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Coptic language

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Native toEgypt
Early forms
  • Bohairic
  • Sahidic
  • Akhmimic
  • Lycopolitan
  • Fayyumic
  • Oxyrhynchite
Coptic alphabet
Language codes
ISO 639-2cop
ISO 639-3cop
Coptic is an extinct language according to the classification system of the UNESCO Atlas of the World's Languages in Danger
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Coptic (Bohairic Coptic: ϯⲙⲉⲧⲣⲉⲙⲛ̀ⲭⲏⲙⲓ, Timetremǹkhēmi) is a group of closely related Egyptian dialects,[2] representing the most recent developments of the Egyptian language,[2][4] and historically spoken by the Copts, starting from the third century AD in Roman Egypt.[1] Coptic was supplanted by Arabic as the primary spoken language of Egypt following the Arab conquest of Egypt and was slowly replaced over the centuries. Coptic has no native speakers today,[5] although it remains in daily use as the liturgical language of the Coptic Orthodox Church and of the Coptic Catholic Church.[4] Innovations in grammar and phonology and the influx of Greek loanwords distinguish Coptic from earlier periods of the Egyptian language. It is written with the Coptic alphabet, a modified form of the Greek alphabet with several additional letters borrowed from the Demotic Egyptian script.[4]

The major Coptic dialects are Sahidic, Bohairic, Akhmimic, Fayyumic, Lycopolitan, and Oxyrhynchite. Sahidic Coptic was spoken between the cities of Asyut and Oxyrhynchus[6] and flourished as a literary language across Egypt in the period c. 325 – c. 800 AD.[4] Bohairic, the language of the Nile Delta, gained prominence in the 9th century and is the dialect used by the Coptic Church.[2] Despite being closely related, Coptic dialects differ from one another in terms of their phonology, morphology, syntax, and vocabulary.

Historical map of the distribution of the Coptic dialects


In Coptic the language is called ϯⲙⲉⲧⲣⲉⲙⲛ̀ⲭⲏⲙⲓ (timetremǹkhēmi) "Egyptian" or ϯⲁⲥⲡⲓ ⲛ̀ⲣⲉⲙⲛ̀ⲭⲏⲙⲓ (tiaspi ǹremǹkhēmi) "the Egyptian language". Coptic also possessed the term ⲅⲩⲡⲧⲓⲟⲥ (gyptios) "Egyptian", derived from Greek Αἰγύπτιος (Aigúptios). This was borrowed into Arabic as ‏قبْط‎ (qibṭ/qubṭ), and from there into the languages of Europe, giving rise to words like French copte and English Copt.

Geographic distribution[edit]

Coptic is today spoken liturgically in the Coptic Orthodox and Coptic Catholic Church (along with Modern Standard Arabic). The language is spoken only in Egypt and historically has had little influence outside of the territory, except for monasteries located in Nubia. Coptic's most noticeable linguistic impact has been on the various dialects of Egyptian Arabic, which is characterised by a Coptic substratum in lexical, morphological, syntactical, and phonological features.[7]

Influence on other languages[edit]

In addition to influencing the grammar, vocabulary and syntax of Egyptian Arabic, Coptic has lent to both Arabic and Modern Hebrew such words as:[citation needed]

  • timsāḥ (Arabic: تمساح; Hebrew: תמסח), "crocodile"; emsah (ⲉⲙⲥⲁϩ);[citation needed] this subsequently entered Turkish as timsah. Coptic ⲉⲙⲥⲁϩ is grammatically masculine and hence would have taken the form pemsah (Sahidic: ⲡⲉⲙⲥⲁϩ; Bohairic: ⲡⲓⲉⲙⲥⲁϩ) with the definite articular prefix. 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).[citation needed]
  • ṭūbah, Arabic: طوبة, "brick";[citation needed] 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.[citation needed]
  • wāḥah, Arabic: واحة, "oasis"; Sahidic: ⲟⲩⲁϩⲉ, ouahe; Bohairic: ⲟⲩⲉϩⲓ, ouehi; this subsequently entered Turkish as vaha[citation needed]

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").[citation needed]

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.[citation needed]

Many place names in modern Egypt are Arabic adaptations of their former Coptic names:

