The major Coptic dialects are Sahidic, Bohairic, Akhmimic, Fayyumic, Lycopolitan, and Oxyrhynchite. Sahidic Coptic was spoken approximately between the cities of Asyut
and flourished as a literary language
across all of Egypt in the period c.
325 – c. 800 AD.
Bohairic, the language of the Nile Delta
, gained prominence in the 9th century and is the dialect used by the Coptic Church.
Despite being closely related, Coptic dialects differ from one another in terms of their phonology, morphology
, and vocabulary
The native Coptic name for the language is
) in the Bohairic (Delta) dialect and ⲧⲙⲛ̄ⲧⲣⲙ̄ⲛ̄ⲕⲏⲙⲉ
) in the Sahidic (Valley) dialect. The particle prefix me(n)t-
from the verb mouti
(ⲙⲟⲩϯ, 'to speak') forms many abstract nouns in Coptic (not only those pertaining to "language"). The term remənkʰēmi/rəmənkēme
meaning 'Egyptian', literally 'person of Egypt', is a compound of rem-
, which is the construct state
of the Coptic noun ⲣⲱⲙⲓ/ⲣⲱⲙⲉ, 'man, human being', + the genitive preposition (ə)n-
(ⲛ̀, 'of') + the word for 'Egypt', kʰēmi/kēme
(ⲭⲏⲙⲓ/ⲕⲏⲙⲉ; cf. Kemet
). Thus, the whole expression literally means 'language of the people of Egypt', or simply 'Egyptian language'.
Another name by which the language has been called is təməntkuptaion
) from the Copto-Greek
, 'Egyptian language'). The term logos ən aiguptios
(ⲗⲟⲅⲟⲥ ⲛ̀ⲁⲓⲅⲩⲡⲧⲓⲟⲥ, 'Egyptian language') is also attested in Sahidic, but logos
are both Greek in origin. In the liturgy of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria
, the name is more officially tiaspi ənremənkʰēmi
(ϯⲁⲥⲡⲓ ⲛ̀ⲣⲉⲙⲛ̀ⲭⲏⲙⲓ, 'the Egyptian language'), aspi
(ⲁⲥⲡⲓ) being the Egyptian word for language.
Influence on other languages
In addition to influencing the grammar, vocabulary and syntax of Egyptian Arabic, Coptic has lent to both Arabic
and Modern Hebrew
such words as:
- timsāḥ (Arabic: تمساح; Hebrew: תמסח), "crocodile"; emsah (ⲉⲙⲥⲁϩ); this subsequently entered Turkish as timsah. Coptic ⲉⲙⲥⲁϩ is grammatically masculine and hence would have been vocalised pemsah or bemsah (Sahidic: ⲡⲉⲙⲥⲁϩ; Bohairic: ⲡⲓⲉⲙⲥⲁϩ). Hence it is unclear why the word should have entered Arabic with an initial t, which would have required the word to be grammatically feminine (i.e. Sahidic: *ⲧⲉⲙⲥⲁϩ; Bohairic: *ϯⲉⲙⲥⲁϩ).
- ṭūbah, Arabic: طوبة, "brick"; Sahidic: ⲧⲱⲱⲃⲉ, tōōbe; Bohairic ⲧⲱⲃⲓ, tōbi; this subsequently entered Catalan and Spanish (via Andalusian Arabic) as tova and adobe respectively, the latter of which was borrowed by American English.
- wāḥah, Arabic: واحة, "oasis"; Sahidic: ⲟⲩⲁϩⲉ, ouahe; Bohairic: ⲟⲩⲉϩⲓ, ouehi; this subsequently entered Turkish as vaha
A few words of Coptic origin are found in the Greek language
; some of the words were later lent to various European languages — such as barge
, from Coptic baare
(ⲃⲁⲁⲣⲉ, "small boat").
However, most words of Egyptian origin that entered into Greek and subsequently into other European languages came directly from Ancient Egyptian, often Demotic
. An example is the Greek oasis
(ὄασις), which comes directly from Egyptian wḥꜣt
or Demotic wḥj
. However, Coptic reborrowed
some words of Ancient Egyptian origin into its lexicon, via Greek. For example, both Sahidic and Bohairic use the word ebenos
, which was taken directly from Greek ἔβενος ("ebony"), originally from Egyptian hbnj
The Coptic name
(from Egyptian pꜣy-pꜣ-nṯr
), means "belonging to God" or "he of God".
It was adapted into Arabic as Babnouda
, which remains a common name among Egyptian Copts to this day. It was also borrowed into Greek as the name Παφνούτιος (Paphnutius
). That, in turn, is the source of the Russian name Пафнутий
), like the mathematician Pafnuty Chebyshev
Fifth–sixth century Coptic liturgic inscription from Upper Egypt
The Egyptian language
may have the longest documented history of any language, from Old Egyptian
that appeared just before 3200 BC
to its final phases as Coptic in the Middle Ages
. Coptic belongs to the Later Egyptian phase, which started to be written in the New Kingdom of Egypt
. Later Egyptian represented colloquial speech of the later periods. It had analytic features like definite and indefinite articles
verb conjugation. Coptic, therefore, is a reference to both the most recent stage of Egyptian after Demotic
and the new writing system that was adapted from the Greek alphabet
The earliest attempts to write the Egyptian language using the Greek alphabet are Greek transcriptions of Egyptian proper names, most of which date to the Ptolemaic Kingdom
. Scholars frequently refer to this phase as pre-Coptic. However, it is clear that by the Late Period of ancient Egypt
, demotic scribes regularly employed a more phonetic orthography, a testament to the increasing cultural contact between Egyptians
even before Alexander the Great
's conquest of Egypt. Coptic itself, or Old Coptic, takes root in the first century. The transition from the older Egyptian scripts to the newly adapted Coptic alphabet was in part due to the decline of the traditional role played by the priestly class of ancient Egyptian religion
, who, unlike most ordinary Egyptians, were literate in the temple scriptoria. Old Coptic is represented mostly by non-Christian texts such as Egyptian pagan prayers and magical and astrological papyri
. Many of them served as glosses
to original hieratic
and demotic equivalents. The glosses may have been aimed at non-Egyptian speakers.
