Links with Syriac script?

This post takes up some discussion from Derek Vogt on other pages. I reproduce his discussion here with a table he has supplied:

Derek says: “I coincidentally came across this after having recently spent a lot of time looking at various known alphabets and how they had evolved, so I might have been predisposed to look at it the way I am 카운트다운 효과음 다운로드. I started comparing the whole Voynich alphabet, complete with the Bax phonetic interpretations, with other whole alphabets, with the idea that it could have been developed from another one instead of invented independently Download the beginning of Dracula Legends. If a known alphabet could be identified as the Voynich alphabet’s nearest relative (whether as its ancestor or a cousin), then that could give a basis for inferring the sound values of some more Voynich letters, which could then be used to infer pronunciations of more whole words to try to test, and so on Download the above sports.

With an independently invented alphabet, double matches (both graphical and phonetic) with the letters of another alphabet would not be expected; letters for similar sounds would usually look different, and similar-looking characters would usually be for different sounds dressmaker. Because most alphabets are full of examples of known letters that can quickly & easily be seen to fail to double-match the Bax-Voynich letters, most alphabets, such as Glagolitic, Greek, and derivaties of Greek, are fairly quick & easy to dismiss 파스칼 다운로드. (Phoenician wasn’t bad graphically but it was much too ancient.)

Aramaic-derived alphabets in general are, too, but I’ll mention a bit more detail about why here in order to highlight one that stands out as an exception 축가 mr 다운로드. They all tend to have plausible double matches for the Bax-Voynich letters for /r/ and /n/ in [Res] and [Nun], but, for the other letters, they usually just don’t match up at all Free Movie Maker. For example, the letter identified by Bax as a sibilant consists of a single stroke that curves back and forth, but Aramaic-derived sibilants are usually either a single big loop or a “pile of sticks” with corners and branching/junction points and more than two loose ends 스파이더맨 파 프롬 홈 다운로드. And Bax identified some vowels that seem like they could be related to [Waw], which started as the consonant /w/ but has been drafted for use for vowels of similar artiuclation in other alphabets… but those Voynich letters are short and round, whereas most versions of [Waw] are tall and skinny 히트맨2 다운로드.

But I found that there is an alphabet which yields reasonable double matches for all of the Bax-Voynich letters: Syriac! It was derived from the Aramaic alphabet, but in a unique way which yielded a handful of crucial differences from other Aramaic-derived alphabets which happen to be exactly the changes an Aramaic-based alphabet would need in order to host Bax-Voynich letters MadPadder. And the distinction is practically perfectly absolute; the Syriac alphabet has all of these traits while other alphabets have none of them:

1. A short round version of [Waw] which could singlehandedly explain all three Bax vowels (or at least two of them, with the third one having another option I’ll mention below);

2. A version of [Tet] with two lines crossing each other in the middle and some other lines/curves at the outside connecting the ends of the crossing lines;

3. A version of [Kap] which can be drawn without lifting the pen, with a vertical stroke on the right, a top piece running to the left from the top of the vertical stroke with a strong upturn at the left end, and, in one form, even a little loop where they meet in the upper right corner;

4. A version of [Sade] consisting of a single stroke that curves back and forth;

5. A known allowance for creation of ligatures, which could help explain the more complex Voynich letters;

6. A lack of any clear mismatches for Bax-Voynich letters, which other alphabets usually have more of than possible matches—the only Bax-Voynich letter left that isn’t already covered by this could be explained as a ligature, so its match/mismatch status is at worst unknown, at least until the components of the ligature are both phoneticized.

So I arranged the Bax-Voynich letters (minus the apparent ligature) in their places next to a list of Syriac letters and started trying to fill some of the gaps that were still left with other Voynich letters, this time just based on appearance alone, now that I was outside the realm of Bax’s phonetic help. I didn’t include in this the five letters that seem to be EVA-ch superimposed with other Voynich letters, because their shapes were obviously too graphically complex to find that many Syriac matches anyway and because their apparent status as ligatures meant that, if that’s what they really are, their proper place in this kind of reconstruction should come second, after their separate primary components had been worked out (if that ever happens!). So I tended to forget that they even exist while I was just working on the rest alone.