Coptic name Modern name
ⲥⲓⲱⲟⲩⲧ (siōout) أسيوط (ʾasyūṭ) Asyut
ⲫⲓⲟⲙ (phiom) الفيوم (al-fayyūm) Faiyum
ϯⲙⲉⲛϩⲱⲣ (timenhōr) دمنهور (damanhūr) Damanhur
ⲥⲟⲩⲁⲛ (souan) أسوان (ʾaswān) Aswan
ⲙⲉⲙϥⲓ (memfi) منف (manf) Memphis

The Coptic name ⲡⲁⲡⲛⲟⲩⲧⲉ, papnoute (from Egyptian pꜣy-pꜣ-nṯr), means "belonging to God" or "he of God".[8][9][10] 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 (Pafnuty), perhaps best known in the name of the mathematician Pafnuty Chebyshev.


A Demotic graffito in Greek letters from year 5 Horwennefer (200/201 BC).

The Egyptian language may have the longest documented history of any language, from Old Egyptian that appeared just before 3200 BC[11] 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 and periphrastic 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.

Pre-Islamic period[edit]

Fifth–sixth century Coptic liturgic inscription from Upper Egypt.

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 and Greeks 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.

Under late Roman rule, Diocletian 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.

Islamic period[edit]

Page from 19th-century Coptic-language grammar

The Muslim conquest of Egypt by Arabs came with the spread of Islam in the seventh century. At the turn of the eighth century, Caliph Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan decreed[citation needed] that Arabic replace Koine Greek as the sole administrative language. Literary Coptic gradually declined, and within a few hundred years, Egyptian bishop Severus Ibn al-Muqaffaʿ found it necessary to write his History of the Patriarchs in Arabic. However, ecclesiastically the language retained an important position, and many hagiographic texts were also composed during this period. Until the 10th century, Coptic remained the spoken language of the native population outside the capital.

As a written language, Coptic is thought to have completely given way to Egyptian Arabic around the 13th century,[12] though it seems to have survived as a spoken language until the 17th century[2] and in some localities even longer. [note 1]

The Coptic language massively declined under the hands of Fatimid Caliph Al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah, as part of his campaigns of religious persecution. He issued strict orders completely prohibiting the use of Coptic anywhere, whether in schools, public streets, and even homes, including mothers speaking to their children. Those who did not comply had their tongues cut off. He personally walked the streets of Cairo and eavesdropped on Coptic-speaking homes to find out if any family was speaking Coptic.[13][14]

From the medieval period there is one known example of tarsh-printed Coptic. The fragmentary amulet A.Ch. 12.145, now in the Austrian National Library, contains a frame of Coptic text around an Arabic main text.[15]

In the early 20th century, some Copts tried to revive the Coptic language, but they were unsuccessful.[16]

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.[citation needed]

Writing system[edit]

Papyrus Bodmer VI ("Dialect P") possesses the richest of all Coptic alphabets, with 35 unique graphemes.[17]

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.[18] 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 Greek words. Old Coptic texts used several graphemes that were not retained in the literary Coptic orthography of later centuries.

In Sahidic, syllable boundaries 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 the letters and at the beginning of a word or to mark a diphthong. Bohairic uses a superposed point or small stroke known as ϫⲓⲛⲕⲓⲙ (jinkim, "movement"). When jinkim is placed over a vowel it is pronounced independently, and when it is placed over a consonant a short precedes it.[19]


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 because 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'[20]

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 used as they were perceived as having overt pagan associations. Old Coptic texts use many such words, phrases and epithets; for example, the word ⲧⲃⲁⲓⲧⲱⲩ '(Who is) in (His) Mountain', is an epithet of Anubis.[21] 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 patterns. 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.[22]


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 ⲉ/ⲏ and ⲟ/ⲱ. 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,[23] it is assumed that the length difference is primary, with ⲉ/ⲏ /e, eː/ and ⲟ/ⲱ is /o, oː/. Other scholars[24][25][failed verification] argue for a different analysis in which ⲉ/ⲏ and ⲟ/ⲱ are interpreted as /e, ɛ/ and /o, ɔ/.

