his findings?

  42. Nick: Curriers observations and your interpretation of this observations are two different things. Please reread what Currier has written. He has described significant statistical differences between what he has called “language A” and “language B”. He has also explicitly said that his “use of the word language is convenient, but it does not have the same connotations as it would have in normal use.” This is something else then your hypothesis about different functional behaviours of specific sections.

    The problem is that observations like something is more common then somewhere else are not enough to back up your hypothesis about different functional behaviours of specific sections. If the functional behaviour of the VMS is a permanent shift it is no surprise that also some features are more or less common for the Zodiac section.

  43. Torsten: your interpretation of Currier’s findings is quite plainly different to just about everyone else’s. I know full well what he meant by ‘language’, thanks for asking.

  44. Josef Zlatoděj Prof. on September 6, 2017 at 4:22 pm said:

    Nick and ants.
    Prescott Currier is wrong.

    Torsten Timm.
    Word ( daiin ) is wrong. no – d.
    Word is read – 8 aiin.
    8 is number. And means letters = F, P.
    Otherwise, Eliška was 8 child.
    Find out what the word means – aiin ( Ajin ). And you will be clear. The word is Jewish.

  45. Mark Knowles on September 8, 2017 at 11:30 am said:

    Nick: When you say “running tests on Voynichese why they should run them on one section of text at a time”. Is there any plan or agenda to do that applying the standard tests that have already been applied successfully to the whole text?

    I would be really interested in hearing about the results for “labelese”.

  46. Mark: even though I think Currier was right to flag A vs B, and for others to subdivide this further into Herbal A, Herbal B, Q13, Q20, etc, determining the cluster “boundaries” is something that different statistical methodologies yield different results for. I’m actively thinking about this at the moment, and in particular about the Voynich’s zodiac labelese, so expect more posts on this topic here. 🙂

  47. Nick: Currier was comparing parts of the manuscript known as Currier A and Currier B. He described the differences between this sections as “features to be found generally in the other sections of the manuscript although there are always local variations”. Rene Zandbergen noted on his website that “Herbal-A pages located after the biological section are rather different from the early Herbal-A pages”. Beside this observations each page can have there own local variations. For instance page f15v contains many [or] groups like [chor or oro] or even if the symbol group [chor] is typical for Currier A this word can be missing on Currier A pages like on page f5r.

    You described in this blog post special features for the Zodiac section. For doing so you use words like “more common in zodiac labels than elsewhere”. The interesting point is that you describe your observations in a similar way as Currier. You both describe features that are more common on some place then somewhere else.

    All this observations together allows two conclusions. First, the frequencies of nameable symbol groups vary throughout the manuscript. Secondly the frequencies for this symbol groups didn’t change randomly. It is possible to describe features common for smaller or larger groups of pages. It seems that what happens is a shift from feature set A over feature set B to feature set C.

  48. Torsten: the idea that all the different Voynich pages work within a broader shared ‘system’, orthographic system, or “network” (as you put it) is accepted – this is what allows us to call it Voynichese. Currier identified the major two A / B clusters, while more recent researchers (such as Rene Zandbergen, Glen Claston, and many others) have attempted to subcluster these further: some (e.g. Glen Claston) have tried to use this to identify an evolutionary / developmental sequence between subclusters. There is still much work to be done here.

  49. Mark Knowles on September 8, 2017 at 12:06 pm said:

    Nick: As you know as far as the text goes my interest at this time is really only in single word labelese, so any statistical results you can produce on labelese which could well supplement a crib or block paradigm crib would be of great value.

    I eagerly anticipate your future posts.

  50. Mark Knowles on September 8, 2017 at 12:22 pm said:

    Nick: Also statistical results on Short Word labelese would be very interesting. I think the less scope that there is for null text or null characters the better and I think short word labelese is most likely to provide that.

  51. Nick’s statement that there is still much to be done here is completely on the mark. Only a fraction of this topic has been properly explored, and it is also barely understood by a surprisingly large part of Voynich text ‘researchers’.

    The differences: labelese vs. normal text on the one hand, and Currier A vs. B on the other hand, are not the same.
    The comparison is made difficult by the small corpus of labels, and the fact that in any subset of Voynich text, about half the words are unique.