Syriac and V table

 

This table shows what I came up with. Note that multiple suggested potential matches for any given letter in either alphabet do not necessarily mean that that letter is supposed to actually have multiple counterparts; they’re just what seem to be the most likely options, good places to start looking to find which connections might be real.”

 

Revised diagram – see discussion below:

 

Syriac_updated

 

This is all supplied by Derek Vogt, so thanks to him. Any comments welcome.

21 Comments

  1. Some few readers who have been interested in this manuscript longer than three or four years might recall my mentioning, way back in 2010, that Syriac was once the language of diplomacy and literature in the eastern Roman empire, and then gradually reduced to being little more than the liturgical language of the Nestorian ‘Church of the East’. The Nestorian connection is of interest because, like the Manichaeans, they were settled in the far east by about the ninth century. They were noted for their belief that the priest’s ministry should be threefold: to mind (education), body (medicine) and spirit.

    At that time, and since, I have referred people to Wallace-Budge’s translation of the Syriac Book of Medicines, pointing out that some of it (at least) was known in Italy before 1500, because there are recipes in Marsilio Ficino’s Liber Triplicitas which repeat, word for word, one in the Nestorian text. One which I recall from my earlier study of them is a recipe for rhubarb pills.

    When I mentioned the Nestorian connection to southern India, and that argued for what is now Nusantara, Thomas Spande became most interested and did a great deal of work to develop a ‘Nestorian’ thesis. What work he did on their Syriac script and language would need to be re-visited, I think.

    As to the phonetic transcription of Sabaic minuscule (not ‘miniscule’) – about which an earlier comment asks – I recommend
    Orhan Elmaz and Janet C.E. Watson (eds.), Languages of Southern Arabia: Supplement to the Proceedings of the Seminar for Arabian Studies Volume 44 (2014).

    Simple charts are available online, e.g. at Omniglot.

  2. Why use Latin abbreviations in Arabic script? Some symbols are well known.

  3. Derek Vogt

    When I first heard of Professor Bax’s progress on Voynichese phonetics about a year ago, I had coincidentally recently been reading about the evolution of known letters & alphabets, and keeping it all organized for myself by putting together a version of this image mapping letters’ evolution in several alphabets. So most of this image is the background information I already had on my mind when I started looking at Voynichese letters. Now that we can upload images here ourselves, I’ve added the column at the right to illustrate how the Voynichese alphabet seems to fit in the big picture and where else similar transformations have also happened.

    I’ve also added sound indicators next to the Syriac and Voynichese columns, just outside the letters’ colored boxes. Gray ones (instead of black) mark Syriac letters for which I can give no Voynichese counterpart. Voynichese symbols that I can’t ascribe any origin or sound to (EVA-i, -n, -q, and the very uncommon ones) are not included.

    Dropped/missing letters:
    ▶Greek qoppa and digamma/wau (Ϙ, Ϝ): only used in some dialects, adopted by Italic languages, then dropped from standard Greek before Cyrillic developed
    ▶Greek theta, xi/ksi, psi, and omega (Θ, Ξ, Ψ, Ω): dropped from Latin and Cyrillic
    ▶Greek phi (Φ): dropped from Latin
    ▶A Greek counterpart for Semitic ṣade (ܨ,ص,ץ/צ)
    ▶Latin [K,Y]: considered foreign letters, not used except for quotating Greek terms; only accepted as part of the “Latin” alphabet in later eras
    ▶An identifiable Voynichese counterpart for Syriac dalath (ܕ), zain (ܙ), yudh (ܝ), lamadh (ܠ), semkath (ܣ), ʕe (ܥ), qaph (ܩ), or taw (ܬ)

