|Time period||c. 300 AD to 14th century AD (Still used today in Coptic churches in Egypt and abroad)|
|Sister systems||Old Nubian
|ISO 15924||Copt, 204|
|Unicode range||U+03E2 to U+03EF|
The Coptic alphabet is the script used for writing the Coptic language. The repertoire of glyphs is based on the Greek alphabet augmented by letters borrowed from the Egyptian Demotic and is the first alphabetic script used for the Egyptian language. There are several Coptic alphabets, as the Coptic writing system may vary greatly among the various dialects and subdialects of the Coptic language.
The Coptic alphabet has a long history, going back to the Hellenistic period, of using the Greek alphabet to transcribe Demotic texts, with the aim of recording the correct pronunciation of Demotic. During the first two centuries of the Common Era, an entire series of magical texts were written in what scholars term Old Coptic, Egyptian language texts written in the Greek alphabet. A number of letters, however, were derived from Demotic, and many of these (though not all) are used in "true" Coptic writing. With the spread of Christianity in Egypt, by the late 3rd century, knowledge of hieroglyphic writing was lost, as well as Demotic slightly later, making way for a writing system more closely associated with the Christian church. By the 4th century, the Coptic alphabet was "standardised", particularly for the Sahidic dialect. (There are a number of differences between the alphabets as used in the various dialects in Coptic.) Coptic is not generally used today except by the members of the Coptic Church to write their religious texts. All the Gnostic codices found in Nag Hammadi used the Coptic alphabet.
The Old Nubian alphabet—used to write Old Nubian, a Nilo-Saharan language —is written mainly in an uncial Greek alphabet, which borrows Coptic and Meroitic letters of Demotic origin into its inventory.
The Coptic alphabet was the first Egyptian writing system to indicate vowels, making Coptic documents invaluable for the interpretation of earlier Egyptian texts. Some Egyptian syllables had sonorants but no vowels; in Sahidic, these were written in Coptic with a line above the entire syllable. Various scribal schools made limited use of diacritics: some used an apostrophe as a word divider and to mark clitics, a function of determinatives in logographic Egyptian; others used diereses over ⲓ and ⲩ to show that these started a new syllable, others a circumflex over any vowel for the same purpose.
Coptic is largely based on the Greek alphabet, another help in interpreting older Egyptian texts, with 24 letters of Greek origin; 6 or 7 more were retained from Demotic, depending on the dialect (6 in Sahidic, another each in Bohairic and Akhmimic). In addition to the alphabetic letters, the letter ϯ stood for the syllable /ti/. The Coptic alphabet is more obviously Greek-based than the Cyrillic script, and may be compared to, say, the Latin-based Icelandic alphabet (which also has special letters at the end which are not in the original Latin alphabet). The Coptic alphabet in turn had a strong influence on the Cyrillic script..
|image maj.||image min.||majuscule||minuscule||numeric value||name||Greek
|Ⲁ||ⲁ||1||Alpha||Α, α||a [a, ʔ, ʕ]|
|Ⲃ||ⲃ||2||Bēta||Β, β||b, w [β~w]|
|Ⲅ||ⲅ||3||Gamma||Γ, γ||g [ɡ]|
|Ⲇ||ⲇ||4||Delta||Δ, δ||d [d]|
|Ⲉ||ⲉ||5||Ei||Ε, ε||e [i, e][note 1]|
|Ⲍ||ⲍ||7||Zēta||Ζ, ζ||z [z]|
|Ⲏ||ⲏ||8||Ēta||Η, η||ē / e [eː]|
|Ⲑ||ⲑ||9||Thēta||Θ, θ||th / t' [tʰ]|
|Ⲓ||ⲓ||10||Yota||Ι, ι||i [iː~j]|
|Ⲕ||ⲕ||20||Kabba||Κ, κ||k [k]|
|Ⲗ||ⲗ||30||Lola||Λ, λ||l [l]|
|Ⲙ||ⲙ||40||Me||Μ, μ||m [m]|
|Ⲛ||ⲛ||50||Ne||Ν, ν||n [n]|
|Ⲟ||ⲟ||70||O||Ο, ο||o [o]|
|Ⲡ||ⲡ||80||Pi||Π, π||p [p]|
|Ⲣ||ⲣ||100||Ro||Ρ, ρ||r [r]|
|Ⲥ||ⲥ||200||Sima||Σ, σ, ς||s [s]|
|Ⲧ||ⲧ||300||Taw||Τ, τ||t [t]|
|Ⲩ||ⲩ||400||Epsilon||Υ, υ||u / ou [uː][note 2]|
|Ⲫ||ⲫ||500||Fi||Φ, φ||ph / p' [pʰ]|
|Ⲭ||ⲭ||600||Khe||Χ, χ||kh [kʰ]|
|Ⲱ||ⲱ||800||Ōu||Ω, ω||ō / o [oː]|
|Ϣ||ϣ||Shay||(none)||sh / š [ʃ]|
|Ϥ||ϥ||90||Fay||Ϙ, ϙ (koppa)
|Ϧ (Ⳉ)||ϧ (ⳉ)[note 3]||Khay||(none)||x [x]|
|Ϩ||ϩ||Hōri||(none)||h [h, ħ]|
|Ϫ||ϫ||Janja||(none)||j / dzh [dʒ]|
|Ϭ||ϭ||Tshēma||Ϙ, ϙ (koppa)
|q / tsh [kʲ, tʃ][note 4]|
|Ϯ||ϯ||Ti / De||(none)||ti / de [ti, de][note 5]|
- In Sahidic dialect, it is [i], while in Boharic dialect, it is [e].
