Elmar Vogt just posted up some nice statistical analyses of the Voynich Manuscript’s language, looking particularly at the problematic issue of line-related structure.

You see, if Voynichese is no more than a ‘simple language’ (however lost, obscure and/or artificial), there would surely be no obvious reason for words at the beginning or end of any line to show any significant differences from words in the middle of the line. And yet they do: line-initial words are slightly longer (about a character), second words are slightly shorter, while line-terminal words are slightly shorter than the average (though some of Elmar’s graphs get a bit snarled up in noise mapping this last case).

The things I infer from such line-structure observations are
(a) any fundamental asymmetry means that Voynichese can’t be a simple language, because simple languages are uniform & symmetrical
(b) it’s very probably not a complex language either, because no complex language I’ve ever seen has done this kind of thing either
(c) the first “extra” letter on the first word is either a null or performs some kind of additional function (such as a vertical “Neal key”, a notion suggested by Philip Neal many years ago)
(d) the missing letter in the second word is probably removed to balance the extra letter in the first word, i.e. to retain the original text layout, while
(e) the last word has its own statistics completely because words in the plaintext were probably split across line-ends.

In Voynichese, we see the EVA letter combination ‘-am’ predominantly at the right-hand end of lines, which has given rise to the long-standing suspicion that this might encipher a hyphen character, or a rare character (say ‘X’) appropriated to use as a hyphen character. For what conceivable kind of character would have a preference for appearing at the end of a line? In fact, the more you think about this, the stronger the likelihood that this is indeed a hyphen becomes.

But there’s an extraordinary bit of misinformation you have to dodge here: the Wikipedia page on the hyphen asserts (wrongly) that the first noted use of a hyphen in this way was with Johannes Gutenberg in 1455 with his 42-line-per-page Bible. According to this nice post, “Gutenberg’s hyphen was a short, double line, inclined to the right at a sixty degree angle”, like this:-

In fact, Gutenberg was straightforwardly emulating existing scribal practices: according to this lengthy online discussion, the double stroke hyphen was most common in the 15th century, single-stroke hyphens were certainly in use in 13th century French manuscripts (if not earlier), and that both ultimately derive from the maqaf in Hebrew manuscripts that was in use “by the end of the first millennium AD”.

So if you think Voynichese line-terminal ‘-am’ does encipher a hyphen, the original glyph as written was probably a double-stroke hyphen: moreover, I’d predict that Voynich pages containing many ‘-am’s were probably enciphered from pages that had a ruled right-hand line that the plaintext’s scribe kept bumping into! Something to think about! :-)

11 Thoughts on “The secret history of the hyphen…

  1. Hi Nick.
    The key algorithm for the Voynich manuscript is written on a few pages of the manuscript. one of them is the last page 116.
    Elmar knows nothing. The only person he knew he was alone voynich. He deciphered the manuscript. This snows the correspondence. Read my last two articles, and maybe you´ll understand.
    Hello Josef.

  2. avatar bdid1dr on November 29, 2012 at 9:51 pm said:

    Nick and ProfZ,

    Because the Vmss first appeared (with rumors of Dee & Bacon being involved) in discussions/correspondence of Rudolph II’s estate which ended up in Rome/Frascati, you have all been focusing on “secret codiology”.

    Will you bear with me just a short while longer? ProfZ, I understand your (Czech/Bohemian) point of view. However, it is rude to be telling Nick and his friends (and me) that we are wrong. Do you remember me explaining that the V notches on the castle walls were called “swallow-tail” merlons?

    I hope we can all contribute without contradicting each other. There are still so many clues to be solved in the manuscript. If you are a Professor, I am sure you know that you have to provide proofs of your theories/sources of information. I’ll respect your discussions if you can respect mine and others who write to Nick. He is a very gracious host to all of us.

    You may get more responses to your own website if you simply call it zlatodej.blog.cz but leave off the url link. Those of us who are interested in seeing what you have to say will then write the full url address (as I did several weeks ago).

    Still beady-eyed

  3. Dear bdid 1 dr
    When you say,
    “… the Vmss first appeared…in discussions/correspondence of Rudolph II’s estate which ended up in Rome/Frascati..”

    is there evidence that anything else owned (or which we think was owned) by Rudolf II turning up at Villa Mondragone?