    One letter getting split into two or more:
    ▶Greek upsilon & digamma/wau (Υ & Ϝ): [Υ] for the vowel sound /u/, [Ϝ] for the consonant sound /w/; [Ϝ] was then reassigned for /f/ in Italic languages because there was no other letter for /f/ yet (Greek phi, Φ, still represented /pʰ/ then) and representing /f/ was more important than separating /u/ & /w/.
    ▶Greek omicron→ omega (Ο→Ω): to distinguish between two sounds so similar that both would be “o” in most languages
    ▶Greek qoppa→phi (Ϙ→Φ): originally /kʷ/ and /kʷʰ/, then /kʷʰ/ became /pʰ/, which later became /f/
    ▶Latin C→G: Originally, [C] represented /g/, but then it ended up also mysteriously representing /k/ (replacing [K]/kappa), then getting replaced with its own derivative [G] for /g/ to fix the ambiguity
    ▶Latin I→J: originally both a vowel and a consonant in one letter, then split
    ▶Latin V→U: originally both a vowel and a consonant (/w/; would evolve to /v/ later) in one letter, then split
    ▶Arabic šin & sin (س & ش): the letter for /š/ came to be used for /s/ so much that it completely replaced that sound’s original letter, samekh, and a dotted form was created to replace the original dotless form for its own original sound, /š/. This sound shift began in Old Aramaic, so Hebrew šin (ש) also inherited both sounds and still has them. Modern Syriac has solved this ambiguity by reverting to the original system: šin (ܫ) for /š/ and semkath (ܣ) for /s/. But it could have done so after the Voynichese alphabet branched off with its inherited dual-sound šin.
    ▶Arabic tā’→thā’ (ت←ث), ḥā’→khā’ (ح←خ), dāl→dhāl (د←ذ), ṣad→ḍad (ص←ض), ṭā’→ẓā’ (ط←ظ), and ʕayn→ghayn (ع←غ): these just gave some new sounds their own letters. One of these pairs, خ & ح, distinguishes between two different kinds of “ḥ” (emphatic H), manifesting as /ħ/ or /ʜ/ for ح and /x/ or /χ/ for خ. Originally, Arabic, like most other Semitic languages, had just the plain /h/ (ه) and one emphatic H, but the range of sounds that can qualify as an emphatic H allowed it to split into two in Arabic. (Arabic also added a few other new emphatic sounds that other Semitic languages lack.) This sets a serendipitously specific precedent for something I show happening in Voynichese: the creation of a new letter for an emphatic H by adding a mark above an old letter for another sound in the H-family.
    ▶Cyrillic ve→be, ye→yest, and yest→e (В→Б, Е→Є, Є→Э)
    ▶Hebrew tsadi → Cyrillic tse & che ( ץ/צ → Ц & Ч)
    ▶Hebrew šin → Cyrillic sha & zha ( ש → Ш & Ж)
    ▶Syriac waw → Voynichese ^w^ & ^o^ & ^a^
    ▶Voynichese ^p^→^b^, ^k^→^g^, and ^h^→^x^ (“ḥ”)

    Two letters getting combined into one:
    ▶Arabic tā’-marbūṭah (ة): pronounced either /ah/ or /at/ depending on circumstances; drawn as hā’ (ه) plus the two dots from tā’ (ت)
    ▶Cyrillic yu (Ю=I+O) and several other less standard Cyrillic examples (not shown)
    ▶(possibly) Phoenician ṭet: it represented /tˤ/ and was drawn as exactly what you would get by superimposing the letters for /t/ and /ʕ/ (tāw and ʕayin)
    ▶Latin [w]: literally “double-U” or “double-V” by name in various languages
    ▶Voynichese ^v,ǧ(j),č,f^: ^b,g,k,p^ plus ^h^ to fricatize

    • MarcoP

      Hello Derek,
      thank you for this very interesting diagram!
      I have noticed that the Voynic / Latin transcription EVA (European Voynich Alphabet) developed by Zandbergen and Landini in 1998 has a significantly high correlation with the phonetics proposed by you and Stephen.

      In particular, EVA has 3 perfect matches (‘K’,’S’,’R’) and 5 close matches:
      EVA:A,O,E read as vowels
      EVA:P reads ‘b’
      EVA:D reads ‘t’

      I don’t know much about the history of EVA, but I think it was created on the basis of the visual similarity with the Latin alphabet. Isn’t it possible that all these phonetic matches are due to the fact that the Voynichese alphabet was actually based on the Latin alphabet? Could the fact that Voynichese is written from left to right hint to its derivation from a Western script?