These two charts show the two theories of Coptic vowel phonology:

Monophthong phonemes
(length theory)
Front Central Back
Close-mid   e   o
Mid ə
Open ɑ
Monophthong phonemes
(vowel quality theory)
Front Central Back
Close-mid e o
Mid ɛ ə ɔ
Open ɑ

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 ⟨ⲉⲓ⟩ for a single vowel, there appears to be no phonetic difference from ⟨ⲓ⟩.

Double orthographic vowels are presumed here to be long, as that makes the morphology more straightforward.[citation needed] (Another common interpretation is that these represented glottal stop.)

Bohairic vowels
Front Back
Close ⲉⲓ /i/ ⲟⲩ /u/
Close-mid /e/ /o/
Open-mid /ɛ/ /ɔ/
Open /a/
Sahidic vowels
Front Back
Close ⲉⲓ /i/ ⲟⲩ /u/
Close-mid /e/   ⲏⲏ // /o/   ⲱⲱ //
Open-mid /ɛ/   ⲉⲉ /ɛː/ /ɔ/   ⲟⲟ /ɔː/
Open /a/   ⲁⲁ //
Lycopolitan vowels
Front Back
Close ⲉⲓ /i/ ⲟⲩ /u/
Close-mid /e/   ⲏⲏ // /o/   ⲱⲱ //
Open-mid /ɛ/   ⲉⲉ /ɛː/ ⲟⲟ /ɔː/
Open /a/   ⲁⲁ //
Akhmimic vowels
Front Back
Close ⲉⲓ /i/   ⲓⲉⲓ // ⲟⲩ /u/   ⲟⲩⲟⲩ //
Close-mid /e/ /o/
Open-mid /ɛ/   ⲉⲉ /ɛː/ ⲟⲟ /ɔː/[a]
Open /a/   ⲁⲁ //
  1. ^ Frequent spelling of this vowel as ⲱⲱ indicates that it is in free variation with [[oː]].

There is no length distinction in final stressed position, but only those vowels that occur long appear there: ⟨(ⲉ)ⲓ, ⲉ, ⲁ, ⲟ~ⲱ, ⲟⲩ⟩.

In Sahidic, the letter 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.

Bohairic did not have long vowels. /i/ was only written ⟨ⲓ⟩. As above, it's possible that /u/ and /o/ were distinct vowels rather than just allophones.

In Late Coptic (that is, Late Bohairic), the vowels were reduced to those found in Egyptian Arabic, /a, i, u/.[dubiousdiscuss] ⟨ⲱ, ⲟ⟩ became /u/, ⟨ⲉ⟩ became /æ/, and ⟨ⲏ⟩ became either /ɪ/ or /æ/. It is difficult to explain ⟨ⲏ⟩. However, it generally became /æ/ in stressed monosyllables, /ɪ/ in unstressed monosyllables, and in polysyllables, /æ/ when followed by /i/, and /ɪ/ when not.

There were no doubled orthographic vowels in Mesokemic. Some representative correspondences with Sahidic are:

Sahidic stressed vowels ⲁⲁ, ⲉⲉ ⲱⲱ
Mesokemic equivalent

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, particularly with regard to the letters ϫ and ϭ. ϫ is transcribed as ⟨j⟩ in many older Coptic sources and ϭ as ⟨ɡ⟩[23] or ⟨č⟩. Lambdin (1983) notes that the current conventional pronunciations are different from the probable ancient pronunciations: Sahidic ϫ was probably pronounced [] and ϭ was probably pronounced []. Reintges (2004, p. 22) suggests that ϫ was pronounced [].

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
Labial Alveolar Palatal Velar Glottal
Nasal m n
Obstruent aspirate[a] pʰ t͡ʃʰϭ[b]
tenuis p t t͡ʃϫ kʲϭ[b] k
fricative fϥ s ʃϣ [c] xϧ [d] hϩ
Approximant v[e] r l jⲉⲓ wⲟⲩ
  1. ^ The aspirate series is present only in Bohairic.
  2. ^ a b The letter ϭ has two values: In Bohairic it represents /t͡ʃʰ/, the aspirated counterpart to ϫ /t͡ʃ/. In the other dialects it represents //, the palatalized counterpart to /k/.
  3. ^ // is present only in the minor Coptic dialects P and I,[further explanation needed] where it is written ⟨⟩ and ⟨⟩ respectively.[26]
  4. ^ /x/ is written ⟨ϧ⟩ in Bohairic and Dialect P, and ⟨⟩ in Akhmimic and Dialect I.
  5. ^ Coptic is alternatively interpreted as a voiced bilabial fricative [β].[27] Like the other voiced consonants, it 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[citation needed] (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
β w (final [b])
p b
b ~ f
t d
t͡ʃ ɟ[note 2]
t͡ʃʰ ʃ
k k