Eighth century Coptic manuscript of Luke
Under late Roman rule
persecuted many Egyptian converts to the new Christian faith
, which forced new converts to flee to the Egyptian deserts. In time, the growth of these communities generated the need to write Christian Greek instructions in the Egyptian language. The early Fathers of the Coptic Church
, such as Anthony the Great
, Pachomius the Great
, Macarius of Egypt
and Athanasius of Alexandria
, who otherwise usually wrote in Greek, addressed some of their works to the Egyptian monks in Egyptian. The Egyptian language, now written in the Coptic alphabet, flourished in the second and third centuries. However, it was not until Shenoute
that Coptic became a fully standardised literary language based on the Sahidic dialect. Shenouda's native Egyptian tongue and knowledge of Greek and rhetoric gave him the necessary tools to elevate Coptic, in content and style, to a literary height nearly equal to the position of the Egyptian language in ancient Egypt.
Page from 19th century Coptic Language Grammar
As a written language, Coptic is thought to have completely given way to Egyptian Arabic
around the 13th century,
though it seems to have survived as a spoken language until the 17th century
and in some localities even longer.
In the second half of the 20th century, Pope Cyril VI of Alexandria
started a national Church-sponsored movement to revive
Coptic. Several works of grammar were published, including a more comprehensive dictionary than had been formerly available. The scholarly findings of the field of Egyptology
and the inauguration of the Institute of Coptic Studies
further contributed to the renaissance. Efforts at language revitalisation continue to be undertaken, both inside and outside the Church
, and have attracted the interest of Copts
and linguists in and outside of Egypt.
In a 2016 survey in Turkey by KONDA Research and Consultancy
, 0.01% of respondents claimed their native language to be Coptic (possibly confusing the words kıptice
'Coptic (language)' and kipçak
Stone with Coptic inscription
Coptic uses a writing system almost wholly derived from the Greek alphabet
, with the addition of a number of letters that have their origins in Demotic Egyptian
. This is comparable to the Latin-based Icelandic alphabet
, which includes the runic letter thorn
There is some variation in the number and forms of these signs depending on the dialect. Some of the letters in the Coptic alphabet that are of Greek origin were normally reserved for words that are themselves Greek. Old Coptic texts employed several graphemes that were not retained in the literary Coptic orthography of later centuries.
In Sahidic, syllable
boundary may have been marked by a supralinear stroke, or the stroke may have tied letters together in one word, since Coptic texts did not otherwise indicate word divisions. Some scribal traditions use a diaeresis
over /i/ and /u/ at the beginning of a syllable or to mark a diphthong. Bohairic uses a superposed point or small stroke known as a djinkim
. When Djinkim is placed over a vowel, it is pronounced independently and when its placed over a consonant a short e sound precedes it.
The oldest Coptic writings date to the pre-Christian era (Old Coptic), though Coptic literature consists mostly of texts written by prominent saints of the Coptic Church such as Anthony the Great, Pachomius the Great and Shenoute. Shenoute helped fully standardise the Coptic language through his many sermons, treatises and homilies, which formed the basis of early Coptic literature.
The core lexicon
of Coptic is Egyptian
, most closely related to the preceding Demotic
phase of the language. Up to 40% of the vocabulary of literary Coptic is drawn from Greek
, but borrowings are not always fully adapted to the Coptic phonological system and may have semantic
differences as well. There are instances of Coptic texts having passages that are almost entirely composed from Greek lexical roots. However, that is likely due to the fact that the majority of Coptic religious texts are direct translations of Greek works.
What invariably attracts the attention of the reader of a Coptic text, especially if it is written in the Sa'idic dialect, is the very liberal use which is made of Greek loan words, of which so few, indeed, are to be found in the Ancient Egyptian language. There Greek loan words occur everywhere in Coptic literature, be it Biblical, liturgical, theological, or non-literary, i.e. legal documents and personal letters. Though nouns and verbs predominate, the Greek loan words may come from any other part of speech except pronouns'
Words or concepts for which no adequate Egyptian translation existed were taken directly from Greek to avoid altering the meaning of the religious message. In addition, other Egyptian words that would have adequately translated the Greek equivalents were not employed as they were perceived as having overt pagan associations. Old Coptic texts employ many such words, phrases and epithets
; for example, the word ⲧⲃⲁⲓⲧⲱⲩ '(Who is) in (His) Mountain', is an epithet of Anubis
There are also traces of some archaic grammatical features, such as residues of the Demotic relative clause
, lack of an indefinite article and possessive use of suffixes.
Thus, the transition from the 'old' traditions to the new Christian religion also contributed to the adoption of Greek words into the Coptic religious lexicon. It is safe to assume that the everyday speech of the native population retained, to a greater extent, its indigenous Egyptian character, which is sometimes reflected in Coptic nonreligious documents such as letters and contracts.
Coptic provides the clearest indication of Later Egyptian phonology
from its writing system, which fully indicates vowel sounds and occasionally stress pattern. The phonological system of Later Egyptian is also better known than that of the Classical phase of the language because of a greater number of sources indicating Egyptian sounds, including cuneiform letters
containing transcriptions of Egyptian words and phrases, and Egyptian renderings of Northwest Semitic
names. Coptic sounds, in addition, are known from a variety of Coptic-Arabic papyri in which Arabic letters were used to transcribe Coptic and vice versa. They date to the medieval Islamic period, when Coptic was still spoken.