      I am very ignorant of the evolution of different alphabets and likely I am missing something important that makes Syriac closer to Voynichese than ancient Latin scripts. I understand that in this area the bias of an eye only used to some of the different styles of Western manuscript can be particularly dangerous.

      • Derek Vogt

        I do not agree that some of the letters’ EVA names actually do match the sounds we’ve identified with them as you say.

        EVA-S, aside from being probably the sound association that’s probably the most tenuous and likely to be wrong, is associated not with /s/ but with its emphatic counterpart /ṣ/, which is no closer to /s/ than it is to /t/ or /č/ or a sequence such as “skh” or “sgh”, so a letter resembling any of those would have been just as close a “match”. And the three words using it that come to my mind have, presuming my cognate identification is even correct, “st”, “t”, and “j” in those positions. That’s not very precise, especially when the actual sound of our [S] is already covered in Voynichese by another letter which is called EVA-L and doesn’t resemble either [S] or [L] at all.

        Identifying vowels as vowels is one of the simpler things to do with an unknown alphabet because of how often they must be used and how many other letters can be consecutive between them. Some other once-unknown alphabets have had their vowels & consonants separated before even a single specific sound was known just based on how often they’re used and where they’re used. So it’s natural that if you design a letter substitution system with the goal of being able to pronounce the resulting “words”, you’ll end up with vowels where the vowels really were. But that’s not impressive when each individual vowel is connected to the wrong individual vowel-sound, as is the case with EVA.

        EVA was definitely not based on resemblances with Latin letters in general. It probably was in some cases, but others look nothing like Latin letters with the same names. Some might have been named for existing letters in other alphabets. For example, EVA-M resembles Aramaic mem (with the two points on top connected to form the closed loop). With others like EVA-L, I don’t know of anything they resemble.

        • MarcoP

          Thank you Derek. I also found your discussion of the effects of reversing the direction of writing interesting.

  4. I’m presently interested in Suriyani Malayalam, which would permit me to form a nicely coherent explanation for the manuscript’s variety of styles and the nature of its content.
    To quote the wiki summary…
    “It is a blend of Malayalam grammatical base, East Syriac script with special orthographic features, and vocabulary from Malayalam and East Syriac…. This originated in the South Indian region of the Malabar Coast (modern day Kerala).

    Yep, I like the sound of that one.

    • PS Syriac is a form of Aramaic, but Aramaic is written with a square script, where the Syriac script is somewhat closer to the Arabic group. In fact, I found the nearest script of all to be Sabaic minuscule.
      Just fyi.

      • Derek Vogt

        I have not seen any letter-for-letter illustrations of the Sabaic miniscule alphabet.

        I once would have counted the fact that Voynic letters are separate and Syriac letters flow into each other, along with the opposite directions, as evidence against a relationship between them. But then I realized that detachment of the letters in a flowing script makes sense, and is even to be expected, when the direction of the sequence is reversed. The similarity is there with the solitary versions of the Syriac letters but gets harder to follow when they get used in words, which makes sense if writers couldn’t easily see how to flow all the way through them while writing “backward” and found it simplest to revert to something like their solitary forms.

        To be more specific about what kinds of changes can be expected when direction is reversed, we can to some extent use the Phoenician-Greek transition as a precedent, although neither of them was cursive.

        On the Semitic side, where the direction of writing never changed, although the shapes do get distorted, one type of change they don’t make is flipping entirely backward, and another they don’t usually make except in the Nabataean-Arabic transition (which was associated with going from solitary letters to cursive) is rotating clockwise or counterclockwise. But the Phoenician-Greek transition features reversal, rotation, or symmetricalization in nearly all of the originally asymmetrical letters. And once the letters’ new orientation and the direction to write them in were established in Greek, the flipping & rotating essentially stopped. (Cyrillic would do one more flip to distinguish between two derivatives of epsilon that needed to be distinct, but that’s all; [И] and [Я] are not related to our [N] and [R].)

