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The Relationship Between Currier Languages “A” and “B”

March 1, 2013 24 comments

Captain Prescott Currier, a cryptographer, looked at the Voynich many moons ago, and made some very perceptive comments about it, which can be seen here on Rene Zandbergen’s site.

In particular, he noticed that the handwriting was different between some folios and others, and he also noticed (based on glyph/character counts) that there were two “languages” being used.

When I first looked at the manuscript, I was principally considering the initial (roughly) fifty folios, constituting the herbal section. The first twenty-five folios in the herbal section are obviously in one hand and one ‘‘language,’’ which I called ‘‘A.’’ (It could have been called anything at all; it was just the first one I came to.) The second twenty-five or so folios are in two hands, very obviously the work of at least two different men. In addition to this fact, the text of this second portion of the herbal section (that is, the next twenty-five of thirty folios) is in two ‘‘languages,’’ and each ‘‘language’’ is in its own hand. This means that, there being two authors of the second part of the herbal section, each one wrote in his own ‘‘language.’’ Now, I’m stretching a point a bit, I’m aware; my use of the word language is convenient, but it does not have the same connotations as it would have in normal use. Still, it is a convenient word, and I see no reason not to continue using it.

We can look at some statistics to see what he was referring to. Let’s compare the most common words in Folios 1 to 25 (in the Herbal section, Language A, written in Hand 1) and in Folios 107 to 116 (in the Recipes section, Language B, written in a different Hand):

Comparison between word frequencies in Languages A and B

Comparison between word frequencies in Languages A and B

So, for example, in Language A the most common word is “8am” and it occurs 192 times in the folios, whereas in Language B the most common word is “am”, occuring 137 times.

We might expect that these are the same word, enciphered differently. The question then is, how does one convert between words in Language A and words in Language B, and vice versa? In the case of the “8am” to “am” it’s just a question of dropping the “8”, as if “8” is a null character in Language A. In the case of the next most popular words, “1oe”(A) and “1c89″(B) it looks like “oe”(A) converts to “c89″(B). And so on.

If we look at the most popular nGrams (substrings) in both Languages, perhaps there is a mapping that translates between the two. Perhaps the cipher machinery that was used to generate the text had different settings, that produced Language A in one configuration, and Language B in another. Perhaps, if we look at the nGram correspondence that results in the best match between the two Languages, a clue will be revealed as to how that machinery worked.

This involves some software (I’m using Python now, which is fun). The software first calculates the word frequencies for Language A and B in a set of folios (the table above is an output from this stage). It then calculates the nGram frequencies for each Language. Here are the top 10:

nGramFrequencies

The software then runs a Genetic Algorithm to find the best mapping between the two sets of nGrams, so that when the mapping is applied to all words in Language B, it produces a set of words in Language A the frequencies of which most closely match the frequencies of words observed in Language A (i.e.  the frequencies shown in the first table above).

Here is an initial result. With the following mapping, you can take most common words in Language B, and convert them to Language A.

Table for converting between a Language B word and a Language A word

Table for converting between a Language B word and a Language A word

A couple of remarks. This is an early result and probably not the best match. There are some interesting correspondences :

  • “9” and “c” are immutable, and have the same function
  • Another interesting feature is that “4o” in Language B maps to “o” in Language A, and vice versa!
  • in Language B, “ha” maps to “h” in Language A, as if “a” is a null

In the Comments, Dave suggested looking at word pair frequencies between the Languages. Here is a table of the most common pairs in each Language.

Common word pairs in Languages A and B

Common word pairs in Languages A and B

For clarity, I am using what I call the “HerbalRecipesAB” folios for this study i.e.

Using folios for HerbalRecipeAB : [107, 108, 109, 110, 111, 112, 113, 114, 115, 116, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25]

More results coming …