Voynich Manuscript: An Unbreakable Code?

The Voynich manuscript, discovered in the 15th century, contains a language that no one has been able to decipher. The codex gets its name by way of Wilfred Voynich, the antiquities dealer who purchased the text in 1912.

Linguists and cryptographers alike struggle to make sense of the ancient tome, but theories abound about the manuscript.

Does it contain a dead language? An encrypted one? Or is it just a hoax? Some people have suggested that Voynich himself fabricated the text.

voynich manuscript

No one has yet been able to decode the 600-year-old Voynich manuscript. (Click to enlarge.)

The codex contains 40 unknown symbols that make up “words” and features drawings of plants that don’t exist. In fact, those who have studied the text say that it can be divided into five parts. Four of those parts—recipes, astronomical, herbal, and pharmaceutical—use related vocabulary. Only the fifth part of the manuscript, biological, stands alone.

Analyzing the Voynich Manuscript

One researcher says that the text is no hoax. Marcelo Montemurro, from the University of Manchester, has recently made a breakthrough. He has studied the rules that govern the text in the Voynich manuscript, even though he doesn’t know what it says.

Montemurro looked at the frequency of each “word” in the manuscript, hoping to find a pattern. For example, generic function words (such as the or and) appear regularly in texts. But specific content words appear less often.

To his delight, Montemurro found such usage irregularities in the manuscript. Having identified these content “words” and an overall structure to the document, Montemurro rejects the idea that the text is written in a nonsense language.

Read more about the mystery of the Voynich manuscript in this New Yorker article.

“Manuscrit Voynich: Il a bien un sens caché.” Science et Vie. September 2013.
“Voynich manuscript.” Wikipedia.

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The Voynich manuscript isn’t the only text that’s impenetrable. Millions of speakers have no access to any online content in their language.

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