There are some differences of opinion among Coptic language scholars on the correct phonetic interpretation of the writing system of Coptic. Differences centre on how to interpret the pairs of letters ε/η and ο/ω. In the Attic dialect
of Ancient Greek
in the 5th century BC, the first member of each pair is a short closed vowel /e, o/, and the second member is a long open vowel /ɛː, ɔː/. In some interpretations of Coptic phonology,
it is assumed that the length difference is primary, with ε/η e/eː and ο/ω is o/oː. Other scholars
argue for a different analysis in which ε/η and ο/ω are interpreted as e/ɛ and o/ɔ.
These two charts show the two theories of Coptic vowel phonology:
Dialects vary in their realisation. The difference between [o] and [u] seems to be allophonic. Evidence is not sufficient to demonstrate that these are distinct vowels, and if they are, the difference has a very low functional load
. For dialects that use orthographic <ει> for a single vowel, there appears to be no phonetic difference from <ι>.
Double orthographic vowels are presumed here to be long, as that makes the morphology more straightforward. (Another common interpretation is that these represented glottal stop.)
Akhmimic is conservative, close to what is reconstructed for Old Coptic.
Akhmimic stressed vowels
There is no length distinction in final stressed position, but only those vowels that occur long appear there: <(ε)ι, ε, α, ο~ω, ου>.
In Sahidic, the letter ε was used for short /e/ before back fricatives, and also for unstressed schwa /ə/. It's possible there was also a distinction between short /ɛ/ and /a/, but if so the functional load was extremely low.
Sahidic stressed vowels
Again, length is neutralised in final stressed position: <(ε)ι, η, ε, α, ο, ω~ου>.
Bohairic did not have long vowels. /i/ was only written <ι>. As above, it's possible that /u/ and /o/ were distinct vowels rather than just allophones.
Bohairic stressed vowels
In Late Coptic (that is, Late Bohairic), the vowels were reduced to those found in Egyptian Arabic, /a, i, u/. <ω, ο> became /u/, <ε> became /a/, and <η> became either /i/ or /a/. It is difficult to explain <η>. However, it generally became /a/ in stressed monosyllables, /i/ in unstressed monosyllables, and in polysyllables, /a/ when followed by /i/, and /i/ when not.
There were no doubled orthographic vowels in Mesokemic. Some representative correspondences with Sahidic are:
It is not clear if these correspondences reflect distinct pronunciations in Mesokemic, or if they are an imitation of the long Greek vowels <η, ω>.
As with the vowels, there are differences of opinion over the correct interpretation of the Coptic consonant letters, particular the letters ϫ and ϭ. ϫ is transcribed as ⟨j⟩ in many older Coptic sources and ϭ as ⟨ɡ⟩
or ⟨č⟩. Lambdin (1983)
notes that the current conventional pronunciations are different from the probable ancient pronunciations: Sahidic ϫ was probably pronounced [tʲ] and ϭ was probably pronounced [kʲ]. Reintges (2004
, p. 22) suggests that ϫ was pronounced [tʃ].
Beside being found in Greek loanwords, the letters ⟨φ, θ, χ⟩ were used in native words for a sequence of /p, t, k/ plus /h/, as in ⲑⲉ = ⲧ-ϩⲉ "the-way" (f.sg.) and ⲫⲟϥ = ⲡ-ϩⲟϥ "the-snake" (m.sg). The letters did not have this use in Bohairic, which used them for single sounds.
Coptic consonants (cross-dialectical)
- ^ Present only in Bohairic.
- ^ The phoneme /kʲ/ is not found in Bohairic, where the letter ⟨ϭ⟩ represents /t͡ʃʰ/ instead.
- ^ Present only in Dialect P as ⟨ⳋ⟩ and Dialect i as ⟨ⳃ⟩.
- ^ Written ⟨ϧ⟩ in Bohairic and Dialect P and ⟨ⳉ⟩ in Akhmimic and Dialect i.
- ^ Coptic ⲃ /v/ is the voiced counterpart to ϥ /f/. As with the other voiced consonants, /v/ belongs to the class of sonorants and may occupy the syllable nucleus (cf. Sahidic: ⲧⲃ̄ⲧ /tv̩t/ “fish”).
It is possible that in addition there was a glottal stop, ʔ
, that was not consistently written. Coptic does not seem to have had a glottal stop at the beginning of orthographically vowel-initial words. It is possible that vowels written double were an attempt to indicate glottal stop, rather than a long vowel, in the middle of a word. However, there is little evidence for this (e.g., Arabic words with short vowels and glottal stop are not written with double vowels in Coptic, and Coptic words with double orthographic vowels are transcribed with long vowels rather than hamza in Arabic.)
In Late Coptic (ca. 14th century), Bohairic sounds that did not occur in Egyptian Arabic were lost. A possible shift from a tenuis-aspirate distinction to voiced-tenuis is only attested from the alveolars, the only place that Arabic has such a contrast.
Late Coptic consonants
Earlier phases of Egyptian may have contrasted voiceless and voiced bilabial plosives, but the distinction seems to have been lost. Late Egyptian, Demotic and Coptic all interchangeably use their respective graphemes to indicate either sound; for example, Coptic for 'iron' appears alternately as ⲡⲉⲛⲓⲡⲉ, ⲃⲉⲛⲓⲡⲉ and ⲃⲓⲛⲓⲃⲉ. That probably reflects dialect variation. Both letters were interchanged with ⲫ and ϥ to indicate /f/, and ⲃ was also used in many texts to indicate the bilabial approximant /w/. Coptologists
believe that Coptic ⲃ was articulated as a voiced bilabial fricative
[β]. In the present-day Coptic Church services, this letter is realised as /v/, but it is almost certainly a result of the pronunciation reforms
instituted in the 19th century.
