Voynich Manuscript Continues to Confound Scholars

A manuscript from the first half of the 15th century continues to baffle linguists and cryptographers into the 21st century.  The Voynich manuscript, named for the man who discovered it in an Italian monastery in 1912, is written in a so-far-indecipherable script and contains many odd illustrations, most of which defy classification to this day.  The key to understanding its astrological diagrams and fantastic flora and fauna almost certainly lies in the text's mysterious code--unless the whole thing is an ancient hoax.  

Gordon Rugg of Keele University in the UK claims he has devised a method capable of replicating the natural rhythm of speech that makes the manuscript's unusual language so fascinating to academics.  The British academic uses a card-based system in order to produce a series of nonsense words that follow a word-frequency distribution similar to that of real language texts.  

According to Rugg, “We have known for years that the syllables are not random. What I’m saying is there are ways of producing gibberish which are not random in a statistical sense.  It’s a bit like rolling loaded dice. If you roll dice that are subtly loaded, they would come up with a six more often than you would expect, but not every time.” 

The debate is far from over, though, as other scholars aren't convinced by Rugg's conclusions.  Marcelo Montemurro of the University of Manchester has concluded that the manuscript does contain meaningful text, and completed a statistical analysis to compare its structure to that of other classical texts.  

“It is not impossible that these tables can generate [a word-frequency distribution similar to real language texts], in the same way that it is not impossible to win the lottery 10 times. It is still very unlikely,” counters Montemurro. “Bringing in all of these narratives to explain something makes it sound so far-fetched. They are writing a thriller, not a scientific paper.”

Naturally, Rugg disagrees, citing the fact that if a hoax is a strong possibility, then the burden of proof now lies with those out to prove the veracity of the Voynich manuscript.  What do you think?  Does this mystery text really represent an ancient code, or is this merely a manufactured language meant to fool us?

Yours in Impossibility,


Tobias Wayland