In 1912, Wilfrid Voynich, a Polish-Samogitian book dealer. purchased a manuscript whose contents would go on to mystify cryptographers, linguistics scholars and computer programmes for more than a century.
The Voynich Manuscript, as it came to be known, was dated to the 15th century (1404-38), is written on vellum (240 pages intact, others missing) with text and illustrations, and has been with Yale University’s Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library since 1969.
The manuscript has finally been decoded. Gerard Cheshire, a researcher at the University of Bristol, took two weeks using a combination of lateral thinking and ingenuity, to identify the language and writing system. Reporting his findings in the journal Romance Studies, Cheshire called it the only known example of proto-Romance language.
“The language used was ubiquitous in the Mediterranean during the Mediaeval period, but it was seldom written in official or important documents because Latin was the language of royalty, church and government. As a result, proto-Romance was lost from the record, until now,” Cheshire was quoted as saying.
The text uses an extinct language. Its alphabet is a combination of unfamiliar and more familiar symbols. It includes no dedicated punctuation marks, although some letters have symbol variants to indicate punctuation or phonetic accents. All of the letters are in lower case and there are no double consonants. It includes diphthong, triphthongs, quadriphthongs and even quintiphthongs for the abbreviation of phonetic components. It also includes some words and abbreviations in Latin.
Cheshire found the manuscript was compiled by Dominican nuns as a source of reference for Maria of Castile, Queen of Aragon — an autonomous community in Spain. The next step is to use this knowledge to translate the entire manuscript and compile a lexicon.
(Source: University of Bristol & PTI)