Whereas Old Egyptian contrasts /s/ and /z/, the two sounds appear to be in free variation
in Coptic, as they were since the Middle Egyptian period. However, they are contrasted only in Greek loans; for example, native Coptic ⲁⲛⲍⲏⲃ (anzēb
) and ⲁⲛⲥⲏⲃⲉ (ansēbə
) 'school' are homophonous. Other consonants that sometimes appear to be either in free variation or to have different distributions across dialects are [t] and [d], [ɾ] and [l] (especially in the Fayyumic dialect, a feature of earlier Egyptian) and [k] and [ɡ], with the voiceless stop consonants
being more common in Coptic words and the voiced ones in Greek borrowings. Apart from the liquid consonants
, this pattern may indicate a sound change
in Later Egyptian, leading to a neutralisation of voiced alveolar and velar plosives. When the voiced plosives are realised, it is usually the result of consonant voicing
in proximity to /n/.
Though there is no clear evidence that Coptic had a glottal stop
, different orthographic means have been posited for indicating one by those who believe that it did: with ⲁ word-initially, with ⲓ word-finally in monosyllabic words in northern dialects and ⲉ in monosyllabic words in Akhmimic and Assiutic, by reduplication of a vowel's grapheme but mostly unwritten.
A few early manuscripts have a letter ⳋ or ⳃ ç where Sahidic and Bohairic have ϣ š. and Akhmimic has ⳉ x. This sound seems to have been lost early on.
Coptic is agglutinative
word order but can be verb–subject–object
with the correct preposition in front of the subject. Number, gender, tense, and mood are indicated by prefixes that come from Late Egyptian. The earlier phases of Egyptian did this through suffixation. Some vestiges of the suffix inflection survive in Coptic, mainly to indicate inalienable possession
and in some verbs. Compare the Middle Egyptian form *satāpafa
'he chooses' (written stp.f
in hieroglyphs) to Coptic (Sahidic) f.sotp
ϥⲥⲱⲧⲡ̅ 'he chooses'.
All Coptic nouns carry grammatical gender
, either masculine or feminine, usually marked through a prefixed definite article as in the Romance languages
. Masculine nouns are marked with the article /pə, peː/ and feminine nouns with the article /tə, teː/
in the Sahidic dialect and /pi, əp/ and /ti, ət/ in the Bohairic dialect.
Bohairic: ⲡⲓⲣⲱⲙⲓ /pəˈɾoːmə/ – 'the man' / ϯϫⲓϫ /təˈt͡ʃʼiːt͡ʃ/ – 'the hand'
Sahidic: ⲡⲉⲣⲱⲙⲉ /pəˈɾoːmə/ – 'the man' / ⲧⲉϫⲓϫ /təˈt͡ʃiːt͡ʃ/ – 'the hand'
The definite and indefinite articles also indicate number
; however, only definite articles mark gender. Coptic has a number of broken plurals
, a vestige of Older Egyptian, but in the majority of cases, the article marks number. Generally, nouns inflected
for plurality end in /wə/, but there are some irregularities. The dual was another feature of earlier Egyptian that survives in Coptic in only few words, such as ⲥⲛⲁⲩ (snau
Words of Greek origin keep their original grammatical gender, except for neuter nouns, which become masculine in Coptic.
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Coptic pronouns are of two kinds, dependent and independent. Independent pronouns are used when the pronoun is acting as the subject of a sentence, as the object of a verb, or with a preposition. Dependent pronouns are a series of prefixes and suffixes that can attach to verbs and other nouns. Coptic verbs can therefore be said to inflect for the person, number and gender of the subject and the object: a pronominal prefix marks the subject, and a pronominal suffix marks the object, e.g. "I I'have'it the ball." When (as in this case) the subject is a pronoun, it normally is not also expressed independently, unless for emphasis.
As in other Afroasiatic languages, gender of pronouns differ only in the second and third person singular. The following table shows the pronouns of the Sahidian dialect:
Most Coptic adjectives are actually nouns that have the attributive particle n
to make them adjectival. In all stages of Egyptian, this morpheme is also used to express the genitive
; for example, the Bohairic word for 'Egyptian', ⲣⲉⲙ̀ⲛⲭⲏⲙⲓ /remənkʰeːmə/, is a combination of the nominal prefix ⲣⲉⲙ- rem-
(the reduced form of ⲣⲱⲙⲓrōmi
'man'), followed by the genitive morpheme ⲛ̀ən
('of') and finally the word for Egypt, ⲭⲏⲙⲓ kʰēmi
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Verbal grade system
Coptic, like Ancient Egyptian and Semitic languages, has root-and-pattern or templatic morphology, and the basic meaning of a verb is contained in a root and various derived forms of root are obtained by varying the vowel pattern. For example, the root for 'build' is kt. It has four derived forms: ⲕⲟⲧ kɔt (the absolute state grade); ⲕⲉⲧ- ket- (the nominal state grade), ⲕⲟⲧ⸗ kot= (the pronominal state grade), and ⲕⲉⲧ kɛt (the stative grade). (The nominal state grade is also called the construct state in some grammars of Coptic.)
The absolute, nominal, and pronominal state grades are used in different syntactic contexts. The absolute state grade of a transitive verb is used before a direct object with the accusative preposition /ən, əm/, and the nominal state grade is used before a direct object with no case-marking. The pronominal state grade is used before a pronominal direct object enclitic. In addition, many verbs also have a neutral state grade, used to express a state resulting from the action of the verb. Compare the following forms:
Absolute state grade
Ⲁⲓϫⲓⲙⲓ ⲙ̀ⲡⲁⲓⲱⲧ – Aijimi əmpaiōt
'I found my father.'
Nominal state grade
Ⲁⲓϫⲉⲙ ⲡⲁⲓⲱⲧ – Aijem paiōt
'I found my father.'
Pronominal state grade
Ⲁⲓϭⲉⲛⲧϥ – Aijəntf
'I found him.'