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 and ϥ to indicate /f/, and was also used in many texts to indicate the bilabial approximant /w/. Coptologists believe that Coptic 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 word-initially, with word-finally in monosyllabic words in northern dialects and in monosyllabic words in Akhmimic and Assiutic, by reduplication of a vowel's grapheme but mostly unwritten.

A few early manuscripts have a letter or ç where Sahidic and Bohairic have ϣ š. and Akhmimic has x. This sound seems to have been lost early on.


Coptic is agglutinative with subject–verb–object 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/[28] in the Sahidic dialect and /pi, əp/ and /ti, ət/ in the Bohairic dialect.

Bohairic: ⲡⲓⲣⲱⲙⲓ /pəˈɾomə/ – 'the man' / ϯϫⲓϫ /təˈt͡ʃit͡ʃ/ – 'the hand'
Sahidic: ⲡⲉⲣⲱⲙⲉ /pəˈɾomə/ – 'the man' / ⲧⲉϫⲓϫ /təˈt͡ʃit͡ʃ/ – '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) 'two'.

Words of Greek origin keep their original grammatical gender, except for neuter nouns, which become masculine in Coptic.

Possession of definite nouns is expressed with a series of possessive articles which are prefixed to the noun. These articles agree with the person, number, and gender of the possessor and the number and gender of the possessed noun. The forms of the possessive article vary according to dialect.

