The script used for the majority of the text in the Voynich manuscript is regarded as unique. It is not known from elsewhere and shows no strong affinities to any other script. Some glyphs are similar in shape to glyphs in other scripts, but there is no substantial match between the majority of glyphs and any single script.
It is clear from the layout of the text that the script is written from left to right and from top to bottom. There is no obvious punctuation, nor does there seem to be a separate set of glyphs which act as numerals.
Number of Glyphs
The number of glyphs in the Voynich script is debatable and the identity of individual glyphs can be contentious. The issue is important as the distinction between individual glyphs bears heavily on how the text itself is parsed and analysed.
The problem is made more complex for two reasons:
- There are many rare glyphs and the bulk of the text is written in a smaller subset of common glyphs.
- Some glyphs could be simple variants or combinations of others.
The first of these can simply be acknowledged as a fact. If we consciously decide to only analyse the most common glyphs, those which make up most the text, we make understanding the script easier. The drawback is small, as only very small portions of the text include rarer glyphs.
The second issue is more difficult to contend with. Any researcher must be conscious that their chosen method of parsing the text may be partly incorrect, unsure of which reading is right. Only by testing potential variations and building arguments for or against will we be able to settle the question.
Typical counts for the number of common glyphs range from the mid teens to the mid twenties, depending on both the cut-off point for “commonness” and which glyphs are accepted as variants or combinations. If we consider the script to be encoding a language in the plain (that is, not a cipher or a code) then the script, due to its size, is likely to be mostly alphabetic. That is, glyphs should represent individual sound.
Design of Glyphs
It was noted above that some of the shapes of glyphs are similar to those found in other scripts. But the script as a whole does not strongly match to any other. Instead, the Voynich script shows signs that it is at least partly designed.
Groups of glyphs can be discerned either by the way the glyphs look or how they act within the text. A few groups can be discerned in both ways. Below is a list of all the common glyphs, grouped by similarity where relevant, discussing their distinctive features.
[More detail to follow.]