For most transitive verbs, both absolute and nominal state grade verbs are available for non-pronominal objects. However, there is one important restriction, known as Jernstedt's rule (or the Stern-Jernstedt rule) (Jernstedt 1927): present-tense sentences cannot be used in the nominal state grade. Thus sentences in the present tense always show a pattern like the first example above (absolute state), never the second pattern (nominal state).
In general, the four grades of Coptic verb are not predictable from the root, and are listed in the lexicon for each verb. The following chart shows some typical patterns of correspondence:
It is hazardous to make firm generalisations about the relationships between these grade forms, but the nominal state is usually shorter than the corresponding absolute and neutral forms. Absolute and neutral state forms are usually bisyllabic or contain a long vowel; the corresponding nominal state forms are monosyllabic or have short vowels.
Coptic has a very large number of distinct tense-aspect-mood
categories, expressed by particles which are either before the verb or before the subject. The future I /na/ is a preverbal particle and follows the subject:
Ⲡⲉϫⲟⲉⲓⲥ ⲛⲁⲕⲣⲓⲛⲉ ⲛ̀ⲛⲉⲗⲁⲟⲥ - Pecoeis nakrine ənnelaos
'The lord will judge the nations.'
In contrast, the perfective /a/ is a pre-subject particle:
Ⲁ ⲧⲉϥⲥⲱⲛⲉ ⲇⲉ ⲟⲗ ⲛ̀ⲛⲉϥⲕⲏⲥ - A tefsōne de ol ənnefkēs
'His sister carried his bones.'
There is some variation in the labels for the tense/aspect/mood categories. The chart below shows the labels from Reintges (2004)
, Lambdin (1983)
, Plumley (1948)
. (Where they agree, only one label is shown.) Each form lists the morphology found with a nonpronominal subject (Marked with an underscore in Coptic) and a third person singular masculine pronominal subject ('he'):
An approximate range of use for most of the tense/aspect/mood categories is shown in the following table:
An unusual feature of Coptic is the extensive use of a set of "second tenses", which are required in certain syntactic contexts. "Second tenses" are also called "relative tenses" in some work.
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Coptic has prepositions, rather than postpositions:
ϩⲓ ⲡ̀ϫⲟⲓ – hi pjoi
'on the ship'
Pronominal objects of prepositions are indicated with enclitic pronouns:
ⲉⲣⲟⲕ – erok
ⲛⲁⲛ – nan
Many prepositions have different forms before the enclitic pronouns.
ⲉ̀ⲡ̀ϫⲟⲓ – e-p-joi
'to the ship'
ⲉⲣⲟϥ – erof
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Coptic typically shows subject–verb–object (SVO) word order, as in the following examples:
Ⲁ ⲧⲉϭⲁⲙⲁⲩⲗⲉ ⲙⲓⲥⲉ ⲛ̀ⲟⲩϣⲏⲣⲉ ⲛ̀ϣⲓⲙⲉ – A tecamaule mise ənoušēre ənšime
'The she-camel delivered a daughter.'
Ⲡⲉϫⲟⲉⲓⲥ ⲛⲁⲕⲣⲓⲛⲉ ⲛ̀ⲛⲉⲗⲁⲟⲥ – Pecoeis nakrine ənnelaos
'The Lord will judge the people.'
Ⲁⲓϭⲓⲛⲉ ⲙ̀ⲡⲁⲉⲓⲱⲧ – Aicine əmpaeiōt
'I found my father.'
The verbs in these sentences are in the absolute state grade
which requires that its direct object be introduced with the preposition /ən, əm/. This preposition functions like accusative case
There is also an alternative nominal state grade of the verb in which the direct object of the verb follows with no preposition:
Ⲁⲓϭⲉⲛ ⲡⲁⲉⲓⲱⲧ – Aicen paeiōt
'I found my father.'
Sandstone stela, inscribed with Coptic text. The names Phoibammon and Abraham appear. From Egypt, find spot unknown, date known. The British Museum, London
Coptic and Arabic inscriptions in an Old Cairo church
There is little written evidence of dialectal
differences in the pre-Coptic phases of the Egyptian language due to the centralised nature of the political and cultural institutions of ancient Egyptian
society. However, literary Old and Middle (Classical) Egyptian represent the spoken dialect of Lower Egypt around the city of Memphis
, the capital of Egypt in the Old Kingdom
. Later Egyptian is more representative of the dialects spoken in Upper Egypt, especially around the area of Thebes
as it became the cultural and religious center of the New Kingdom.
Coptic more obviously displays a number of regional dialects that were in use from the coast of the Mediterranean Sea
in northern Egypt, south into Nubia
, and in the western oases. However, while many of these dialects reflect actual regional linguistic (namely phonological
and some lexical) variation, they mostly reflect localised orthographic
traditions with very little grammatical
Pottery shard inscribed with 5 lines in Coptic Sahidic. Byzantine period, 6th century AD. From Thebes, Egypt. The Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology, London
(also known as Thebaic
) is the dialect in which most known Coptic texts are written, and was the leading dialect in the pre-Islamic
period. It is thought to have originally been a regional dialect from the area around Hermopolis
(Coptic: Ϣⲙⲟⲩⲛⲉⲓⲛ, romanized: Shmounein
). Around 300 it began to be written in literary form, including translations of major portions of the Bible
(see Coptic versions of the Bible
). By the 6th century, a standardised spelling had been attained throughout Egypt. Almost all native authors wrote in this dialect of Coptic. Sahidic was, beginning in the 9th century, challenged by Bohairic, but is attested as late as the 14th.
While texts in other Coptic dialects are primarily translations of Greek literary and religious texts, Sahidic is the only dialect with a considerable body of original literature and non-literary texts. Because Sahidic shares most of its features with other dialects of Coptic with few peculiarities specific to itself, and has an extensive corpus of known texts, it is generally the dialect studied by learners of Coptic, particularly by scholars outside of the Coptic Church.
was the dialect of the area around the town of Akhmim
: Πανὸς πόλις, romanized
). It flourished during the fourth and fifth centuries, after which no writings are attested. Akhmimic is phonologically the most archaic of the Coptic dialects. One characteristic feature is the retention of the phoneme
/x/, which is realised as /ʃ/ in most other dialects. Similarly, it uses an exceptionally conservative writing system strikingly similar to Old Coptic.