- The vowel /uː/ is commonly written with ⲟⲩ not ⲩ alone.
- The additional letter xai is Ⳉ ⳉ in Akhmimic and Ⳋ ⳋ in Bohairic, both for a velar fricative /x/.
- Some scholars constructed its pronunciation as [kʲ], while others as [tʃ].
- In Sahidic dialect, it is [ti], while in Boharic dialect, it is [de].
Letters derived from the demotic:
In Unicode, most Coptic letters formerly shared codepoints with similar Greek letters, but a disunification has been accepted for version 4.1, which appeared in 2005, despite the Coptic letters simply being a typeface of the Greek alphabet with a few added letters rather than an actual separate alphabet (cf. Fraktur, Gaelic type). The new Coptic block is U+2C80 to U+2CFF. Most fonts contained in mainstream operating systems use a distinctive Byzantine style for this block. The Greek block includes seven Coptic letters derived from Demotic, and these need to be included in any complete implementation of Coptic.
|Greek and Coptic
Unicode chart (PDF)
Unicode chart (PDF)
Diacritics and punctuation
These are also included in the unicode specification.
- normal English punctuation (comma, period, question mark, semicolon, colon, hyphen) uses the regular Unicode codepoints for punctuation
- dicolon: standard colon U+003A
- middle dot: U+00B7
- en dash: U+2013
- em dash: U+2014
- slanted double hyphen: U+2E17
These are codepoints applied after that of the character they modify.
- combining overstroke: U+0305 (=supralinear stroke)
- combining character-joining overstroke (from middle of one character to middle of the next): U+035E
- combining dot under a letter: U+0323
- combining dot over a letter: U+0307
- combining overstroke and dot below: U+0305,U+0323
- combining acute accent: U+0301
- combining grave accent: U+0300
- combining circumflex accent (caret shaped): U+0302
- combining circumflex (curved shape) or inverted breve above: U+0311
- combining circumflex as wide inverted breve above joining two letters: U+0361
- combining diaeresis: U+0308
- Ritner, Robert Kriech. 1996. "The Coptic Alphabet". In The World's Writing Systems, edited by Peter T. Daniels and William Bright. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press. 1994:287–290.
- Campbell, George L. "Coptic." Compendium of the World's Writing Systems. 2nd ed. Vol. 1. Biddles LTD, 1991. 415.
- Quaegebeur, Jan. 1982. "De la préhistoire de l'écriture copte." Orientalia lovaniensia analecta 13:125–136.
- Kasser, Rodolphe. 1991. "Alphabet in Coptic, Greek". In The Coptic Encyclopedia, edited by Aziz S. Atiya. New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, Volume 8. 30–32.
- Kasser, Rodolphe. 1991. "Alphabets, Coptic". In The Coptic Encyclopedia, edited by Aziz S. Atiya. New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, Volume 8. 32–41.
- Kasser, Rodolphe. 1991. "Alphabets, Old Coptic". In The Coptic Encyclopedia, edited by Aziz S. Atiya. New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, Volume 8. 41–45.
- Wolfgang Kosack: Koptisches Handlexikon des Bohairischen. Koptisch - Deutsch - Arabisch. Verlag Christoph Brunner, Basel 2013, ISBN 978-3-9524018-9-7.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Coptic script.|
- Michael Everson's Revised proposal to add the Coptic alphabet to the BMP of the UCS
- Copticsounds – a resource for the study of Coptic phonology
- Coptic Unicode input
- Michael Everson's Antinoou: A standard font for Coptic supported by the International Association for Coptic Studies.
- Ifao N Copte – A professional Coptic font for researchers, students and publishers has been developed by the French institute of oriental archeology (IFAO). Unicode, Mac and Windows compatible, this free font is available through downloading from the IFAO website (direct link).
- Coptic fonts ; Coptic fonts made by Laurent Bourcellier & Jonathan Perez, type designers
- ⲡⲓⲥⲁϧⲟ: Coptic font support – how to install, use and manipulate Coptic ASCII and Unicode fonts
- Download Free Coptic Fonts
- The Coptic Alphabet (omniglot.com)
- GNU FreeFont Coptic range in serif face