        Reversal or symmetricalization of separate letters is no surprise when the direction of a whole line of text is reversed, but that doesn’t explain rotation, or decursivization of cursive. Something else happens if you actually try to write backward, especially in cursive, making it easy to get part of the way through a letter and then make a wrong turn so it doesn’t end as planned, and that kind of change can break connections between consecutive letters. I remember this from personal experience years ago; for example, I started the long diagonal line for a reversed cursive capital [S] correctly but turned the wrong direction for the curves, and ended up with something that looked more like an [S] had been rotated instead of reversed, at an end point that there was no way out of to connect to a subsequent letter on either side. To carry on, there would have been no choice but to start the next letter separately.

        So I took another look at the Syriac & Voynich letters, with the potential for left-right reversal of only part of a letter (particularly in cursive script) in mind… and it turns out that a simple left-right reversal in part or all of a letter (red in this new image) would practically eliminate the remaining differences! It’s one thing to observe that phonetically equivalent letters in two alphabets generally resemble each other, and another to discover that most of the differences can be accounted for by a single process!

    • Darren Worley

      Diane – I like the fact that you’re following this line of inquiry.

      No-doubt you’re aware of the unusual Judeo-Christian groups who use (used?) this language and are found in the Kerala area on the Malabar coast of Southern India.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saint_Thomas_Christians
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cochin_Jews

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Judeo-Malayalam

      I understand there is a Nestorian link with the St. Thomas Christian communities – here is a passage from Rendel Harris (quoting G.M.Rae) about the Churches of Southern India, as in Malabar, “[…] the mixture of Old Persian inscriptions with Syriac in the Southern Indian Churches, which proves them to be Nestorian Foundations”.

      Malayalam is written horizontally left-to-right (I’m not sure about Suriyani Malayalam – I presume this is too), the same direction as the VM script.

      The fact that Persian and Syriac links, with the VM, have been reported on this website, clearly make this a good candidate for the VM script.

    • Derek Vogt

      It is interesting that Malayalam speakers seem to have spent some time floundering around trying to decide on a writing system, which would be consistent with having invented or heavily modified one as well as borrowing from others. But it doesn’t look like the Voynich alphabet is well suited to representing Malayalam sounds unless most of the sounds that have been associated with letters in Voynichese so far are wrong. Malayalam has three phonemes that we would represent with some version of [L], five for which we would use some version of [N], nine that are retroflex versions of another sound in the same language, an extra /t/-like sound instead of a deficit of them, no affricates, and nothing like /x,ḥ/ or /$,ṣ/.

      Just going by sound systems alone, the best match I’m aware of is Kusunda, which is geographically appropriate (Nepal) and has fewer sounds overall, fewer nasals, only one /L/, a few coronal affricates, a funky relationship between voiced & unvoiced plosives which could explain the apparently voiced ones in Voynichese with unvoiced foreign counterparts, and, most interestingly, no /r/, which would explain some of the oddities in Voynichese about what happens where cognates have /r/. Unfortunately, it might now be extinct, because linguists were unable to confirm the existence of more than 7 speakers in 2005 or 2 in 2012, so the odds that it or an unknown and already extinct relative was used by a literate community just 600 years ago aren’t very good.

  5. Derek Vogt

    Having recently posted about some new sound values for some more Voynich letters as they seem to have been used in words, I am compelled to come back to the predictions I made earlier and observe what was right and what was wrong.

    The one I said seemed related to Syriac “He” does indeed seem to have been used as “h”, the one I said seemed related to Syriac “Tsade” does indeed seem to have been used as the sibilant affricate (roughly “ts” ending with a very short “s”) or at least as an “s”, and the one I said seemed related to Syriac “Šin” does indeed seem to have been used as “š” (and maybe also “s” sometimes). Also, the four gallows letters that don’t look like ligatures with “He” (EVA-CH) seem to have been used for sounds fitting neatly into this pattern, as predicted when we only had words using the ones in the top row:


    EVA-K: 1 loop = unvoiced; | EVA-F: 1 loop = unvoiced;
    straight legs = velar; “k”| bent right leg = bilabial; “p”
    ————————–+——————————-
    EVA-T: 2 loops = voiced ; | EVA-P: 2 loops = voiced;
    straight legs = velar; “g”| bent right leg = bilabial; “b”

    But after that is where half of my remaining predictions went wrong. All four of those sounds’ Syriac letters are also used sometimes for nearby fricative sounds:

    k+x…p+f
    g+ɣ…b+v

    It seemed reasonable to predict that the Voynich ligatures with “h” (EVA-CH) would represent the fricatives. And it still seems to work so far for the labials (right column of the boxes), with no Voynich words contradicting them and even one so far supporting one of them: on folio 37r, “ga_aš”, predicted to be “gavaš” in Voynichese; the plant is identified as Chenopodium, Hebrew “kaf-avaz” (English “goosefoot”).