(also known as Subakhmimic
) is a dialect closely related to Akhmimic in terms of when and where it was attested, but manuscripts written in Lycopolitan tend to be from the area of Asyut
. The main differences between the two dialects seem to be graphic in nature. The Lycopolitan variety was used extensively for translations of Gnostic
works, including the texts of the Nag Hammadi library
(also known as Memphitic
) dialect originated in the western Nile Delta
. The earliest Bohairic manuscripts date to the 4th century, but most texts come from the 9th century and later; this may be due to poor preservation conditions for texts in the humid regions of northern Egypt. It shows several conservative features in lexicon
not found in other dialects. Bohairic is the dialect used today as the liturgical language of the Coptic Orthodox Church, replacing Sahidic some time in the eleventh century. In contemporary liturgical use, there are two traditions of pronunciation, arising from successive reforms in the 19th and 20th centuries (see Coptic pronunciation reform
). Modern revitalisation efforts are based on this dialect.
(also written as Faiyumic
; in older works it is often called Bashmuric
) was spoken primarily in the Faiyum
west of the Nile Valley. It is attested from the 3rd to the 10th centuries. It is most notable for writing ⲗ (which corresponds to /l/), where other dialects generally use ⲣ /r/ (probably corresponding to a flap
[ɾ]). In earlier stages of Egyptian, the liquids
were not distinguished in writing until the New Kingdom, when Late Egyptian became the administrative language. Late Egyptian orthography utilised a grapheme
that combined the graphemes for /r/ and /n/ in order to express /l/. Demotic for its part indicated /l/ using a diacritic variety of /r/.
(also known as Mesokemic
or [confusingly] Middle Egyptian
) is the dialect of Oxyrhynchus
and surrounding areas. It shows similarities with Fayyumic and is attested in manuscripts from the fourth and fifth centuries.
- ^ Ancient Nubia and its languages, Moreover, written evidence indicates that multilingualism was very high among the Nubians. Documents written in Meroitic, Latin, Coptic, hieratic, Greek, Old Nubian, and Arabic are spread and in large numbers.
- ^ Richter, Tonio Sebastian (2009). "Greek, Coptic and the 'language of the Hijra': the rise and decline of the Coptic language in late antique and medieval Egypt" (PDF). Hellenism to Islam: Cultural and Linguistic Change in the Roman Near East. Cambridge University Press. p. 404. The most long-lived genres of Coptic texts, composed until the thirteenth and even fourteenth century in the Upper Egyptian dialect, are scribal colophons, inscriptions and graffiti.
- ^ a b P. Allen, James (2020). Coptic: A Grammar of Its Six Major Dialects. Penn State Press. p. 1. Coptic is the name of the final stage of the Egyptian language, spoken and written from the third century AD until perhaps sometime in the seventeenth century.
- ^ a b The language may have survived in isolated pockets in Upper Egypt as late as the 19th century, according to James Edward Quibell, "When did Coptic become extinct?" in Zeitschrift für ägyptische Sprache und Altertumskunde, 39 (1901), p. 87. In the village of Pi-Solsel (Az-Zayniyyah or El Zenya north of Luxor), passive speakers were recorded as late as the 1930s, and traces of traditional vernacular Coptic reported to exist in other places such as Abydos and Dendera, see Werner Vycichl, Pi-Solsel, ein Dorf mit koptischer Überlieferung in: Mitteilungen des Deutschen Archäologischen Instituts, Abteilung Kairo, (MDAIK) vol. 6, 1936, pp. 169–175 (in German).
- ^ P. Allen, James (2020). Coptic: A Grammar of Its Six Major Dialects. Penn State Press. p. 1. It [Coptic] is still used today in the rituals of the Coptic (Egyptian Christian) Church.
- ^ P. Allen, James (2020). Coptic: A Grammar of Its Six Major Dialects. Penn State Press. p. 1. ...there is no uniform “Coptic” language, but a number of dialects.
- ^ Layton, Benjamin (2007). Coptic in 20 Lessons: Introduction to Sahidic Coptic with Exercises & Vocabularies. Peeters Publishers. p. 1. It [Coptic] is the direct descendent of Ancient Egyptian...
- ^ Richter, Tonio Sebastian (2009). "Greek, Coptic and the 'language of the Hijra': the rise and decline of the Coptic language in late antique and medieval Egypt" (PDF). Hellenism to Islam: Cultural and Linguistic Change in the Roman Near East. Cambridge University Press. p. 404. From everything we know it must be assumed that the spoken language behind the written evidence of Coptic was usually acquired as a first language, which means as mother tongue in non-Hellenised, or non-Arabised Egyptian families, but scarcely, if at all, as a second language.
- ^ Layton, Benjamin (2007). Coptic in 20 Lessons: Introduction to Sahidic Coptic with Exercises & Vocabularies. Peeters Publishers. p. 1. The liturgy of the present day Coptic Orthodox Church in Egypt is written in a mixture of Arabic, Greek, and Bohairic Coptic, the ancient dialect of the Delta and the great monasteries of the Wadi Natrun. Coptic is no longer a living language.
- ^ Layton, Benjamin (2007). Coptic in 20 Lessons: Introduction to Sahidic Coptic with Exercises & Vocabularies. Peeters Publishers. p. 1. The Coptic alphabet is the twenty-four Greek letters written in rounded form (thus ⲉ ⲥ ⲱ), to which are added six additional letters taken from Egyptian (Demotic script): ϣ ϥ ϩ ϫ ϭ ϯ.
