Organization of this Website
Codex: Description of the manuscript
Method: Explanation of the research approach
Cypher: Description of the character set, transliteration, digraghs, possible word translations.
Research: Application of the interpretation of the character set to the original text
Info: Links to further information about the manuscript
Staff: Biographies of the active members of this site
Mail: Communication with the staff
Purpose of this Website
This website is dedicated to the proposition that the Voynich manuscript is written in ancient Germanic languages. The research on this website will offer a possible interpretation of the Voynich character set to support this claim. It is also our desire that this research will be continued by scholars more qualified in German philological studies.
This research examines the Voynich manuscript through a German philological lens, using linguistic analysis to identify the languages of the manuscript which seem to be Germanic languages, specifically Gothic, Jutish, and an early form of Danish, and perhaps shows Slavonic influences. One of the difficulties faced by others in the past in attempting to translate this manuscript has been the mistaken assumption that the Voynich manuscript contains a single language. This work suggests that the manuscript is written in at least two languages, comparing the Jutish to the Gothic language.
Explanation of the Translation Approach
The first challenge was to determine whether the symbols unique to the manuscript made up an alphabetic system (perhaps incorporating digits) or whether they were simply decorative flourishes expressing some aesthetic purpose. While the latter was (and is) a possibility it has always seemed intuitively unlikely. Thus the concentration on the former as the more promising approach, with many of the symbols being similar to, or identical with the letters of the Latin alphabet, and in some cases not greatly dissimilar to letter shapes of other familiar alphabets, such as Cyrillic. Therefore this analysis will refer to all members of the symbol set as letters. However, it may turn out that some of these symbols may double as letters and digits and a small number may even stand for syllables. To be sure, even if the symbols are mainly letters, it does not follow that they combine to form words producing plain as opposed to enciphered text. Their status as parts of meaningful segments of language, that is, lexical or grammatical items, depends on where they fall relative to one another.
Symbols as Letters
The question to be asked is: Do the symbols in the Voynich manuscript, which are candidates for letters, appear to group together repeatedly to form possible words or grammatical elements such as verb tenses or noun plurals in some natural language and in a text written from left to right; or are the symbols simply distributed at random?
The first line of analysis is to accept as likely the fact that the symbols are letters of an alphabet, not some kind of decoration, and that they can be conjoined into words, phrases, and the like to produce text in natural language. Since it is not possible to draw a picture of an adverb or participle, the best approach would be to find recurring relationships held together by grammatical endings, function words in examples such as "and" and the like, in phrases such as "nights and days" and "one or two".
As noted above many of the symbols do resemble those of known alphabets so therefore the next step has been to establish whether the symbols are distributed in patterns suggestive of plain text in a natural language. In fact the symbols do seem to show patterns that point to base forms of words as well as inflectional endings throughout the manuscript. However in many of the folios which contain great numbers of drawings the words appear in isolation, either as names of objects or their functions, or with some unknown purpose. Thus it seemed most useful to concentrate on the linguistic grouping of folios which not only yields word-like forms but also appears to link them syntactically.
Using English as a Language Example
In English the letters "s-t-a-r" form a high-frequency English word, "s-t-a-m" forms a potential word (e.g. an acronym of some kind which might become a word), and while "s-t-m-a" is impossible in English as a word or a grammatical item, it could be an abbreviation. These letter combinations are either canonic, representing actual or potential English words or grammatical elements, or they are non-canonic, as in the case of "s-t-m-a" described above.
English of course has many cases in which the writing system diverges widely from the spoken language. Thus the cluster g-h-t certainly does not represent today a pronounceable letter set, but it nonetheless occurs frequently in medial and final word position. Examples of this are “lighten”, “thought”, and so on. Similarly, French has two words beginning with the three vowel letters "o-e-u", oeuf (egg) and oeuvre (work), otherwise the initial combination is very rare in that language. The two words and their derivatives are very frequent, however, so that from the point of view of the writing system the letter combinations are canonic. On the other hand, English words never end with "h-g", nor do French words begin with "e-o-u", for such combinations suggest that any text containing them is either full of typographical errors or is an encryption of some kind.
In English for example the isolated word “day” is canonic and very common. As an isolated part of a presumably deciphered message, however, it would count for little. On the other hand if the decipherment included “The days are (?-ing) (?-er)” the next segment might be “The days are (grow-ing) (long-er)”.
An emergent syntactic structure, with nouns and verbs seemingly reflecting agreement and government is most evident in the linguistic section although it also is present in a more rudimentary form in the pharmaceutical and astrological sections of the manuscript. The patterning most resembles that of certain members of the Germanic language family.
Germanic languages in general are characterized by vowel changes referred to as "Umlaut" and "Ablaut". These terms, coined by German philologists, apply respectively to sound changes which are brought about either by assimilation, e.g. the slightly archaic English plural "brethren" of figurative "brother", where "o" of the latter word changes to "e" under the influence of the final "e", or by the grammatical change in which vowel alternations in the so-called strong verbs signal meaning change as in English "sing", "sang", "sung". As far as has been determined by this research verb Ablaut does not play a role in the language of this manuscript, although regular or so-called weak verbs do show a surprising affinity to the weak verbs of other Germanic languages.
There is a case of two symbols representing one value, that is the pair representing "e". This digraph is found in great frequency in words in which other, assumed, Germanic cognates show "e". A similar digraph appears in Gothic words with "ai" which also match "e" in most other Germanic languages.
Concordances are organized by Voynich folio and are presented on our Research page as spread sheets aligning Voynich characters with transliterations and possible translations of words and phrases.
Future Research Plans
This research should provide enough of a translation and transliterated set of materials, a sort of proof of concept, to enable the start of a more comprehensive analysis of the Voynich manuscript.
At the same time it is acknowledged that this research has reached its scholarly limit. This project should now be taken over by better qualified academics, leveraging the contributions made to date.
We hope this work might be of some academic interest, and/or that someone could suggest who might find this research of interest and who in turn might be able to comment on the viability of this approach.