Coptic possessive articles
Person/Number/Gender Dialect
Possessor Possessed Bohairic Fayyumic Oxyrhynchite Sahidic Lycopolitan Akhmimic
1SG M ⲡⲁ-
F ⲧⲁ-
PL ⲛⲁ-
2SG.M M ⲡⲉⲕ-
F ⲧⲉⲕ-
PL ⲛⲉⲕ-
2SG.F M ⲡⲉ- ⲡⲟⲩ- ⲡⲉ-
F ⲧⲉ- ⲧⲟⲩ- ⲧⲉ-
PL ⲛⲉ- ⲛⲟⲩ- ⲛⲉ-
3SG.M M ⲡⲉϥ-
F ⲧⲉϥ-
PL ⲛⲉϥ-
3SG.F M ⲡⲉⲥ-
F ⲧⲉⲥ-
PL ⲛⲉⲥ-
1PL M ⲡⲉⲛ-
F ⲧⲉⲛ-
PL ⲛⲉⲛ-
2PL M ⲡⲉⲧⲉⲛ- ⲡⲉⲧⲛ̄-
F ⲧⲉⲧⲉⲛ- ⲧⲉⲧⲛ̄-
PL ⲛⲉⲧⲉⲛ- ⲛⲉⲧⲛ̄-
3PL M ⲡⲟⲩ- ⲡⲉⲩ- ⲡⲟⲩ-
F ⲧⲟⲩ- ⲧⲉⲩ- ⲧⲟⲩ-
PL ⲛⲟⲩ- ⲛⲉⲩ- ⲛⲟⲩ-
Translation Dialect
Bohairic Fayyumic Oxyrhynchite Sahidic Lycopolitan Akhmimic
"my brother" ⲡⲁ-ⲥⲟⲛ ⲡⲁ-ⲥⲁⲛ ⲡⲁ-ⲥⲟⲛ ⲡⲁ-ⲥⲁⲛ
"my sister" ⲧⲁ-ⲥⲱⲛⲓ ⲧⲁ-ⲥⲟⲛⲉ ⲧⲁ-ⲥⲱⲛⲉ
"my siblings" ⲛⲁ-ⲥⲛⲏⲟⲩ ⲛⲁ-ⲥⲛⲏⲩ
"your (SG.M) brother" ⲡⲉⲕ-ⲥⲟⲛ ⲡⲉⲕ-ⲥⲁⲛ ⲡⲉⲕ-ⲥⲟⲛ ⲡⲉⲕ-ⲥⲁⲛ
"your (SG.M) sister" ⲧⲉⲕ-ⲥⲱⲛⲓ ⲧⲉⲕ-ⲥⲟⲛⲉ ⲧⲉⲕ-ⲥⲱⲛⲉ
"your (SG.M) siblings" ⲛⲉⲕ-ⲥⲛⲏⲟⲩ ⲛⲉⲕ-ⲥⲛⲏⲩ
"your (SG.F) brother" ⲡⲉ-ⲥⲟⲛ ⲡⲉ-ⲥⲁⲛ ⲡⲟⲩ-ⲥⲟⲛ ⲡⲉ-ⲥⲁⲛ
"your (SG.F) sister" ⲧⲉ-ⲥⲱⲛⲓ ⲧⲉ-ⲥⲟⲛⲉ ⲧⲟⲩ-ⲥⲱⲛⲉ ⲧⲉ-ⲥⲱⲛⲉ
"your (SG.F) siblings" ⲛⲉ-ⲥⲛⲏⲟⲩ ⲛⲉ-ⲥⲛⲏⲩ ⲛⲟⲩ-ⲥⲛⲏⲩ ⲛⲉ-ⲥⲛⲏⲩ
"his brother" ⲡⲉϥ-ⲥⲟⲛ ⲡⲉϥ-ⲥⲁⲛ ⲡⲉϥ-ⲥⲟⲛ ⲡⲉϥ-ⲥⲁⲛ
"his sister" ⲧⲉϥ-ⲥⲱⲛⲓ ⲧⲉϥ-ⲥⲟⲛⲉ ⲧⲉϥ-ⲥⲱⲛⲉ
"his siblings" ⲛⲉϥ-ⲥⲛⲏⲟⲩ ⲛⲉϥ-ⲥⲛⲏⲩ
"her brother" ⲡⲉⲥ-ⲥⲟⲛ ⲡⲉⲥ-ⲥⲁⲛ ⲡⲉⲥ-ⲥⲟⲛ ⲡⲉⲥ-ⲥⲁⲛ
"her sister" ⲧⲉⲥ-ⲥⲱⲛⲓ ⲧⲉⲥ-ⲥⲟⲛⲉ ⲧⲉⲥ-ⲥⲱⲛⲉ
"her siblings" ⲛⲉⲥ-ⲥⲛⲏⲟⲩ ⲛⲉⲥ-ⲥⲛⲏⲩ
"our brother" ⲡⲉⲛ-ⲥⲟⲛ ⲡⲉⲛ-ⲥⲁⲛ ⲡⲉⲛ-ⲥⲟⲛ ⲡⲉⲛ-ⲥⲁⲛ
"our sister" ⲧⲉⲛ-ⲥⲱⲛⲓ ⲧⲉⲛ-ⲥⲟⲛⲉ ⲧⲉⲛ-ⲥⲱⲛⲉ
"our siblings" ⲛⲉⲛ-ⲥⲛⲏⲟⲩ ⲛⲉⲛ-ⲥⲛⲏⲩ
"your (PL) brother" ⲡⲉⲧⲉⲛ-ⲥⲟⲛ ⲡⲉⲧⲉⲛ-ⲥⲁⲛ ⲡⲉⲧⲛ̄-ⲥⲁⲛ ⲡⲉⲧⲛ̄-ⲥⲟⲛ ⲡⲉⲧⲛ̄-ⲥⲁⲛ
"your (PL) sister" ⲧⲉⲧⲉⲛ-ⲥⲱⲛⲓ ⲧⲉⲧⲛ̄-ⲥⲟⲛⲉ ⲧⲉⲧⲛ̄-ⲥⲱⲛⲉ
"your (PL) siblings" ⲛⲉⲧⲉⲛ-ⲥⲛⲏⲟⲩ ⲛⲉⲧⲛ̄-ⲥⲛⲏⲩ
"their brother" ⲡⲟⲩ-ⲥⲟⲛ ⲡⲉⲩ-ⲥⲁⲛ ⲡⲉⲩ-ⲥⲟⲛ ⲡⲟⲩ-ⲥⲁⲛ
"their sister" ⲧⲟⲩ-ⲥⲱⲛⲓ ⲧⲉⲩ-ⲥⲱⲛⲓ ⲧⲉⲩ-ⲥⲟⲛⲉ ⲧⲉⲩ-ⲥⲱⲛⲉ ⲧⲟⲩ-ⲥⲱⲛⲉ
"their siblings" ⲛⲟⲩ-ⲥⲛⲏⲟⲩ ⲛⲉⲩ-ⲥⲛⲏⲟⲩ ⲛⲉⲩ-ⲥⲛⲏⲩ ⲛⲟⲩ-ⲥⲛⲏⲩ


