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Reading minims ‘i’, ‘u’, ‘n’, w, and ‘m’ in the Voynich Manuscript

In my previous blog, I focused on the general description of the minims and illustrated how they can be read as different Latin leters. I explained one reading of the word known among the VM researchers ad EVA daiin. In this post, I will explain the reading of other minims and compare them to Slovenian grammatical endings. The ending -w for verbal forms cannot be found in Slovenian dictionaries, because the words were spelled with the endings -v or -l and pronounced as U. The letter W was replaced in Slovenian language before the first Slovenian books were written in the mid-16th century. 

Minims in the Stična Codex, mid-15th century, Slovenian language and Latin letters

Most of the minims in the VM appear at the end of the words, which means they represent grammatical ending.

In Slovenian language, the ending for the infinitive verbs is -TI (TY) which in the Middle Ages could also be spelled as DY, since T and D were often mixed up by foreign writers (Slovenian DOL, English DALE became German Thal).  For a foreigner, looking for the etymology of the words, would also make sense to spell DY rather than TI, since many Slovenian verbs are formed from the noun by adding the word DAJ (which would be spelled in the VM as DY). There are still some remnants of such forms, such as POGLED DATI which in 2. person singular, imperative mood would be POGLED DAJ (pogledy in the VM) and eventually evolved into POGLEJ.  The infinite form evolved to POGLEDDATI.

Besides different grammatical endings for number, gender, case, and tense, different groups of verbs can also have different vowel before minim ending for the first person singular, such as -am, -im, -em. In a similar way, the -al ending in the verbs for first person masculine past or future tense verbs can have a variation of -al, -el, -il ending. In some Slovenian dictionaries, the grammatical endings are indicated, including the accent. The examples below are taken from the Pravopis slovenskega jezika (the dictionary of Slovenian orthography).

In the VM, the ending -am is most frequent, which means that the text is written predominantly in the first person singular. I have already pointed out in my previous post that EVA-daiin stands for Slovenian word DAM, which can also be the ending for many words derived from the verb DATI (to give). EVA-aiin is Slovenian ending -am, used for first person singular present tense, for which the endings -im, or -em can also be used.

Several VM researchers, particularly J. K. Petersen, pointed out the slight difference in the way minims are written in the VM, but they did not explain what those differences means.

The difference between the minims is clearly visible in the above words, which I read as SAM.

SAM is one of the most frequently used words in the VM, because of its various meanings. The word SAM means I AM (in various dialects, although the proper Slovenian is SEM). It is also used to form a past tense for the 1. person singular. Example: (SAM) DAL – ‘I gave’.  Note that the SAM is a helping verb, and the main verb DAL has the ending -AL. Like in the word DAM, the personal pronoun I is implyed in the ending and is usually not written, unless the pronoun is stressed.

Besides interpreting the word as SAM, it is also important to explore the possible reading of S as Z or Ž.

EVA-dain – Slovenian DAM

Based on the Stična codex, as well as on contemporary Latin cursive writing, I read the VM glyphs IV as IV, N or W. To understand the distinction, some explanation of Slovenian phonetics is required.

How can the EVA-in be read as IV, W or N? Such reading could definitelly be concluded from various medieval European manuscripts. I suppose the similarity of the shapes of the letter could be the main reason. Although in some medieval manuscripts, the rounded  connecting lines between the minims for N and M were used, in most cursive writing, the diagonal connecting lines were used, and when the upward stroke is light and thin, the letters are hard to differentiate from U which has a rounded connecting line at the bottom. Although U with a rounded connecting line was used in the German Latin letters (such as in the Freising Manuscript in the 10th century), at some point the V was used for Latin U, and two Vs for W, both for the sound U – V in Latin, W in Germanic (where V was often used for F sound and W occasionally for B).

The explanation of the endings -l as – u, v, w,  could be based on phonetics. The pronunciation of the letter L was the subject of one of the first debates on phonetics among Slovenian linguists.

In the Freising Manuscript, the pronunciation of the -l endings is clear; it was written with double -ll, which some considered German pronunciation, foreign to Slavic phonetics.

The -l at the end, and in front of semi-vowel was pronounced as -u, but Germans pronounced it as L.

In 1883, Slovenian linguist Škrabec proposed that Slovenians should spell the words the way they are pronounced.  He pointed out that Slovenians did not accept the Polish ‘ł’ which was pronounced as W.

By the time the first Slovenian dictionaries were written, the W was already replaced with U or V. In the VM, the -l, -v and -w endings are used interchangeable. Most likely, certain words were pronounced the German way with the hard L, and some words with the Slavic L (u) or ilj.

An example of extensive use of -m endings could be found on f35r. The endings in green and red squares are verbal endings, while the endings in blue are non-verbal endings. The ending -m can also be used for declination of some nouns. It can also be found in the words such as KAM (where), TAM (there) and others.

The high frequency of EVA-dan, dain, daiin would require an entire book to explain. Although there could be other meanings, the most such words are related to the verbe DATI – to give.

The grammatical form, the proper reading, and the meaning of the VM words can best be determined from the context.

Some Slovenian verbs were formed by adding the word DATI (to give) to the noun. This is how the word ČOR + DAM  (I give magic) gradually became ČORAM (I make magic spell, incantation). Because of the flexible word order, the individual words can be reversed (DAM ČOR – ‘I give incantation), but the reversal does not work where the words are combined into one word. Another such word would be VM word RCHY DAM (RČI DAM – words I give) which has been used until the 20th century in the Prekmurje dialect for ‘I give sermon’, ‘I preach’. It originates from the expression DATI REČI – ‘to give a word’. This word evolved to RECHDY – (used in the VM) to REČI in contemporary Slovenian.

