Why the Voynich Text is not Linguistic

I believe that the text of the Voynich manuscript is linguistic in nature, and that belief underpins everything I have written here. By “linguistic” I mean that the text is a normal, or mostly normal, language written plainly and with the goal of transmitting information from the writer to the reader. There is no more secrecy involved in the text than that of a normal book, and no more steps involved than writing and reading this sentence.

I understand that this is not the only view and that many see the Voynich text as cryptological. By “cryptological” I simply mean that the writer intended to make the text unreadable—or as near they could manage—to those that were not knowledgeable about its nature. The original text may have been written in a natural language (although it might not be) but the process and steps between that and the text we have were meant to obscure.

As somebody who believes in the linguistic nature of the Voynich text I cannot properly give the reasons why it might be cryptological. I do not know enough about cryptology, nor have spent time weighing up the case for this viewpoint. However, I can give the hardest aspects of Voynich as a linguistic text, the things that make the least sense and trouble me the most. I feel that doing this publicly is both honest and helpful, and maybe rather interesting.

I will give the top five reasons, although others could think of more, ordered from least to most troubling. The one reason I won’t give is, ‘Were the text linguistic somebody would have read it by now!’ Because, of course, the same could be true of a medieval cipher.

5. How come we have never seen the script before?

The 1400s in Europe were generally a well recorded period. We have oodles of documents and lots of knowledge about life, language, and literature of the time. But we have no script quite like that found in the Voynich Manuscript. Many vernacular languages were coming into use around this time and they all used an existing script—mostly Roman, some Cyrillic and others. Several magical alphabets were invented slightly later but their goal was to obscure the language beneath, with most being simple substitutions for Roman script. The Voynich script does not seem to be a simple substitution, and is confusing if the goal was to transmit information and not hide it.

4. Why do most paragraphs begin with a gallows letter?

It simply isn’t likely that most words at the beginning of most paragraphs just happen to begin with only one of four letters. Some process must be putting them there, but it is not obvious how such a process could be linguistic.

3. Why is the distribution [p] and [f] so weird?

These two letters mostly occur on the first lines of paragraphs, which does not seem a very language–like thing to do. Moreover, they are not simple variants of [t] and [k] despite being like them. The only saving grace from a linguistic viewpoint is that it seems you can write the Voynich text wholly without them. But then, what can the letters even be for if they are optional?

2. What lies behind line as a functional unit (LAAFU) effects?

How can a text, which is meant to represent a spoken language, respond to its container, the page of a manuscript? The words at the beginning and end of lines show different statistics to the text as a whole. What makes these words be or become different? Language shouldn’t know or care (surely?) how it is written, and the writer cannot simply alter every tenth word as he comes to a new line. The possible linguistic explanation is complicated and hypothetical. Cryptology handles it much better.

1. Where are the phrases?

So there are no long strings of repeated text, and not all that many two or three word phrases. It is as if the writer managed to dodge repeating himself at all in over a hundred pages. How likely is that? Even though the letters inside words are highly ordered, the words inside sentences seem to be wholly disordered. I do not understand how a language could do that.


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