What can we say about [q]?

I want to quickly sum up my last three posts to give my opinion on [q]. We already know that it doesn’t often occur in labels, but does so in the main text. We also know that it occurs almost always at the start of a word and before [o].

I think what I have seen from the last few posts is that words beginning with [q] have two particular relationships. The first is that a word starting [q] must have a valid counterpart word starting [o], and it is not enough for the plain word without either [q] or [o] to exist. Conversely, even if the [o] form exists, that does not mean that the [q] form will.

This suggests that, whatever the meanings of [q] and [o] are, they are separate characters. A plain word such as [kaiin] has [o] added to it to form [okaiin], and then [q] added to form [qokaiin]. The prefix [qo] is not valid.

Second, the character which comes immediately after [q] and [o] conditions the relative frequencies of these two prefixes. So a word starting [ch] will have low levels of both, whereas a word starting [t] will have relatively high levels of both. The words [chy] and [tchy] have very different patterns of the two prefixes.

If we believe that characters stand for sounds then it is hard to see how [q] and [o] can be grammatical. Words should not belong to grammatical categories according to their initial sounds (though there are exceptions). The alternative is that the process of adding [q] and [o] is phonological.

It occurs to me that the first characters of plain words most likely to take [o] are [k, t, l, r]. These are the same characters which are most consistent in acting as ‘strong’ characters at the start of words. They also show positive attraction to appearing after words ending [o]. We have already seen this from another angle with regard to [o] forms after words ending with ‘strong’ characters.

However, the problem is that the further addition of [q] makes little sense. It only seems to occur frequently on those plain words which begin [k, t]. As the sequence [y.o] is actually quite acceptable in the language, it cannot be added just to prevent a weak–weak combination. (It turns out that only strong–strong combinations are discouraged.) Though the lack of [q] words in labels suggests that the preceding word provides an environment for its occurrence.

The value of [q] must be also connected with the identity of the gallows characters, yet words starting [lk] and [cth] have relatively low [q] form frequency ([ckh] seems to be higher).

It seems as though [q] is being used to create a phonological sequence which is preferred for some unknown reason.


5 thoughts on “What can we say about [q]?

  1. Emma: just a quick observation about ok / ot words. Given that they are so heavily clustered in the zodiac pages (that Rene distinguishes from A and B by calling “C”), do you think that your corpus-wide analyses of o- vs qo- might be on shaky ground? For example, might o-gallows be to C as qo-gallows are to B?


    • No. Because even though words beginning [ok, ot] are more common on the zodiac pages, they’re also common in Quires 13 and 20. As both [qo] and [o] forms coexist on the same pages, we still need to explain what conditions them. Further, the analysis holds best for words with the highest token count, meaning that the influence of the zodiac pages (which are text-light) is minimized.


  2. Emma,
    I’m not sure this comment will be helpful, but you never know.
    In medieval Latin texts, as in Greek texts, ‘o’ can mark an omission, so that – speaking hypothetically – were the text derived from Latin, ‘qo’ might represent any in a range of habitually shortened forms as: .. quid.. quo.. quis.. and so on. In fact, even longer strings are sometimes reduced to the same in manuscripts e.g. qui iterum could be shortened to ‘q’ with ‘o’-of-omission.

    Further, since the ‘o’ marking omission also occurs in Greek, and the ‘q’ isn’t necessarily the Latin ‘q’ , so the same could apply, that is, the ‘o’ sometimes intended to mark the definite article, but sometimes an ‘o’ of omission.

    I haven’t investigated any of this, especially the Greek – except to note that Greek medieval texts are less inclined to abbreviate than are the Latin – , but I would imagine it possible that if the ‘o’-of-omission were to occur immediately before the ‘o’-article then the latter might be omitted; conversely, where if the item denoted ‘q’ were not used, then the ‘o’ (as article) might be re-instated.

    These possibilities are just musings, really – the only point made that one should perhaps be wary of supposing that Voynich glyphs’ values, whether in sound or grammar, are going to be constant.

    Does that sound fair?


  3. Hi Emma,
    it seems to me that you have provided a clear description of the relationship between q- and o-. That’s a great progress!
    I hope it will be possible to identify some measures that could tell us if the presence of q- really is determined by the phonetic context.

    I don’t know if this could be relevant, but I am interested in the correlation of q- with word reduplication and quasi-reduplication. Even if q- is not as frequent as o- in the whole text, it occurs much more than twice as frequently as o- in both forms of reduplication.

    Also, there is the apparently unpredictable way in which q- can manifest itself in quasi-reduplications, even following similar endings:


    What can possibly trigger the presence or absence of q- in the first, second or both occurrences of the reduplication?


    • Hi Marco, I hope that we can find some specific context which make [q] appear or not. I’m unhappy that, although we can see the character is clearly specific in the words it attaches to, I can’t explain why.

      Sadly, the reason why [q] words might be more often reduplicated or quasi-reduplicated also escapes me. I would have thought left context was important, but I know we’ve seen a few times that it’s not so likely in this case, and your examples show that as you point out. There are multiple phrases in the examples you give which must be practically the same except for the presence or absence of a [q].

      The character [q] seems like a problem we can describe but not explain.


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