Bench Gallows

The bench gallows characters are often overlooked because they appear relatively unoften in the text of the Voynich manuscript. They are also somewhat confusing as they seem to arise from a combination of gallows characters [k, t, f, p] with [ch]. Indeed, in the EVA transcription system they are written in a way which encourages this view: [ckh, cth, cfh, cph]. For the purposes of this article they will be thought of as one character, though it should not be taken as a statement of their origin.

(It is also to be said that some rare variants of bench gallows occur, often transcribed in EVA like [ikh] and [ckhh]. Whether these are real characters or simply writing and reading errors I do not know. Their numbers—none has more than 35 instances—make them not worth considering here. They may be worth a separate study, however.)

All four gallows characters have bench gallows counterparts, and they occur in the following numbers and ratios:

[k] 9938 [ckh] 907 Ratio: 11:1

[t] 5927 [cth] 945 Ratio: 6.3:1

[f] 425 [cfh] 74 Ratio: 5.7:1

[p] 1403 [cph] 217 Ratio: 6.5:1

It is immediately obvious that the ratio of [k] to [ckh] is much lower than the other three. The reason for this is unknown. Also bear in mind that the numbers of [cfh] and [cph] are rather low and any statistics given for them below are likely to have a high uncertainty.

Overall, bench gallows are well distributed throughout the text. They occur in both Currier A and B languages, and in all sections. There are only a few pages, mostly diagrams, where none at all are present, though their number on any given page can be quite low. It is clear that long passages of text can be written without any bench gallows, but also that they can be a normal feature of the text.

The bench gallows [cfh, cph] have a similar distribution to [f, p] in that they occur much more common on the first line of a paragraph (Neal Lines). They can occur anywhere in the text, however.

Bench gallows almost never come at the end of a word: 5 instances for [ckh], 6 instances for [cth], and none for [cfh, cph]. This is a rate of <1%.

They are more common at the start of words:

[ckh] 196, 21.6%

[cth] 498, 52.7%

[cfh] 33, 44.6%

[cph] 131, 60.4%

Although the range is rather wide, again we see that [cth, cfh, cph] are more similar to one another and that [ckh] is different. This echoes the split seen in the ratio between gallows and bench gallows characters. Higher figures are also seen for [t, f, p] at the start of words, but these are likely to be due mostly to Grove Words. Given that bench gallows do not participate in whatever process makes Grove Words, this cannot be the explanation for [ckh].

If we use the ratio of 6:1 as a rough average of gallows to bench gallows for [t, f, p], we find the expected number of 1656 [ckh] based on there being 9938 [k]. This is a difference of 749 missing [ckh]. Were all of these to come at the start of words that would give the total number of word beginning [ckh] as 945, or 57% of the 1656 we would expect on equal ratios. This is within the limits of the other bench gallows. It is suggestive that the two observations are somehow linked.

For those bench gallows which let another character come before them, they are much less likely to take [y] or [o] before them than are normal gallows, and somewhat less likely to take [qo]. They are much more likely to take sequences beginning [ch, sh], followed by [e] and/or [o] (also [y] according the deletion of [y] hypothesis). This includes the sequences: [ch], [cho], [che], [cheo], [sh], [sho], [she], and [sheo]. In almost every case the rate of such prefixes is higher before a bench gallows. Together they account for about 50–70% of all prefixes before bench gallows but only 8–12% of normal gallows.

The characters which come after bench gallows are likewise strikingly different from normal gallows. For a start the characters [ch, sh] almost never occur after bench gallows. A quick look suggests that several of those which do may well be due to transcription errors or instances like [ckhh] noted above. It is also noteworthy that while [f, p] are almost never followed by [e], both [cfh, cph] have rates similar to [ckh, cth].

Bench gallows are regularly followed by [y]: nearly half of all [ckh], almost 40% of [cth], a third of [cfh], and about 24% of [cph]. In most cases the occurrence of [y] will mean the end of a word, suggesting that bench gallows are relatively unlikely to have another section following them. Indeed, adding together occurrences of bench gallows followed by [y] and [ey] alone makes up for 30–65% of all instances compared to 10% or less for normal gallows.

This last fact is likely to be linked with something mentioned in our discussion of high level word structure. An After section is unlikely to be paired with a Fore section more complicated than [y], [o], or [qo]. Given the high rate of bench gallows prefixed by sections like [che] or [sh], the lack of After sections is entirely normal.


There is enough basic evidence to assume that bench gallows are distinct as characters from normal gallows. They occur in different character environments and word structures. We would expect them to have different sound values from normal gallows, assuming the linguistic hypothesis is true.

The almost complete failure of bench gallows to take [ch, sh] after them suggests that there may be some link between the “bench” and those characters which it most nearly resembles. It may be that there has been some fusion or transference of sound between the two characters, but such a suggestion is speculation.

The observation of the low ratio of [ckh] to [k], and the similarly low occurrence of [ckh] wordfirst, need more investigation. It could suggest that [ckh] stands for a sound which cannot appear at the beginning of a word for phonological reasons, or undergoes a transformation in that position. It could also be that the same sound is represented in another way.


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