    Each ‘oddity’ in the text statistics is a potential point of attack. A place to dig.

  52. Rene: you mark zodiac labelese up as “C” in your cluster analysis page, do you still think this is correct?

    Personally, I believe it is a cluster all of its own, one I’d place generally more towards A than B. But I don’t think the last word has yet been had on clustering, not by a long way.

  53. Mark Knowles on September 8, 2017 at 3:04 pm said:

    Rene: I think the statement “there is still much to be done” could naturally be applied widely. I find it very hard to do everything I would like to with the time I have available for the Voynich and as you know my emphasis has been directed elsewhere.

    I contend that “labelese” is most likely to be Voynichese at its simplest and therefore this subset of the language is the best point of attack. I would be curious as to the number of single word labels in the manuscript. I would expect single word labels to be largely unique within the label text.

    I am somewhat wary of what I perceive to be an overemphasis on the application of statistics as largely sufficient for decipherment. Having said that the more reliable statistical information we have can only add value and augment information derived from a crib of some kind.

  54. Rene: To compare means to examine the differences and the similarities. Moreover, a rule which applies throughout the manuscript describes something characteristic.

    The frequencies for each group of symbols vary throughout the manuscript. At some point it becomes a rule that each section prefers there own set of common glyph groups. Therefore I wouldn’t call the observation that glyph groups like [ot-], [ok-] and [yk-] are more frequent in the Zodiac section an ‘odditiy’.

  55. Torsten: Rene placed the word ‘oddity’ in scare-quotes, and so clearly meant it not to be interpreted as literally as you seem to have taken it.

    Any significant localised deviation from a default pattern that is established over several hundred pages probably counts as an ‘oddity’ in some respect. The obvious difficulties in pursuing this idea are (a) finding a sensible level of what “local” means that is above the page level yet below the “network” level; and (b) establishing what kind of deviations could rightly be deemed “significant”.

    I would contend that Currier A and Currier B easily satisfy these criteria: and, in the context of this post, I believe that zodiac labels also do. If we look at the zodiac labels in f70v2 (Pisces), taken (mostly) from Takahashi’s EVA transcription:

    sar. am

    Here, 15 of the 30 labels begin with “ot-” (50%), while 9 begin with “ok-” (30%). My stats professor used to say that “stats begins at 30 [samples]”, and so perhaps even here we might have enough samples to begin to assess statistical significance. 🙂

  56. With ‘oddity’ I meant: anything that ‘sticks out’.

    W.r.t. Nick’s question about cluster ‘C’, this is based on the combined labels and the text in circles in the zodiac pages. Now whether the labels and the circular texts are similar is, as far as I know, one of many unanswered questions.
    It is clearly important in order to judge ‘zodiac labelese’.

    What’s also of great interest is that the zodiac section is the place where the transition from Currier A to Currier B is taking place. The most prominent feature is the frequency of the character pair ‘ed’ (in Eva), which Currier himself either did not notice or failed to report.
    Since we have no doubt at all about the page order in this part of the MS, it is an excellent opportunity to understand this transition.

    I did the statistical analyses reported in three of my web pages more than 15 years ago, and it is necessary for several reasons to redo them, and I also want to extend them. (Yes, there is really a lot to be looked at in more detail).

    So first I decided to consolidate the input data.

  57. Nick: Something can have statistical significance and can be expected. There is no contradiction.

    The default pattern is that the each section prefers there own set of common glyph groups. Also the Zodiac section fulfills this pattern.

  58. Torsten: so… what you seem to be claiming is that because the statistics of each page of the Voynich are inherently variable (relative to the average statistics of the entire Voynich corpus), it makes no sense to you to look for any clusters between the page level and the corpus level.

    Is that a fair summary?

  59. Nick: The opposite is the case. Such observations are highly interesting. For instance it is possible to generalize this observations to get an idea how the system behind the VMS works. Such observations also tell us something about the original order of the pages. Sections using similar sets of glyph groups probably follow each other.

    My point is that the Zodiac section should be seen in the context of the whole manuscript. In my yes it is not an isolated section with features different from the rest of the manuscript.

