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Bedfordshire Professor Claims Voynich Breakthrough

Posted: Thu Feb 20, 2014 8:24 am UTC
by Carlington
Stephen Bax, a professor of linguistics from the University of Bedfordshire, claims to have made a breakthrough in deciphering the Voynich Manuscript - he claims to have found the meaning of ten words from the text.

Spoiler:
The 15th Century Voynich Manuscript has been described as the world's most mysterious book written in a complex code, an unknown language or simply a hoax. The book is 240 pages long, is written in an unknown alphabet and features mysterious pictures of unknown plants and astronomical images. Inside the book there was a letter thought to be dated to 1666. It claimed the book once belonged to the Emperor Rudolf II, a member of the house of Habsburg, known to be a patron of artists and scientists. Many theories have appeared about the book, one of which is that it is an ancient herbal remedy book.
A breakthrough has been made in attempts to decipher a mysterious 600-year-old manuscript written in an unknown language, it has been claimed.

The Voynich Manuscript, carbon-dated to the 1400s, was rediscovered in 1912, but has defied codebreakers since.

Now, Bedfordshire University's Stephen Bax says he has deciphered 10 words, which could lead to more discoveries.

The manuscript, which some think is a hoax, is full of illustrations of plants and stars, as well as text.

It has been latched onto by supporters of a whole range of strange theories including some linking it to Leonardo da Vinci or even aliens.

'Encourage other linguists'
It largely disappeared from public record until 1912 when Wilfrid Voynich, an antique book dealer, bought it amongst a number of second-hand publications in Italy.

Since then, scholars and cryptographers have studied the document but have failed to find meaning in the text. It was investigated by a team of code breakers during WWII, but they also failed to find meaning in the words. Academics across the world have been trying to decode the manuscript.

In June last year, Marcelo Montemurro, a theoretical physicist from the University of Manchester, UK, published a study which he believes shows that the manuscript was unlikely to be a hoax.

Dr Montemurro and a colleague, using a computerised statistical method to analyse the text, found that it followed the structure of "real languages".

In February this year, a paper published in the journal of the American Botanical Council said one of the plant drawings suggested a possible Mexican origin for the manuscript.

Prof Bax, an expert in applied linguistics, said he had been working on the Voynich Manuscript for about two years.

He said he had managed to find the word for Taurus, alongside a picture of seven stars (seen as part of the zodiac constellation of Taurus) and the word Kantairon alongside a picture of the herb Centaury.

Prof Bax said he had been trying to crack the manuscript using his knowledge of medieval texts and his familiarity with Semitic languages like Arabic.

"I hit on the idea of identifying proper names in the text, following historic approaches which successfully deciphered Egyptian hieroglyphs and other mystery scripts, and I then used those names to work out part of the script," he said.

"The manuscript has a lot of illustrations of stars and plants. I was able to identify some of these, with their names, by looking at medieval herbal manuscripts in Arabic and other languages, and I then made a start on a decoding, with some exciting results.

"My aim in reporting on my findings at this stage is to encourage other linguists to work with me to decode the whole script using the same approach, though it still won't be easy.

"But already my research shows conclusively that the manuscript is not a hoax, as some have claimed, and is probably a treatise on nature, perhaps in a Near Eastern or Asian language."

Prof Bax said he hopes a conference can be arranged later this year, to bring together experts on the manuscript.


What do we all think? Personally, I'm hoping that it's legitimate progress and not a false lead, but I'm remaining skeptical for the time being. Ten words isn't very many data points to work with in the context of a 240 page manuscript. On the other hand, his method does seem reasonably sound (although I don't have anything to compare that to, really). I'm genuinely curious as to where he's pulled the idea that it's in a "Near Eastern or Asian language", though.

Re: Bedfordshire Professor Claims Voynich Breakthrough

Posted: Thu Feb 20, 2014 1:46 pm UTC
by Paul in Saudi
On the face of it, I doubt it.

Remember Linear C (B?)? It was an alphabet found engraved on Crete. A researcher in England was convinced it was just an ancient way to write in Greek. She took the proper names of ancient towns on the island and found she could match them letter-for-letter.

She then died of cancer.

But consider this report. This guy says he found the name of a star, and other things in the crypto-test. He then guessed the clear text words and tried for a match. So far so good. But the reports indicate he is still unsure of the language the writer was using. That is to say he now knows
ABCD means
STAR

But for some reason is unsure the writer was using funky script for English. Obviously, a simple letter-substitution solution would only work if you knew the language the writer was using.

I may be missing something here. But how can you make a possible break and not identify the language of the clear text?

Re: Bedfordshire Professor Claims Voynich Breakthrough

Posted: Thu Feb 20, 2014 3:34 pm UTC
by Sheikh al-Majaneen
It might be a case of "all words in this section except for this one appear all over the manuscript, and this is under a picture that probably represents taurus."

Re: Bedfordshire Professor Claims Voynich Breakthrough

Posted: Thu Feb 20, 2014 4:23 pm UTC
by jestingrabbit
Paul in Saudi wrote:I may be missing something here.


What you're missing is that proper names travel across languages. So, Caesar is Kaiser is Tsar is Shah. But its the same proper name, and its not necessary to know the base language to identify the word.

That said, I tend to agree with your conclusion.