According to P. Currier, the word DAM (EVA-daiin) appears 268 times in the first 25 pages, and the word AM additional 149 times. In the next 25 pages, the word AM appears 137 times, and the word DAM only 76 times. This led him to assume that the words must be the same and that D in the word DAM must be a silent letter. Based partly on this grammatical peculiarity, he concluded that the two languages are not the same.

The word DAM is most frequently used word in the VM. Besides the word DAM (I give), which indicated the first person writing, various derivates of this word are used in the VM.  The prefix PO-  is used for the complete action; combined with DAM means ‘hand’, such as ‘give in hands’, or PODAM  ‘give one selves up’, ‘I surrender’. Where PO is separated from DAM, it could be related to ‘home’ (po dam – (longing) of home).

KALDAIIL – indicates repeated past tense action of ‘sprout’.  Like the word DAM, the repeated giving is made by adding -il, or -jil ending. The meaning is similar to DAL (grammatical form for past or future tense). It is used with a helping verb (sem, si, je, bom, boš, bo, and bi for the conditional mood – English was, will, or would).

EVA – daiin – DAIM, DANW, DAIIW

Many VM researchers are wondering about the string of four minims in EVA-DAIIIN word. (There are more such strings of minims without the D letter.) Since the words are seldom used in the VM, some believe they must be a characteristic of a certain language. 

Is there an explanation for them in Slovenian language? According to Dr. Bax’s minim theory, the EVA-daiiin could be read as DAIIN, DAIIV, DANW, DAIM, DAWN, DAIIW. To transliterate them into Slovenian, we have to consider that the VM was written before the letter J came into use, and before Slovenians replaced  U with V, and W with V or U.

It would be reasonable to assume that the V was used for U, like in the Latin writing convention of the time.

A single minim as ‘I’

A single minim inside the word, stands for ‘i’, just like it is designated in the EVA-alphabet. In the VM, two minims are sometimes used for JI or IJ, since the letter Y is used only for the beginning or for the end of the words. They are frequently followed by R, L, IL.

In the example above, the words ending with -ilj (EVA-m) are mostly the strings of verbs related to the helping verb BUOS (dialectal phonetic spelling for BOŠ – you will be). The ending reflects the soft Slavic -ilj pronunciation of the letter ‘l’.  While the -il is most often found at the end, there are some rare exceptions in the VM (in light blue square). The word DAILO seems to be the dialectal phonetic spelling for DELO (work), and DAIILOL looks like DELOL (will be making).

Another example of different minim endings could be found in the table above. The word LEK is an old Slovenian word for healing remedy. Later, the ‘e’ replaced the semivowel. By adding the ending -am, the verbal form for the first person singular, present tense, is formed. LEKAW is alternative spelling of LEKAL (was healing), while LEKAN means a passive form (healed). LEKAIV seems to be the VM form of adjective – healing, since -iv (iw) ending is indicative for the adjectives. In this case, LEKAIV sounds strange, because Slovenian writers later adopted the word LEČILEN for ‘healing’.  The -ilj ending also sounds strange to contemporary Slovenians, who are more familiar with the word LEČIL.  

In general, minim endings account for almost half of all the endings in the VM. They are most often used for various verbal forms, as well as for adjectives and nouns.

Conclusion

The study of dialects and phonology is a  relatively young addition to Slovenian linguistics, however, it is gaining importance in the last decades. In the past, Slovenians who spoke in dialect, were frown upon as oldfashioned, as the linguists wanted to create a ‘pure’ litterary language. That never worked in practice. However, the generations of school children were forced to abandon their dialects. At the present time, the linguists are searching for the people who still speak in dialects, collecting the old no longer used words and studying phonology. There is very little research into Slovenian dialects and phonetics for the time period betweed the Freising Manuscript (10th century) and Stična Codex (mid-15th century), and between Stična Codex and the 1st known Slovenian books (mid-15th cenury), that is, before the Slovenian language was commited to written form.

Because of that, even the professional Slovenian linguists regard the VM as odd and unrecognizable at the first glance, because their mind set is focused on the two widely studied codices – (Freising manuscript and Stična Codex) and less on the phonetics of the peasant Slovenian language.  I am sure if they would focus on the unique Slovenian grammar, reflected in the VM, they would be better able to understand, that the spoken words the author of the VM heard and wrote down did not sound the same as the words Trubar used 100 years later.

When I tried to write a paragraph in the dialect spoken in my native village at the time of my youth, I could not do it with a simple alphabet. (Professional linguists do that better with a special alphabet that included marks for various accents and sounds.) I imagine this is what the author of the VM was up against. From a spoken language, he would also have difficulty knowing where one word ends and the another one starts. This is why some short words are often written together, and some longer words are separated by unnecessary space.

Because of the various reading of the strings of minims, the number of vowels and consonants changes drastically from the EVA transcription which is used for most computer analysis. Implementing changes makes VM more readable and more vowel-consonant balanced. Also, replacing the semivowels with vowels makes the VM language more syllabic.  The changes cannot be implemented with a replacement button on the computer, because each word has to be studied separately within the context. For this reason, knowing the language and grammar is very important. Although Slovenian is my native language, I am still having difficulty reading the minims in some VM words, particularly since the author was not that proficient in grammar, nor in spelling. Besides, I have no concrete example how the Slovenian language in the 15th cenury sounded, except for 3 pages of religious text.

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