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reading “Voynichese”

Here's something weird and interesting from this week's Economist: an article on the Voynich manuscript. Quote:

THE Voynich manuscript, once owned by Emperor Rudolph II in 16th-century Bohemia, is filled with drawings of fantastic plants, zodiacal symbols and naked ladies. Far more intriguing than its illustrations, however, is the accompanying text: 234 pages of beautifully formed, yet completely unintelligible script.

Modern scholars have pored over the book since 1912, when Wilfrid Voynich, an American antiquarian, bought the manuscript and started circulating copies in the hope of having it translated. Some 90 years later, the book still defies deciphering. It now resides at Yale University.

The manuscript is written in “Voynichese”, which consists of strange characters, some of which look like normal Latin letters and Roman numerals. Some analysts have suggested that Voynichese is a modified form of Chinese. Others think it may be Ukrainian with the vowels taken out. But Voynichese words do not resemble those of any known language. Nor is the text a simple transliteration into fanciful symbols: the internal structure of Voynichese words, and how they fit together in sentences, is unlike patterns seen in other languages.

The other alternatives are, as the article notes, that the manuscript is either in code, or simply a hoax. Nevertheless, my geek-sense flares up when reading about something like this. Oh boy! An entire manuscript to decrypt, and a few centuries old to boot! Does that sound like fun or what?

Posted by diego on January 8 2004 at 5:27 PM

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