- ^ Blasco Torres, Ana Isabel (2017). Representing Foreign Sounds: Greek Transcriptions of Egyptian Anthroponyms from 800 BC to 800 AD. University of Salamanca. p. 613. ...four main dialects were spoken in Graeco-Roman Egypt: Bohairic in the Delta, Fayumic in the Fayum, Sahidic between approximately Oxyrhynchus and Lykopolis and Akhmimic between Panopolis and Elephantine.
- ^ Layton, Benjamin (2007). Coptic in 20 Lessons: Introduction to Sahidic Coptic with Exercises & Vocabularies. Peeters Publishers. p. 1. Coptic comprised a number of dialects, of which Sahidic (centered perhaps in Shmoun-Hermopolis-AI Ashmunein) had the greatest literary importance and the widest use in the Nile valley. Almost all native Coptic literature was composed in Sahidic, between AD 325-800.
- ^ P. Allen, James (2020). Coptic: A Grammar of Its Six Major Dialects. Penn State Press. p. 1. Bohairic, a northern dialect, is first attested in the fourth century AD but is primarily represented by texts from the ninth century and later; it is also the dialect used by the modern Coptic Church.
- ^ "Coptic Language History". www.axistranslations.com. Retrieved 2020-05-24.
- ^ "pAy, pA(n)y". Projet Rosette. Retrieved 2017-10-09.
- ^ "nTr". Projet Rosette. Retrieved 2017-10-09.
- ^ "ⲗⲁϩⲙϥ [lahmf], ⲗⲁϩⲙⲉϥ [lahmef]". Coptic Dictionary Online. Georgetown University. Retrieved 2017-10-09.
- ^ Allen, James P. (2010). Middle Egyptian: An Introduction to the Language and Culture of Hieroglyphs (2nd ed.). Cambridge University Press. pp. 1–2. ISBN 978-1-139-48635-4. Retrieved 19 May 2014.
- ^ The Transition from Coptic to Arabic
- ^ "Etnik Kimlikler: Anadil [Ethnic Identitites: Mother Tongue]". Toplumsal Yapı Araştırması 2006 [Social Structure Research 2006] (PDF) (Report). KONDA. September 2006. p. 19. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2017-02-15. Retrieved 2019-07-24.
- ^ "The Coptic Alphabet" (PDF). www.suscopts.org.
- ^ Girgis, WA (1963–64). Greek loan words in Coptic. Bulletin de la Société d’archéologie copte 17:63–73.
- ^ Gignac, Francis Thomas, p. 174
- ^ Sijpesteijn, Petra; Lennart Sundelin (2004). Papyrology and the History of Early Islamic Egypt. Leiden, Boston: Brill Academic Publishers. ISBN 978-90-04-13886-5.
- ^ Greenberg 1962/1990
- ^ [ɟ] is the local equivalent of Cairene [ɡ].
- ^ Lambdin 2003, pp. 30–31.
- ^ Reintges 2010, p. 211; Lambdin 1983, p. 39.
- Abel, Carl (1855). "On the Coptic Language". Transactions of the Philological Society (5).
- Emmel, Stephen. 1992. "Languages (Coptic)". In The Anchor Bible Dictionary, edited by David Noel Freedman. Vol. 4 of 6 vols. New York: Doubleday. 180–188.
- Gessman, A. M. (1976). "The Birth of the Coptic Script". University of South Florida Language Quarterly 14. 2–3.
- Gignac, Francis Thomas. 1991. "Old Coptic". In The Coptic Encyclopedia, edited by Aziz Suryal Atiya. Vol. 8 of 8 vols. New York and Toronto: Macmillan Publishing Company and Collier Macmillan Canada. 169–188.
- Kasser, Radolphe. 1991. "Dialects". In The Coptic Encyclopedia, edited by Aziz Suryal Atiya. Vol. 8 of 8 vols. New York and Toronto: Macmillan Publishing Company and Collier Macmillan Canada. 87–96.
- Wolfgang Kosack. Lehrbuch des Koptischen.Teil I:Koptische Grammatik.Teil II:Koptische Lesestücke, Graz 1974.
- Loprieno, Antonio. 1995. Ancient Egyptian: A Linguistic Introduction. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
- Polotsky, Hans Jakob. 1971. "Coptic". In Afroasiatic: A Survey, edited by Carleton Taylor Hodge. (Jana Linguarum: Series Practica; 163). 's Gravenhage and Paris: Mouton. 67–79.
Grammars and grammatical studies
- Chaîne, Marius. 1933. Éléments de grammaire dialectale copte: bohairique, sahidique, achmimique, fayoumique. Paris: Paul Geuthner.
- Eberle, Andrea, & Regine Schulz. 2004. Koptisch – Ein Leitfaden durch das Saïdische. LINCOM Languages of the World/Materials 07. Munich: LINCOM Europa.
- Jernstedt, Peter V. 1927. Das koptische Präsens und die Anknüpfungsarten des näheren Objekts. 'Comptes rendus de l'Academice des Sciences de l'Union République Soviétique Socialistes. 2, 69–74.
- Lambdin, Thomas Oden (1983). Introduction to Sahidic Coptic. Macon: Mercer University Press.
- Layton, Bentley. 2000. A Coptic Grammar (Sahidic Dialect): With a Chrestomathy and Glossary. (Porta linguarum orientalium; N.S., 20). Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz.
- Layton, Bentley. 2007. Coptic in 20 Lessons: Introduction to Sahidic Coptic with Exercises and Vocabularies. Peeters Publishers, ISBN 90-429-1810-1.
- Mallon, Alexis. 1956. Grammaire copte: bibliographie, chrestomathie et vocabulaire. 4th edition. Beyrouth.
- Mattar, Nabil. 1990. A Study in Bohairic Coptic. Pasadena: Hope Publishing House.
- Plumley, John Martin (1948). Introductory Coptic Grammar. London: Home & Van Thal.