    The problem was the velars (left column). We already had another letter for “x”, but one could be “X/χ” while the other was “ç”, so that was a minor concern. The real problem was the predicted voiced velar fricative, “ɣ”, for EVA-CTH. That letter shows up in the first word of the second paragraph of folio 16v, “bha_n”. The plant has been identified as Illicium verum, Hindi “badayan”, English “bedian”. So, with the rest of the word matching as well as it does, the evidence says this letter fits in the position occupied in English & Hindi by “dia” & “daya”, and “ɣ” really can’t do that, so I was wrong. On top of that, there’s some indication now that Voynichese had the sound “ɣ” but represented it another way, with the digraph “gx” (EVA “T+SH”), as seen in the third word of folio 8r (“agxwš”, Arabic “faghoos”) and the first of f15r (“gxar”, whose Indo-European cognates differ but seem to start with one consonant-sound apiece before the “a”, not two), so I was wrong in two ways.

    So, a new prediction for that letter: it must be a sound that both could equate to “di(a)” & “day(a)”, and could have been derived from “g”. And the only sound that fits that bill is “j” (making the word on f16v “bhajn”). It’s the sound you’d get if you quickly mashed “d+y” together, the letter “g” sometimes represents it in various Latin-influenced languages including English, and letter “gim(el)” has drifted to represent it in some modern Arabic dialects. Accordingly, that Voynich letter’s one-looped counterpart, EVA-CKH, would then represent the sound’s unvoiced counterpart, usually “ch” or “tch” in English (although if/when the time comes, I’ll need to represent it with the “cent” symbol, ¢, to avoid symbols that don’t work here or representations that use more than one character or could be read as some other sound).

  6. Matt Owen

    Another candidate for an Indo-European language which lacked a writing system at the time: Romanes. I wonder what the Romani words are for the constellation Taurus, and for the herbs mentioned? hmmm…

  7. Matt Owen

    I think that this is, to date, the most promising lead: this was the period in which Kurdistan was growing at the expense of Assyria, and both were under pressure from the Arabs, Turks, and Iranians, so the manuscript may have been written by a Syraic emigre in northern Italy who spoke Syraic, but may or may not have been literate in that language.

    There was already contact between Europe and Asia, which was intensified after Marco Polo’s expeditions; troubles on the Silk Road let to expeditions by Ibn Battuta, Zheng He, and finally Christopher Columbus (the carbon dating puts the authorship of the manuscript in the time of Zheng He’s voyages).

    I’m writing a story about the Voynich Manuscript in which both Leonardo da Vinci and Nostradamus obtain it via estate sales, and in which T.E. Lawrence and J.R.R. Tolkien have a look at it. None of them manage to decipher it, but it does feed their respective muses! I’m revising my zeroth chapter in light of your findings, and I look forward to reading your work! Thanks for your efforts, MKO.

    • Is it permitted that one may laugh? (delightedly..)

  8. Derek Vogt

    An image that sums it all up at once in retrospect pretty compactly up to this point, because describing it as it was in the process of getting developed along the way took so many words:

    http://forums.randi.org/attachment.php?attachmentid=31090&d=1401752629

  9. Derek Vogt

    I expect this to be my final comment about the Voynich alphabet as a relative of the Syriac alphabet, which I’m only adding now because of some things that have come up since my original posts about it, allowing me to put together a more complete form of the theory represented by an updated table. Four new sound values for Voynich letters have been found in reasonably identified plants’ names since I first posted my comparison with the Syriac alphabet. They have yet to undergo more thorough botanical & linguistic review and receive the official Bax seal of approval, but I’m satisfied enough with them to check what next step they would point us toward if they are valid.

