Tiltman’s 1951 Report to Friedman

Brigadier John Tiltman was introduced to the Voynich Manuscript by William Friedman in 1950. Friedman gave a number of photostats to Tiltman and asked him to study them. The following year Tiltman reported his findings to Friedman. He also reprised them for a 1967 talk and paper.

For the purposes of history, and to make his findings better known, I have transcribed the overview of the report which Tiltman published in 1967. It consists of fifteen points (a to o), each of which is more or less a separate observation on the properties of the text. Tiltman used his own transcription alphabet which I have modernized to EVA, but otherwise the text is as little changed as possible. I have also included any plates where they are mentioned in the text, either by copying them out or by linking to online images of the same page.

It must be borne in mind that Tiltman saw [k] and [f], [t] and [p], and [l] and [m] as variants.

(a) Following are some notes on the common behaviour of some of the commonly occurring symbols. I would like to say that there is no statement of opinion below to which I cannot myself find plenty of contradiction. I am convinced that it is useless (as it is certainly discouraging) to take account at this stage of rare combinations of symbols. It is not even in every case possible to say which is a single symbol and what is not. For example, I am not completely satisfied that the commonly occurring [a] has not to be resolved into [ei] or possibly [oi]. I have found no punctuation at all.

(b) [ckh] and [cth] appear to be infixes of [k] and [t] within [ch]. The variant symbol represented by [m] appears most commonly at the end of a line, rarely elsewhere.

(c) Paragraphs nearly always begin with [k] or [t], most commonly in the second variant forms [f, p], which also occur frequently in words in the top lines of paragraphs where there is some extra space.

(d) [y] occurs quite frequently as the initial symbol of a line followed immediately by a combination of symbols which seem to be happy without it in any part of a line away from the beginning. Otherwise it occurs chiefly before spaces very frequently preceded immediately by [d]. Hence my belief that these two have some separative or conjunctive function. (I have to admit, however, that [y] also seems sometimes to take the place of [o] before [k] or [t] (though rarely, if ever, after [q]); this is particularly noticeable in some of the captions to illustrations in the astronomical section of the manuscript—these most commonly begin [ok] or [ot] and it is here that we occasionally see [yk] or [yt].)

(e) I have tried, for convenience of handling, to divide words into what I call “roots” and “suffixes.” This arrangement is shown:

Preliminary division of very common words in “roots” and “suffixes”

Roots: [ok, ot, qok, qot, ch, sh, d, s, lk]

Suffixes: either (i) [e, ee, eee] followed by [y] or [dy]

or (ii) one or more of the following:

[an, ain, aiin, aiiin]

[ar, air, aiir, aiiir]

[al, ail, aiil, aiiil (am, aim, aiim, aiiim)]

[or, ol (om)]

Regarding the second type of suffix, some of the combinations are so rare that I have been uncertain whether to take any account of them at all. Some are very common indeed. It seems to me that each of these combinations beginning [a] has its own characteristic frequency which is maintains in general throughout the manuscript and independent of context (except in cases where two or more [a] groups are together in series, as referred to later). These [a] groups, e.g., [ar] or [aiin], frequently occur attached directly to “roots,” particularly [ok], [ot], [d], and [s]. [okaiin], [qokaiin], and [daiin] rank high among the commonest words in the manuscript.

(f) There are however many examples of 2, 3, 4 or even 5 [a] groups strung together on end without spaces between them. When this occurs, there appears to be some selective preference. For examples, [ar] is very frequently doubled, i.e., [ar ar], wheres [aiin] which is generally significantly commoner, is rarely found doubled. Perhaps the commonest succession of three of these groups is [ar ar al]. [al] very frequently follows [ar], but [ar] hardly ever follows [al].

(g) [o], which has a very common and very definite function in “roots,” seems to occur frequently in “suffixes” in rather similar usage to [a], but nearly always as [or] and [ol]. [or aiin] is very common.

(h) The behaviour of the [a] (and [o]) groups has suggested to me that they may in fact constitute some form of spelling. It might be, for instance, that the manuscript is intended to demonstrate some very primitive universal language and that the author was driven to spell out the ends of words in order to express the accidence of an inflected language. If all the possible [a] and [o] combinations can occur, then there are 24 possibilities. They may, however, be modified or qualified in some way by the prefixed symbols [k], [t], [ok], [ot], [ch], [sh], [d], [s], etc., and I have not so far found it possible to draw a line anywhere. This, coupled with ignorance of the basic language, if any, makes it difficult to make any sort of attempt at solution, even assuming that there is spelling.

(i) [l], usually preceded by [a] or [o], is very commonly followed by [k], much less commonly by [t], with or without a space between. In this connection, I have become more and more inclined to believe that a space, though not intended to deceive, must not necessarily be regarded as a mark of division between two words or concepts.

(j) Speaking generally, each symbols behaves as if it had its own place in an “order of precedence” withing words; some symbols such as [o] and [y] seem to be able to occupy two functionally different places.

(k) Some of the commoner word, e.g., [okeey], [okeedy], [qokeedy], [odaiin], [okar], [odal], [daiin], [chedy], occur twice running, occasionally three times.

(l) I am unable to avoid the conclusion that the occurrence of the symbols [e] up to 3 times in one form of “suffix” and the symbols [i] up to 3 times in the other must have some systematic significance.

(m) Peter Long has suggested to me that the [a] groups might represent Roman Numerals. Thus [aiin] might be IIJ, and [ar ar al] XXV, but this, if true, would only present one with a set of numbered categories which doesn’t solve the problems. In any cases, though it accounts for the properties of the commoner combinations, it produces many impossible ones.

(n) The next three plates show pages where the symbols occur singly, apparently in series, and not in their normal functions. Plate 18. The column of 6 or 7 symbols [k] (or [t]), [o], [s], [y], [e], ?. In Plate 19 the succession of symbols in the circles must surely have some significance. One circle has the same series of 17 symbols repeated 4 times. Plate 20 also has an interesting column of symbols. In all three there are symbols which rarely, if ever, occur elsewhere.

(o) My analysis, I believe, shows that the text cannot be the result of substituting single symbols for letters in the natural order. Languages simply do not behave in this way. If the single words attached to stars in the astronomical drawings, for instance, are really, as they appear to be, captions expressing the names or qualities of those stars, there can hardly be any form of transposition system involved. And yet I am not aware of any long repetitions of more than 2 or 3 words in succession, as might be expected for instance in the text under the botanical drawings.


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