    I had rather thought that the manuscript received by Kircher simply remained in a library of his Order after his death. As a Jesuit, all property technically became communal and reverted to the order on the member’s death, so its turning up in that context seemed reasonable enough.

    What bothers me is that when Nick’s analysis of the codicology suggests multiple dismemberments and bindings etc., most apparently fairly careless, how on earth a loose page such as that letter could have survived at all, let alone in such excellent condition. And if it was separated from the manuscript, and carries no matching code – as accession number etc. – the possibility that what we have is not what Marci sent Kircher must remain.
    Sorry – off the point.

    But is there evidence that other items of Rudolf’s estate ended up in Frascati?

  4. Nick,
    Any links on the ‘Neal Key?’

  5. You bdid1dr.
    Learn to read. I’m not saying that Nick Dear scientist does not know anything. I wrote that Elmar knows nothing. Otherwise, you make me a stange as big Trier. Pleace Remember one thing. Petr Vok wrote the manuscript. I’ts the American as you can not under stand. I’t s a big difference between the English language ann the Czech language. What evidence do you want ?You probably can not read what I am writing professor ? What swallows ? Look closely at the picture. The sign is a sign Vok ( Wok). Castle is called Rosenberg. A noble family belonged to the Rosenbergs. You see, at least the fish ? This fish waving at you. Do you see the figure. manuscript is written in the Czech language. ( phonetic, sleng).

    Peace be with you.

  6. Diane: it’s something I’ve been meaning to cover since about 19clicketyduck (as in the joke “do you know, I’ve been coming to this bingo hall since…”). Note to self: Remember To Post About Neal Keys. :-)

  7. avatar bdid1dr on November 30, 2012 at 6:00 pm said:

    Evidence of the dispersal of much of Rudolph’s estate can be found in Kircher’s various publications (which display the various inventions/furnishings with Hapsburg’s Prussian/Bohemian coats of arms: many of which were “inventions”/oddities”. I’ve mentioned B4 that Kircher never claimed to be the inventor of the “slide show”, the telescope eyepiece, the “vomiting fountain”. Again, I refer you all to Stanford University’s extensive Kircher library and photo downloads. Another source is Oklahoma University’s Kircher offerings.

    Nick, in the past you and Diane (and me as reader/observer) discussed when and where swallowtail merlons first appeared in Europe. Perhaps someone else could attempt to enlighten us as to the relevancy of their appearing?


  8. Bdid 1dr
    As far as mainland Europe goes – I refer you to Nick’s research, which is extensive and thorough.
    My point in this was twofold; first that the use of the motif in drawing was not always meant to be taken literally i.e. an image having such crenellations is not necessarily meant as a photographic likeness.
    secondly, that as a literal architectural element, it occurs earlier, and external to Europe.

  9. Nick – re Neal key.
    To quote one of my favourite films, ‘You mock my pain!’

    Hope you get to it soon.

  10. avatar bdid1dr on December 1, 2012 at 12:24 am said:

    Nick, Diane:

    To “put my money where my mouth is” (NOT an obscenity): I went back to Stanford University’s selected offerings from various of Kircher’s publications. Ars Magna Lucis et Umbrae, Frontispiece, is a full-page illustration/dedication to Ferdinand III. Two prominent figures on the illustration are two paired birds (double-headed eagle-?) and a pair of what may be peacock/hen. Below the birds is a small portrait of
    SERENISSIMVS FERNANDVS ARCHIDVX CAEX:FIL (yes, the label has a colon, just saying.. 😉

    Diane, Nick, and others: You don’t have to produce credentials to access either Stanford’s or Oklahoma University’s Kircher-related archives/publications/illustrations.

  11. avatar bdid1dr on December 1, 2012 at 12:54 am said:

    Correction to my reference to “slide-show”: Kircher’s portrayal of an invention he found in his archives, has been described as a “magic lantern” — which term did not appear until the late 19th/early 20th centuries. So, Rudolph’s magic lantern ended up in Kircher’s Habsburg archives, and probably were awaiting his attention upon his arrival at the SOC. IESU archives in Rome/Frascati.

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