Author Topic: Medieval manuscript decoded, found to be in Proto-Romance language  (Read 263 times)

Offline Fleur-de-Lys

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Bristol academic cracks Voynich code, solving century-old mystery of medieval text

https://m.phys.org/news/2019-05-bristol-academic-voynich-code-century-old.html

May 15, 2019 , University of Bristol



This shows two women dealing with five children in a bath. The words describe different temperaments: tozosr (buzzing: too noisy), orla la (on the edge: losing patience), tolora (silly/foolish), noror (cloudy: dull/sad), or aus (golden bird: well behaved), oleios (oiled: slippery). These words survive in Catalan [tozos], Portuguese [orla], Portuguese [tolos], Romanian [noros], Catalan [or aus] and Portuguese [oleio]. The words orla la describe the mood of the woman on the left and may well be the root of the French phrase 'oh là là', which has a very similar sentiment. Credit: Voynich manuscript

A University of Bristol academic has succeeded where countless cryptographers, linguistics scholars and computer programs have failed—by cracking the code of the 'world's most mysterious text', the Voynich manuscript.

Although the purpose and meaning of the manuscript had eluded scholars for over a century, it took Research Associate Dr. Gerard Cheshire two weeks, using a combination of lateral thinking and ingenuity, to identify the language and writing system of the famously inscrutable document.

In his peer-reviewed paper, The Language and Writing System of MS408 (Voynich) Explained, published in the journal Romance Studies, Cheshire describes how he successfully deciphered the manuscript's codex and, at the same time, revealed the only known example of proto-Romance language.

"I experienced a series of 'eureka' moments whilst deciphering the code, followed by a sense of disbelief and excitement when I realised the magnitude of the achievement, both in terms of its linguistic importance and the revelations about the origin and content of the manuscript.

"What it reveals is even more amazing than the myths and fantasies it has generated. For example, the manuscript was compiled by Dominican nuns as a source of reference for Maria of Castile, Queen of Aragon, who happens to have been great aunt to Catherine of Aragon.



This shows the word 'palina' which is a rod for measuring the depth of water, sometimes called a stadia rod or ruler. The letter 'p' has been extended. Credit: Voynich manuscript

"It is also no exaggeration to say this work represents one of the most important developments to date in Romance linguistics. The manuscript is written in proto-Romance—ancestral to today's Romance languages including Portuguese, Spanish, French, Italian, Romanian, Catalan and Galician. The language used was ubiquitous in the Mediterranean during the Medieval 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 explains in linguistic terms what makes the manuscript so unusual:

"It 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."



Vignette A illustrates the erupting volcano that prompted the rescue mission and the drawing of the map. It rose from the seabed to create a new island given the name Vulcanello, which later became joined to the island of Vulcano following another eruption in 1550. Vignette B depicts the volcano of Ischia, vignette C shows the islet of Castello Aragonese, and vignette D represents the island of Lipari. Each vignette includes a combination of naïvely drawn and somewhat stylized images along with annotations to explain and add detail. The other five vignettes describe further details of the story. Credit: Voynich manuscript

The next step is to use this knowledge to translate the entire manuscript and compile a lexicon, which Cheshire acknowledges will take some time and funding, as it comprises more than 200 pages.

"Now the language and writing system have been explained, the pages of the manuscript have been laid open for scholars to explore and reveal, for the first time, its true linguistic and informative content."

More information: Gerard Cheshire, The Language and Writing System of MS408 (Voynich) Explained, Romance Studies (2019). DOI: 10.1080/02639904.2019.1599566

Provided by University of Bristol
« Last Edit: May 16, 2019, 11:29:14 AM by Fleur-de-Lys »
 
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Offline Vetus Ordo

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Re: Medieval manuscript decoded, found to be in Proto-Romance language
« Reply #1 on: May 17, 2019, 02:43:15 PM »
Excellent article, Fleur.

I wonder if this proto-Romance language was as widespread as it is claimed. It's an interesting suggestion, I've always wondered about the existence of a Romance lingua franca across the Mediterranean, it would have made sense. It would still makes sense today for the Latin countries (Italy, Spain, Portugal, France and Romania), rather than using English per se.

I've skimmed through the original paper but I haven't had the time and patience to read it properly yet.
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Offline Fleur-de-Lys

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Re: Medieval manuscript decoded, found to be in Proto-Romance language
« Reply #2 on: May 17, 2019, 04:07:11 PM »
I doubt that proto-Romance was as uniform across Southern Europe as this article seems to suggest. There was surely already a great deal of regional variation. But of course the article I posted was just a summary for the general public of a much longer academic paper, which I would like to read before making any criticisms. At any rate, it presents an interesting idea that deserves consideration.
« Last Edit: May 17, 2019, 04:09:19 PM by Fleur-de-Lys »
 

Offline Fleur-de-Lys

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Re: Medieval manuscript decoded, found to be in Proto-Romance language
« Reply #3 on: May 17, 2019, 04:25:50 PM »
One thing I’ve just noticed is that this codex is dated between 1404 and 1438. I have no expertise in medieval Spanish or Portuguese, but this is rather late in the medieval period. We have examples in France of texts from as early as the 9th century, such as the Serments de Strasbourg and the Cantilène de Sainte Eulalie that already show characteristics of Old French as distinguished from proto-Romance. If this manuscript does represet a variety of proto-Romance still being used in Iberia in the 15th century, it is a variety five centuries removed from anything that might have resembled a lingua franca for Southern Europe. In fact, if memory serves, I believe there was already considerable regional variation even in Latin long before this time.
 
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Re: Medieval manuscript decoded, found to be in Proto-Romance language
« Reply #4 on: May 17, 2019, 04:45:57 PM »
One thing I’ve just noticed is that this codex is dated between 1404 and 1438. I have no expertise in medieval Spanish or Portuguese, but this is rather late in the medieval period. We have examples in France of texts from as early as the 9th century, such as the Serments de Strasbourg and the Cantilène de Sainte Eulalie that already show characteristics of Old French as distinguished from proto-Romance. If this manuscript does represet a variety of proto-Romance still being used in Iberia in the 15th century, it is a variety five centuries removed from anything that might have resembled a lingua franca for Southern Europe. In fact, if memory serves, I believe there was already considerable regional variation even in Latin long before this time.

By the 15th century we already had the old forms of Galician, Portuguese, Leonese, Castillian, Catalan, etc., well established in Spain. The famous Cantar de mio Cid, which is the oldest preserved Castilian poem, is from the 12th or 13th century.

We could posit that this Proto-Romance language, assuming it was not just another variant of Iberian Latin, was still used orally alongside Latin for business transactions or diplomacy at this time in the area. Like you said, it is a hypothesis that deserves consideration.
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Re: Medieval manuscript decoded, found to be in Proto-Romance language
« Reply #5 on: May 21, 2019, 07:19:17 PM »
Excellent article, Fleur.

I wonder if this proto-Romance language was as widespread as it is claimed. It's an interesting suggestion, I've always wondered about the existence of a Romance lingua franca across the Mediterranean, it would have made sense. It would still makes sense today for the Latin countries (Italy, Spain, Portugal, France and Romania), rather than using English per se.

I've skimmed through the original paper but I haven't had the time and patience to read it properly yet.

It seems that there was a lingua franca called sabir in use around the Mediterranean from the 11th to the 19th centuries. It was a pidgin that was largely Romance, but also contained elements of Greek, Turkish, Arabic, and Berber.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mediterranean_Lingua_Franca
 
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