Bench gallows are the characters transcribed in EVA as [ckh, cth, cfh, cph]. They derive their name from their appearance: they look like a gallows character [k, t, f, p] with a bench [ch] draw through it.
Within the text bench gallows characters tend to act most similar to their gallows counterparts, occurring in the same ‘slot’ in the word structure. They are only 10% to 20% as common as their counterparts, however, and are more common in Currier A than B. A few pages have no occurrences of bench gallows, and many have substantial portions of text without one.
What are they?
One of the key questions about bench gallows is their nature. Although they look as though they are two characters combined, is that the case? We know that some characters share the same strokes. The character [i] is a single stroke also found in [l, r, n, m], and [e] is found in [o, y, d, s, ch, sh], while [a] has them both. It may be that the graphical similarity is superficial with no deeper link.
However, we can be fairly sure that the gallows part of the character is actually related to gallows. Firstly, as already mentioned, when we look at the word structure of Voynich words, we can see that bench gallows work in a similar way to gallows. Next, the characters [cfh, cph] often appear in the first lines of paragraphs just like [f, p]. Last, the four different bench gallows mirrors exactly the four different gallows: not only strokes have been borrowed but a whole set of characters.
The bench part of the character is more uncertain. The strokes are simpler and there’s only a single character which has been borrowed, [ch], even though there are two benches, [ch, sh]. There’s also the fact that a bench gallows doesn’t act like a bench in the text. Yet there’s some evidence that this part of the character really is a bench.
Gallows characters are often followed by benches. Anywhere from 15% to 50% of gallows are followed by [ch, sh]. Yet for bench gallows that figure is effectively 0%. There are only 3 [ckhch] and [cthch], and 1 [cphch]. None of the other possible combinations exist, and it might as well be considered an invalid combination.
This exclusion of bench characters following a bench gallows is a positive sign that there is some relationship between the two. It should be noted, however, that the occurrence of benches before bench gallows, in strings such as [chckh], is perfectly valid. Indeed, it seems to be more common than for regular gallows, which will be discussed in another post.
Bench Gallows Variants
Although most bench gallows are of a simple type, several variants exist. One common variation is the extended bench gallows with an extra [e] stroke joined to the crossbar, transcribed as an additional [h]. About 30 [ckhh] are recorded in the transcription, along with 23 [cthh], 7 [cfhh], and 13 [cphh].
However, visual inspection of these reveal a large number of ambiguous readings. Although some are definitely correct, others are not and many are hard to judge. It is not easy to know whether a string should be [ckhh] or [ckhe], for example.
Despite this, they remain an interesting insight into the character, and question whether the bench part is a bench at all. For there are no, or almost no, examples of [cch] or [chh] in the text. Why can a bench gallows take an extra [e] stroke—even if rarely—when benches cannot? Surely we would expect to see extended benches in the same ratios as extended bench gallows?
Another common variant is the replacement of the initial [c] stroke with an [i] stroke. These variants are as common as the extended bench gallows: 33 [ikh], 26 [ith], 6 [ifh], and 8 [iph]. Once again, visual inspection reveals the possibility that at least some are misreadings or miswritings.
However, we can be sure that not only are many of these ‘i–bench gallows’ real, but that the [i] stroke really is what it looks like. The [i] stroke is the conditioning environment is the cause for the variation of [y] into [a], so we should expect that to happen before these characters. This is exactly what we see.
There are 13 [aikh], 14 [aith], 4 [aifh], and 6 [aiph]. Though the numbers are small they are significant ratios. We can also be sure that normal bench gallows don’t cause [a]: there is 1 [ackh], 2 [acth], and 2 [acph]. These are not only small numbers but tiny ratios at <1% of all bench gallows.
Moreover, like above with other variant gallows, these combinations don’t occur in benches alone. The character pair [ih] occurs only thrice, and [ci] not at all. So once again we see that bench gallows can be formed with something which is distinctly not a bench.
I am unsure of what this all means. I think that bench gallows are not simply gallows with extra strokes which are purely graphical. Those strokes are likely to be related to other characters in the script and it is thus some kind of ligature.
However, I don’t think bench gallows are strictly a ligature between a bench and a gallows. It would seem that characters are being linked together with a crossbar, like a bench, though maybe for a different reason. We can be sure that one of the characters in the ligature is a gallows, but the identity of the others is harder to understand.
I have some further thoughts about the way bench gallows are used in words, and I’ll put these in another post.