  60. Karl K. on September 9, 2017 at 7:45 pm said:

    Not only is the sample of labels small relative to the rest of the text, but (I’d argue) the best shot at understanding how labels relate to the main text will come from finding Pharma section labels associated with plant part drawings that are a match to part of a plant drawing in the herbal section (which is an even smaller sample :-() and seeing if/how they occur in the corresponding Herbal page text. If folks are aware that someone has already done that specific analysis, a pointer to it would be appreciated. — Karl

  61. Karl: the thing I’ve been saying for several years now is that because of the “triple jump” nature of Voynichese (ie there are multiple different types of problems to solve all at the same time), we will need a block of labels (or more) plus a really inspired equivalence hypothesis about the plaintext to stand any chance. :-/

  62. Torsten: then we are in agreement that there is more to be learned about the manuscript from the ways that ‘language’ changes between pages.

  63. Nick: The ‘language‘ isn’t changing between pages. There is only a change in the set of words used.

    The first step in deciphering an unknown script is to describe the script in detail. In this way your observations for the Zodiac section are excellent. It is important that a disproportionately large number of zodiac labels start or end with the same glyph groups. It is also important that a good number of zodiac labels occur multiple times. The observations of particularly strong ‘paired’ labels is also interesting.

    Beside the fact that Currier describes observations for different words his observations for Currier A and B are similar. He also describes observations like “initial ‘cth’ very high in ‘A’; very low in ‘B'” or “final ‘dy’ is very high in Language ‘B’; almost non-existent in Language ‘A'”. Also Currier describes symbol groups that occur multiple times: “The symbol ‘chol’ and ‘chor’ are very high in ‘A’ and often occur repeated; low in ‘B'”. Even if he named ‘chol’ and ‘chor’ together he didn’t said something explicitly about ‘paired’ symbol groups.

    The first step in deciphering an unknown script was always to understand how the script works. Therefore such observations are interesting no matter what the system in the end is. They give a first clue about the system behind the text. In some way they describe the grammar for the ‘language’ of the VMS.

  64. Don Latham on October 25, 2017 at 10:48 pm said:

    Thank you all for a really productive exchange. I’d like to see more, even if I cannot contribute. Don’t like being a lurker, but have to for now. Thanks again

  65. Don Latham on October 25, 2017 at 11:00 pm said:

    BTW, I still have 3 small data files on my web page,
    Starnames, Arabic Star Names. Adapted from “Star Names” by R. H. Allen,

    Zodiac Stars, some search results from star names, and

    Manzils, Manaizil al .Kamr (plural), Manzil (singular), 8.

    The page containing the links is:

    The idea was to turn Allen’s book into a computer searchable form. I kept the page numbers as you see.

    I would be happy to send copies to anyone who wants them.

  66. Don
    Hinkley Allen is not considered entirely sound; may I suggest that those interested supplement his ‘Star Names…’ with Emilie Savage Smith’s (very conservative) ‘Islamicate Celestial Globes…’ (book, not article) which has a substantial section on the lunar mansions. I have also a photocopy of an excellent dictionary of Arabic astronomical terms – partly in English and partly in Arabic, but regret not having it with me at the moment so will have to return with details. Otherwise Kunitzch is a standard reference, in which many of H-A’s errors are specified.

    For a good overview of the history of use in the west,


  67. PS -in the aramcoworld article the diagram labelled ZUBDET UT TEVARIH (BY LOKMAN, 1583 ) is near identical to a diagram in the pictorial alamac made by Abraham Cresques for the court of France, completed in 1375. That almanac is usually called the ‘Catalan Atlas’ also ‘Majorcan…’ would be more appropriate.

  68. Details of the Dictionary..

    Mansur Hanna JURDAK, Astronomical Dictionary. The Zodiac and the Constellations (1950).

    To correct the common assumption of standardized orthography, the variant forms found on extant astrolabes is helpful and Robert Gunther’s 2 volume ‘Astrolabes of the World’ (1932) remains invaluable.

    And I might also suggest – again – for fifteenth-century usage among eastern mariners, Ibn Majid’s treatise of which an English translation was made by G.R. Tibbetts. The title begins ‘Arab Navigation in the Indian Ocean Before the Coming of the Portuguese…’

    Nick – I’ve already posted this last material, but it seems not to have registered, so hope this isn’t a duplication.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Post navigation