Re: Bedfordshire Professor Claims Voynich Breakthrough

Posted: Thu Feb 20, 2014 4:38 pm UTC
by Zamfir
http://stephenbax.net/?page_id=198
Contains a detailed text about what he has done. I have only skimmed it yet. It's a careful work, but there is something slightly 'off' about. Like, he references the Encyclopddia Brittanica when he uses Occam's Razor. Eccentric, though not really cranky.

I think he uses plant names and stars and such, because they might have the same or similar names in various languages. Like place names did for Linear B, and pharaoh names on the Rosetta stone

Re: Bedfordshire Professor Claims Voynich Breakthrough

Posted: Thu Feb 20, 2014 5:16 pm UTC
by nitePhyyre
How does he know that the culture that wrote it originally thought that the constellation 'Taurus' looked like a 'Taurus'? Maybe they called that constellation the 'horned beetle'?

Re: Bedfordshire Professor Claims Voynich Breakthrough

Posted: Thu Feb 20, 2014 6:39 pm UTC
by Lazar
jestingrabbit wrote:So, Caesar is Kaiser is Tsar is Shah.

"Shah" has nothing to do with Caesar. It's a native Persian word derived from Indo-Iranian *ksayati ("he rules over").

Re: Bedfordshire Professor Claims Voynich Breakthrough

Posted: Thu Feb 20, 2014 8:28 pm UTC
by Zamfir
nitePhyyre wrote:How does he know that the culture that wrote it originally thought that the constellation 'Taurus' looked like a 'Taurus'? Maybe they called that constellation the 'horned beetle'?


The idea is that a natural compendium might maintain some items for which the language doesn't have a word of its own, and then the author might borrow the term from their sources. Or the language has already adopted the 'international' version of the term. If you identify enough of such candidatse, there might appear corroborating patterns. Where the presumed 't' sound in one has the same character as the presumed 't' sound in another candidate.

The working hypothesis here is that the book is written in an alphabet designed for a small language that had no alphabet before, and that alphabet didn't catch on. So this might be one of a small number of texts ever written in that alphabet, perhaps the only one written by the inventors of the alphabet themeselves as experiment. There are confirmed other example of this phenomenon. That offers the possibility that the alphabet makers based some of their characters on other alphabets they knew.

The one example I read was for a text sequence that resembled OROR in Latin alphabet, on a page with a presumed juniper berry plant. Apparently, that plant is/was named Arar in Arabic and some related languages. So there is a guess that this sequence is the name of the plant, that the plant is a juniper, and that author intended a word that sounded somewhat like Arar. Perhaps because the plant was named such in the target language, perhaps because it had no name and the author took the Arabic name from an Arabic source. That creates a starting point to see of those sound-meanings for those characters match up with other guesses.

Re: Bedfordshire Professor Claims Voynich Breakthrough

Posted: Sat Mar 08, 2014 3:58 pm UTC
by sje46
Here is a slideshow video from Bax himself. I actually think he's pretty convincing. That doesn't mean I think it's necessarily *cracked*. But I do think he is on to something.

The most convincing part is where he identified the word for "Hellebore" to have the sound "kaur", then googled "hellebore kaur" to find that "kaur" is a common cognate for hellebore in a bunch of semitic languages.

Re: Bedfordshire Professor Claims Voynich Breakthrough

Posted: Thu Sep 07, 2017 1:13 pm UTC
by jaap
**BUMP**

Another reasonably convincing interpretation:
https://www.the-tls.co.uk/articles/publ ... -solution/

Re: Bedfordshire Professor Claims Voynich Breakthrough

Posted: Fri May 17, 2019 5:36 am UTC
by Link

Re: Bedfordshire Professor Claims Voynich Breakthrough

Posted: Fri May 17, 2019 5:38 am UTC
by flicky1991
Judging from Wikipedia, most actual experts dispute this guy's interpretation.
As with most would-be Voynich interpreters, the logic of this proposal is circular and aspirational: he starts with a theory about what a particular series of glyphs might mean, usually because of the word's proximity to an image that he believes he can interpret. He then investigates any number of medieval Romance-language dictionaries until he finds a word that seems to suit his theory. Then he argues that because he has found a Romance-language word that fits his hypothesis, his hypothesis must be right. His "translations" from what is essentially gibberish, an amalgam of multiple languages, are themselves aspirational rather than being actual translations.

Re: Bedfordshire Professor Claims Voynich Breakthrough

Posted: Fri May 17, 2019 3:37 pm UTC
by Link
Oof, I did not know that. Kind of disappointed with the BBC for failing to mention that.

Re: Bedfordshire Professor Claims Voynich Breakthrough

Posted: Fri May 17, 2019 5:22 pm UTC
by Plasma_Wolf
Have they considered Randall's solution yet? His discovery is about to make the 10 year's celebration :)

Re: Bedfordshire Professor Claims Voynich Breakthrough

Posted: Fri May 17, 2019 8:27 pm UTC
by plytho
Link wrote:Oof, I did not know that. Kind of disappointed with the BBC for failing to mention that.

Yeah this is bad journalism. Proper science reporting has quotes from experts that weren't involved in the reported research.

Re: Bedfordshire Professor Claims Voynich Breakthrough

Posted: Fri May 17, 2019 10:37 pm UTC
by DavidSh
I wonder if thinking about this "decipherment" recalled the Linear B decipherment to Randall, thus today's comic?