June 24, 2013
Word Patterns In Voynich Manuscript Could Reveal Authentic Message
Brett Smith for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
With its medieval imagery and style, the Voynich manuscript is a mystery that has baffled linguistics experts and cryptologists since the 17th century. Countless attempts to decode the book have led to some labeling it as a hoax and a few claims of finding actual meaning, including one recently published in the journal PLOS ONE.
"The text is unique, there are no similar works and all attempts to decode any possible message in the text have failed," co-author Marcelo Montemurro, a theoretical physicist from the University of Manchester, told BBC News' Melissa Hogenboom. “It's not easy to dismiss the manuscript as simple nonsensical gibberish, as it shows a significant [linguistic] structure.”
Using an advanced computer program to analyze the text, Montemurro and his colleague Damián H. Zanette focused on word structures within the manuscript.
"There is substantial evidence that content-bearing words tend to occur in a clustered pattern, where they are required as part of the specific information being written," Montemurro said. "Over long spans of texts, words leave a statistical signature about their use. When the topic shifts, other words are needed.
"The semantic networks we obtained clearly show that related words tend to share structure similarities,” he added. “This also happens to a certain degree in real languages."
After discovering what he believed are significant word networks within the text, Montemurro said it is unlikely someone looking to perpetrate a hoax would produce these features since the academic knowledge of these structures didn’t exist until recently.
Despite picking out suggestive patterns within the text, Montemurro said a meaning is still out of reach.
Gordon Rugg, a mathematician from Keele University in the UK, reacted to the study’s findings with a shrug.
"The findings aren't anything new,” he told the BBC. “It's been accepted for decades that the statistical properties of Voynichese are similar, but not identical, to those of real languages.
"I don't think there's much chance that the Voynich manuscript is simply an unidentified language, because there are too many features in its text that are very different from anything found in any real language."
Rugg added he does not believe there is a hidden code within the text.
"Some of the features of the manuscript's text, such as the way that it consists of separate words, are inconsistent with most methods of encoding text,” he said. “Modern codes almost invariably avoid having separate words, as those would be an easy way to crack most coding systems."
The mysterious manuscript is named after Polish-American Wilfred Voynich, who owned it from 1912 until his death in 1930. While ownership of the text has been traced back to the 1700s, the author and language are unknown, and similar books have never been found. A study published in 2011 said radioactive dating techniques have pegged the manuscript’s origins in the early 15th century.