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.

Pronouns of the Bohairic dialect
Independent Proclitic As suffix
Stressed Unstressed
singular ⲁⲛⲟⲕ
plural ⲁⲛⲟⲛ
singular masc. ⲛ̀ⲑⲟⲕ
fem. ⲛ̀ⲑⲟ
ⲧⲉ- ⲧⲣ-
te-, tr-
⸗ ⸗ⲉ ⸗ⲣ ⸗ⲣⲉ ⸗ⲧⲉ
=∅, =e, =r(e), =te
plural ⲛ̀ⲑⲱⲧⲉⲛ
⸗ⲧⲉⲛ ⸗ⲧⲉⲧⲉⲛ
=ten, =teten
singular masc. ⲛ̀ⲑⲟϥ
fem. ⲛ̀ⲑⲟⲥ
plural ⲛ̀ⲑⲱⲟⲩ


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', ⲣⲉⲙⲛ̀ⲭⲏⲙⲓ /remənkʰeːmə/, is a combination of the nominal prefix ⲣⲉⲙ- rem- (the reduced form of ⲣⲱⲙⲓ rōmi 'man'), followed by the genitive morpheme ⲛ̀ ən ('of') and finally the word for Egypt, ⲭⲏⲙⲓ kʰēmi.


Verbal grade system[edit]

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:

  1. ⲕⲟⲧ kɔt (the absolute state grade)
  2. ⲕⲉⲧ- ket- (the nominal state grade)
  3. ⲕⲟⲧ⸗ kot= (the pronominal state grade)
  4. 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:[29]

ABS:absolute state grade NOM:nominal state grade PRONOM:pronominal state grade

Absolute state grade









ⲁⲓϫⲓⲙⲓ ⲙ̀ⲡⲁⲓⲱⲧ

Aijimi əmpaiōt

a-i-jimi əm-p-a-iōt


'I found my father.'

Nominal state grade









ⲁⲓϫⲉⲙ ⲡⲁⲓⲱⲧ

Aijem paiōt

a-i-jem p-a-iōt

PFV-1SG-find.NOM DEF:MASC:SG-1SG-father

'I found my father.'

Pronominal state grade









'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:

Gloss Absolute state Nominal state Pronominal state Neutral state
Spread ⲡⲱⲣϣ̀ poːrəʃ ⲡⲣ̀ϣ pərʃ ⲡⲱⲣϣ poːrʃ ⲡⲟⲣϣ̀ poʔrəʃ
Dig ϣⲓⲕⲉ ʃiːkə ϣⲉⲕⲧ ʃekt ϣⲁⲕⲧ ʃakt ϣⲟⲕⲉ ʃoʔkə
Comfort ⲥⲟⲗⲥⲗ̀ solsəl ⲥⲗ̀ⲥⲗ̀ səlsəl ⲥⲗ̀ⲥⲱⲗ səlsoːl ⲥⲗ̀ⲥⲱⲗ səlsoːl
Roll ⲥⲕⲟⲣⲕⲣ̀ skorkər ⲥⲕⲣ̀ⲕⲣ̀ skərkər ⲥⲕⲣ̀ⲕⲱⲣ skərkoːr ⲥⲕⲣ̀ⲕⲱⲣ skərkoːr
Build ⲕⲱⲧ koːt ⲕⲉⲧ ket ⲕⲟⲧ kot ⲕⲏⲧ keːt

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.