    One small other thing first: the process is simplified by the elimination from consideration of a few Voynich symbols that are so rare that they should be considered not letters but some kind of special cases (EVA-G, X, V, and J). Without them, the only Voynich symbols left to explain are EVA-Q (which might be not even a letter at all but a punctuation mark), the “minims” (which I’m not addressing in detail here), and the main subject of this addendum: the remaining gallows letters.

    One of the three newly phoneticized Voynich letters that had already been matched graphically with their Syriac counterparts first, He, appears to be in half of the gallows letters as ligatures, and the fourth is our second non-ligature “gallows” letter to be phoneticized. That allows us to begin looking more closely at relationships among gallows letters, which I was skipping over before because we only had a single data point among them.

    Even if no reasonable sound values had ever been found for any Voynich letters, the gallows letters’ straightforward 2x2x2=8 arrangement based on graphical traits (ligaturized or not; bent right leg or straight; spike or loop in upper left corner) would seem likely to have phonetic significance, in which each dichotomy in letter form represented a dichotomy between sounds (voiced or unvoiced, plosive or fricative, aspirated or unaspirated, labialized or unlabialized, choice of two places of articulation, long or short, et cetera). This would explain why they’re hard to match to specific letters in an alphabet that does otherwise appear to match: several of them could have been derived not from anything outside the Voynich alphabet but from each other, to fill in such a pattern. And now we have a pair of phonemes with two things in common (being unvoiced plosives) and one difference (places of articulation), represented by symbols that have two things in common (non-ligaturization and a spike in the upper left corner) and one difference (bent or straight right leg).

    The Syriac letters for the sounds /k/ and /p/ look like the Voynich letters that seem to represent the same sounds, but are actually used for TWO sounds apiece, like our [C] and [G]: in this case, the “hard” sound of a plosive and a “soft” nearby fricative. And the letter that ligaturizes with these two Voynich letters has been identified above as representing /h/, which can be thought of as softening an adjacent plosive into a fricative, like when we write [th] or [ph]. Taking that ligaturization to be the Voynich writers’ way of indicating the Syriac soft pronunciation of a letter that can otherwise be ambiguous between two sounds, we are left with not eight but four unique symbols, two of which represent still unidentified sounds.

    We can thus expect the other two to correlate with Syriac letters which also have both a hard plosive sound and a soft fricative sound. And we can also infer, based on what the sounds /k/ and /p/ have in common and what’s different between them, that the spike in the upper left corner indicates voicelessness and the straight and bent legs indicate their different places of articulation. In that case, their counterparts with a loop in the upper left corner would have the same places of articulation but be voiced: /g/ and /b/. That would explain why no Voynich letters for voiced plosives were apparent before: two of them are there, but were not developed from their phonetic Syriac (or slightly pre-Syriac) counterparts but replaced with derivatives of the unvoiced ones. And now there is an apparent reason why they grew such tall legs: those create room for the “Voynich letter He” to be added below.

    The Syriac alphabet does contain some other plosives, so I should point out why I’m excluding them. First, using these voiced & unvoiced sets with the same two places of articulation explains the Voynich letters’ 2x2x2=8 pattern as an outcome of using all graphical dichotomies for phonetic meanings. Second, ‘Alap has silence for its “soft sound” and Qop doesn’t have one at all, so they don’t really fit the ligaturization model using letter He. Third, Kap, ‘Alep, and Qop are pretty similar, and it is unusual for non-Semitic languages within the region of contact with Semitic alphabets to have so many sounds of that type (ours has one, which is why [Q] is redundant and [A] is completely reassigned). Fourth, the remaining Syriac letters with a hard plosive sound and a soft fricative sound are Dalat and Taw, but we already have a Voynich letter for /t/, connected to letter Tet, and Dalat is nearly identical to Res in Syriac, so there might still be a Voynich Dalat getting mistaken for a form of Voynich Res. So although these might make decent alternative explanations for the remaining gallows letters, Bet and Gamal are the best candidates. And that, combined with Voynich He, would give us six more predicted letters and nearly finish off the Voynich alphabet.

