I’m currently working on the star names in the Voynich manuscript, and I aim to set out my findings soon.
In the process I have come to believe that the very common Voynich prefix transcribed in the EVA system as ‘ot’ could probably represent the sound sequence /al/. Here are some informal observations about this possible prefix:
1. The main basis for this idea is the occurrence of ‘ot’ in the star names, for reasons I will set out more formally in the coming weeks. However, this prefix is also used very widely elsewhere in the manuscript. (See here for an overview on voynichese.com.)
It seems to occur as a prefix more than 2400 times (tokens), with a total of around 450 unique words (types). It is noticeably frequent in some of the Zodiac rings (e.g. this one)
2. One possible explanation which strikes me as plausible is that this prefix is part of words borrowed into Voynichese distantly from Arabic, and perhaps distorted. (‘Al’ is the definite article ‘the’ in Arabic; for example al-beit means ‘the house’)
To appreciate this as a possibility we need to recall that very many languages have large lexical borrowings from Arabic, sometimes via another language like Persian. See a general discussion of Arabic borrowings into other languages here.
Here are some specific examples:
a) Spanish has thousands of such borrowings: the list in Wikipedia of words in Spanish of Arabic origin, which is by no means exhaustive, offers over 1200 examples. Many of these are hugely distorted from their Arabic originals, as is to be expected.
b) Coptic has over 5oo words borrowed from Arabic.
c) The Ethiopian language Ge’ez has hundreds of borrowings from Arabic.
d) Persian has “approximately 8,000 Arabic loanwords in current use (RaÌzıÌ) or about forty percent of an everyday
literary vocabulary of 20,000 words”. (Perry: see discussion here)
e) Turkish has hundreds of borrowings from Arabic.
f) Armenian also has hundreds of loanwords from Arabic and Persian.
So it is quite possible that the 450 unique types in Voynichese which begin with ‘ot’ are borrowings ultimately from Arabic, signifying ‘al- + noun’. However, we need to remember that these will not necessarily be easily matched with their Arabic originals. The reason is that when a language borrows from another, many distortions can occur. A good example is the English word ‘admiral’ which comes ultimately from Arabic via a very interesting route. This is its etymology according to http://www.etymonline.com:
“admiral (n.) c.1200, “Saracen commander or chieftain,” from Old French amirail (12c.) “Saracen military commander; any military commander,” ultimately from medieval Arabic amir “military commander,” probably via Medieval Latin use of the word for “Muslim military leader.” Meaning “highest-ranking naval officer” in English is from early 15c. The extension of the word’s meaning from “commander on land” to “commander at sea” likely began in 12c. Sicily with Medieval Latin amiratus and then spread to the continent, but the word also continued to mean “Muslim military commander” in Europe in the Middle Ages.
The intrusive -d- probably is from influence of Latin ad-mirabilis (see admire). Italian form almiraglio, Spanish almirante are from confusion with Arabic words in al-. As a type of butterfly, from 1720, possibly a corruption of admirable.”
Anyone trying to match the original Arabic word ‘amir’ with the English word ‘admiral’ would therefore face a host of difficulties.
This warns us that if these 450 or so Voynich words do in fact derive from Arabic we should still not expect to find easy matches!
3. Another interesting feature of Voynich words beginning with ‘ot’ is that, although they are very frequent, they almost never appear as the first word on a page. The only two exceptions I can find are oddities: the first is here (56r) in a decorative form, so it might not be an ‘ot’ at all, and the second (on 70r2) follows a diagram and might not represent a proper page starter.
It is also relatively rare at the start of paragraphs. It does occur sometimes, but in relation to its frequency in the manuscript as a whole it is surprisingly rare at the start of paragraphs. Look at this page, for example, which has many examples of words beginning with ‘ot’ but none at the start of a paragraph.
How can we explain this lack of words beginning with ‘ot’ at the start of pages, and their relative rarity at the start of paragraphs?
One explanation might be that the initial vowel /a/ might simply be dropped or assimilated at the start of pages and paragraphs. In other words, the language might prefer NOT to start with a vowel symbol, so it assimilates the sound into the following consonant sign. This would also then explain why there are so many initial ‘t’ signs at the start of many pages – we might be expected to read them as /al/.
4. This in turn might help us to understand other patterns. In my February paper I suggested that the word ‘oror’ might be read as ‘Arar’, meaning Juniper, and that the plant on page 16r might represent Juniperus oxycedrus.
If we look again at page 16r , the sequence ‘oror’ occurs at the start of a paragraph with a ‘t’ before it. On the previous page (15r) it also seems to start the page with a preceding ‘t’ sign, though in a more decorative form.
In the light of the above analysis, could we perhaps read both of these as ‘al arar’, with the initial /a/ assimilated into the /l/?