- Polotsky, Hans Jakob. 1987. Grundlagen des koptischen Satzbaus. American Studies in Papyrology 28. Decatur, Ga.: Scholars Press.
- Reintges, Chris H. (2004). Coptic Egyptian (Sahidic dialect): a learner's grammar. Cologne: Rüdiger Köppe Verlag. ISBN 978-3-89645-570-3.
- Reintges, Chris H. (2010). "Coordination, converbs, and clause-chaining in Coptic Egyptian typology". In Bril, Isabelle (ed.). Clause linking and clause hierarchy. Studies in Language Companion Series. 128. Amsterdam: John Benjamins. ISBN 978-90-272-0588-9.
- Shisha-Halevy, Ariel. 1988. Coptic Grammatical Chrestomathy: a course for academic and private study. Orientalia lovaniensia analecta 30. Leuven: Peeters.
- Shisha-Halevy, Ariel. 1986. Coptic Grammatical Categories: Structural Studies in the Syntax of Shenoutean Sahidic. Analecta Orientalia 53. Roma: Pontificium Institutum Biblicum. ISBN 88-7653-255-2.
- Shisha-Halevy, Ariel. 2007. Topics in Coptic Syntax: Structural Studies in the Bohairic Dialect. Orientalia Lovaniensia Analecta 160. Leuven – Paris – Dudley, MA: Peeters. ISBN 978-90-429-1875-7.
- Tattam, Henry, A compendious grammar of the Egyptian language as contained in the Coptic, Sahidic, and Bashmuric Dialects (London 1863)
- Till, Walter C. 1994. Koptische Dialektgrammatik. Berlin: Walter De Gruyter.
- Vergote, Jozef. 1973–1983. Grammaire copte. Leuven: Peeters.
- Younan, Sameh. 2005. So, you want to learn Coptic? A guide to Bohairic Grammar. Sydney: St.Mary, St.Bakhomious and St.Shenouda Coptic Orthodox Church.
- Černý, Jaroslav. 1976. Coptic Etymological Dictionary. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press.
- Crum, Walter Ewing. 1939. A Coptic Dictionary. Oxford: Clarendon Press. Reprinted by Sandpiper Books Ltd, London & Powells Books, Chicago, 2000.
- Wolfgang Kosack: Koptisches Handlexikon des Bohairischen. Koptisch – Deutsch – Arabisch. Verlag Christoph Brunner, Basel 2013, ISBN 978-3-9524018-9-7.
- Vycichl, Werner. 1983. Dictionnaire étymologique de la langue copte. Leuven: Éditions Peeters.
- Westendorf, Wolfhart. 1965/1977. Koptisches Handwörterbuch. Heidelberg: Carl Winter.
- Allen, James P. (2020). "Coptic". Ancient Egyptian Phonology. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-1108485555.
- Depuydt, Leo. 1993. "On Coptic Sounds," Orientalia 62 (new series): 338–75.
- Greenberg, Joseph H (originally published 1962). "The interpretation of the Coptic vowel system," On Language: Selected Writings of Joseph H. Greenberg, eds., K Denning & S Kemmer. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1990: 428–38.
- Grossman, Eitan and Martin Haspelmath. 2015. "The Leipzig-Jerusalem Transliteration of Coptic," Egyptian-Coptic Linguistics in Typological Perspective, eds., Eitan Grossman, Martin Haspelmath & Tonio Sebastian Richter. Berlin/Munich/Boston: Walter de Gruyter. 145–56.
- Isḥāḳ, Emile Māher. 1975. "The phonetics and phonology of the Boḥairic dialect of Coptic and the Survival of Coptic Word in the Colloquial and Classical Arabic of Egypt and of Coptic Grammatical Constructions in Colloquial Egyptian Arabic". University of Oxford. 32-671.
- Loprieno, Antonio. 1997. "Egyptian and Coptic Phonology," Phonologies of Asia and Africa (Including the Caucasus), vol. 1, ed., Alan S. Kaye. Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns. 431–60.
- Peust, Carsten (1999). Egyptian Phonology: An Introduction to the Phonology of a Dead Language. Peust & Gutschmidt. ISBN 3933043026.
- Kammerer, Winifred (compiler), A Coptic Bibliography, Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1950. (Reprint New York: Kraus Reprint Co., 1969)
- Wolfgang Kosack: Der koptische Heiligenkalender. Deutsch – Koptisch – Arabisch nach den besten Quellen neu bearbeitet und vollständig herausgegeben mit Index Sanctorum koptischer Heiliger, Index der Namen auf Koptisch, Koptische Patriarchenliste, Geografische Liste. Christoph Brunner, Berlin 2012, ISBN 978-3-9524018-4-2.
- Wolfgang Kosack: Schenute von Atripe De judicio finale. Papyruskodex 63000.IV im Museo Egizio di Torino. Einleitung, Textbearbeitung und Übersetzung herausgegeben von Wolfgang Kosack. Christoph Brunner, Berlin 2013, ISBN 978-3-9524018-5-9.
- Wolfgang Kosack: Basilios "De archangelo Michael": sahidice Pseudo – Euhodios "De resurrectione": sahidice Pseudo – Euhodios "De dormitione Mariae virginis": sahidice & bohairice : < Papyruskodex Turin, Mus. Egizio Cat. 63000 XI. > nebst Varianten und Fragmente. In Parallelzeilen ediert, kommentiert und übersetzt von Wolfgang Kosack. Christoph Brunner, Berlin 2014. ISBN 978-3-906206-02-8.
- Wolfgang Kosack: Novum Testamentum Coptice. Neues Testament, Bohairisch, ediert von Wolfgang Kosack. Novum Testamentum, Bohairice, curavit Wolfgang Kosack. / Wolfgang Kosack. neue Ausgabe, Christoph Brunner, Basel 2014. ISBN 978-3-906206-04-2.
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