    So that’s it. I’m pretty much out of letters to try to match, and they all worked out pretty well, including the ones I didn’t know about yet when I started. I don’t think there’s anywhere else for Syriac theory to go except maybe something about either the minims or EVA-Q, or somehow just getting proven wrong.

  10. Derek Vogt

    A few bits to add: some that I considered as part of this scheme in the first place but didn’t include in the original write-up that appears above, and a couple that I’ve come across since I originally submitted this, which I believe strengthen my case (and a couple of others, mutually)…

    First, about the Voynich letter I put on the same row with Syriac letter He (fifth row; EVA-ch), and its apparent ligatures: although I was not originally considering any of the apparent ligatures while trying to match up Voynich and Syriac letters, after I had identified it as the “Voynich He” based on its appearance alone, I brought in its only apparent ligature that had already been connected to a specific sound, to see whether that would show any relationship with the sounds of its two components. In retrospect, maybe I should not have included my “Voynich Sade” (eighteenth row) among the ones that had already been phonetically solved, because I was forgetting at that time that Bax himself was calling that one “speculative” and why. However, the comparison between the Voynich and Syriac alphabets stands without Sade and would have led me straight to it graphically anyway. And, with the ligature’s point of articulation (taken from the sounds of names in the Voynich Manuscript) being between the points of articulation for /s/ and /h/, this set of three letter-sound associations fits together so perfectly that they all support each other, so each of them follows naturally from the others. And even if you say that the only support I have for either Voynich He or Voynich Sade is graphical resemblance to a couple of Syriac letters, not phonetics from Voynich words/names, you might change your mind about that if you consider the provisional identification of the “ksar” plant (f27r) as basil by the name “kasar”.

    The test of any hypothesis/theory is whether or not it makes accurate predictions, so, although there are a lot of separate (and in some cases incompatible) predictions that could come from this idea of a Syriac relationship for the alphabet, I’ll focus on three for now: one that just stands out pretty conspicuously at this point and two that I believe have already been successful.

    1. There’s a letter that has to be some combination of /k/ and /h/ for my approach to fully work out, because it’s a ligature of Bax’s letter for /k/ and mine for /h/. This could be seen as a problem if you perceive the other ligature I’ve already been talking about as that same combination, but that one’s point of articulation is farther forward and this one, if it’s a fricative at all, would be farther back, more of a /X/ than a /x/ or /ç/. Or it could be an affricate or an aspirated stop/plosive. Or, as backward as this might sound for combining /h/ with a voiceless consonant (unless my Voynich He is really a voiced counterpart to our /h/), it could indicate voicing, turning /k/ into the otherwise missing /g/. In any case, though, I don’t have any words to show that any version of this is right or wrong.

    2. Obviously, my Voynich He should appear alone in Voynich words as /h/. And since making this prediction, I believe I’ve found a case where it does. Plant 5v ( http://stephenbax.net/?p=538 ) is “ka_oar” with Voynich He (EVA-ch) in the “unknown” spot, and what seems to be the same plant is also called “halmi”, “khair”, “khiru”, and “khitmi” in other languages. Although the [kh] in some of those is /x/, not /k/, /h/, or /k/ followed by /h/, all four of those things can be each other’s counterparts in cognates. And there’s nothing else but /h/ that could be put in that spot and have that word work nearly as well.

    3. Another prediction of my Syriac-Voynich idea is that one of the two Voynich symbols that I noticed most resemble Syriac Shin (twenty-first letter; second-last) should appear in Voynich words as /sh/ or something close to it. And since making this prediction, I believe I’ve found a case where one of them does. Plant 6r is primarily named with a word that doesn’t include either of these two symbols, but that word is followed by “n xa_”, with EVA-L at the end. Others have already discussed here ( http://stephenbax.net/?p=548 ) the possibility that “n” is a word for “or” or “a.k.a.” or “alias”, and is followed by an alternative name for the plant, and that alternative name’s suggested cognates have /sh/ in that spot, exactly as they would if that Voynich letter were related to Syriac Shin. So here we have a Syriac phonetic prediction that not only makes sense for a word’s apparent meaning & cognates, but also MATCHES the prediction that was independently made FROM its apparent meaning & cognates! 🙂

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