The Language and Writing System of MS408 (Voynich) Explained

Gerard Cheshire*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

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Manuscript MS408 (Voynich) is unusual in a number of respects: 1. It uses an extinct language. 2. Its alphabet uses a number of unfamiliar symbols alongside more familiar symbols. 3. It includes no dedicated punctuation marks. 4. Some of the letters have symbol variants to indicate punctuation. 5. Some of the symbol variants indicate phonetic accents. 6. All of the letters are in lower case. 7. There are no double consonants. 8. It includes diphthong, triphthongs, quadriphthongs and even quintiphthongs for the abbreviation of phonetic components. 9. It includes some words and abbreviations in Latin. As a result, identifying the language and solving the writing system required some ingenuity and lateral thinking, but both were duly revealed. The writing system is rather more singular and less intuitive than modern systems, which may explain why it failed to become culturally ubiquitous and ultimately became obsolete. On the other hand, a significant vestige of the language has survived into the modern era, because its lexicon has been sequestered into the many modern languages of Mediterranean Europe. Here, the language and writing system are explained, so that other scholars can explore the manuscript for its linguistic and informative content.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)30-67
Number of pages38
JournalRomance Studies
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 29 Apr 2019


  • decipher
  • Manuscript
  • MS408
  • proto-romance
  • voynich


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