Tense/aspect/mood inflection[edit]

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 /na/ is a preverbal particle and follows the subject:[30]













Ⲡⲉϫⲟⲉⲓⲥ ⲛⲁⲕⲣⲓⲛⲉ ⲛ̀ⲛⲉⲗⲁⲟⲥ

Pecoeis nakrine ənnelaos

pe-joeis na-krine ən-ne-laos

DEF:MASC:SG-lord FUT-judge PREP-DEF:PL-people

'The lord will judge the nations.'

In contrast, the perfective /a/ is a pre-subject particle:




















ⲧⲉϥⲥⲱⲛⲉ ⲇⲉ ⲟⲗ ⲛ̀ⲛⲉϥⲕⲏⲥ

A tefsōne de ol ənnefkēs

a te-f-sōne de ol ən-ne-f-kēs


'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'):

Tense name Nominal subject 3rd M. Sg.
Pronominal subject
Reintges Lambdin Plumley
First Present Present I _ NP ϥ- f-
Second Present
ⲉⲣⲉ _ ere NP ⲉϥ- ef-
Relative of First Present ⲉⲧⲉⲣⲉ _ etere NP ⲉⲧϥ̀- etəf-
Preterite Present Imperfect Imperfect ⲛⲉⲣⲉ _ nere NP ⲛⲉϥ- nef-
Preterite Past ⲛⲉⲁ _ nea NP ⲛⲉⲁϥ- neaf-
Future I _ ⲛⲁ- NP na- ϥⲛⲁ- fna-
Future II ⲉⲣⲉ _ ⲛⲁ- ere NP na- ⲉϥⲛⲁ- efna-
Future III ⲉⲣⲉ _ ere NP ⲉϥⲉ- efe-
Negative Future III Negative Future II ⲛ̀ⲛⲉ _ ənne NP ⲛ̀ⲛⲉϥ- ənnef-
Imperfect of Future Future Imperfect ⲛⲉⲣⲉ _ ⲛⲁ- nere NP na- ⲛⲉϥⲛⲁ- nefna-
Perfect I ⲁ _ a NP ⲁϥ- af-
Negative Perfect I ⲙ̀ⲡⲉ _ əmpe NP ⲙ̀ⲡⲉϥ- əmpef-
Perfect II ⲛ̀ⲧⲉ _ ənta NP ⲛ̀ⲧⲉϥ- əntaf-
Habitual ϣⲁⲣⲉ _ ʃare NP ϣⲁϥ- ʃaf-
Habitual I ⲉϣⲁⲣⲉ _ eʃare NP ⲉϣⲁϥ- eʃaf-
Negative Habitual ⲙⲉⲣⲉ _ mere NP ⲙⲉϥ- mef-
Jussive Injunctive Optative ⲙⲁⲣⲉ _ mare NP ⲙⲁⲣⲉϥ- maref-
Conditional ⲉⲣϣⲁⲛ _ erʃan NP ⲉϥϣⲁⲛ- efʃan-
Conjunctive ⲛ̀ⲧⲉ _ ənte NP ⲛϥ̀- nəf-
Inferential Future Conjunctive of Result Future I ⲧⲁⲣⲉ _ tare NP ⲧⲁⲣⲉϥ- taref-
Temporal ⲛ̀ⲧⲉⲣⲉ _ əntere NP ⲛ̀ⲧⲉⲣⲉϥ- ənteref-
Terminative "Until" "Unfulfilled action ϣⲁⲛⲧⲉ _ ʃante NP ϣⲁⲛⲧϥ̀- ʃantəf-
"Not yet" "Unfulfilled action ⲙ̀ⲡⲁⲧⲉ _ əmpate NP ⲙ̀ⲡⲁⲧϥ̀- əmpatəf-

An approximate range of use for most of the tense/aspect/mood categories is shown in the following table:

Tense name (Lambdin) Approximate range of use
Present I Present time in narrative (predicate focus)
Relative of Present I Non-subject relative clause in present tense
Circumstantial Background clauses; relative clauses with indefinite heads
Imperfect Action in progress in the past
Future I Simple future tense (predicate focus)
Future II Simple future tense (adverbial focus)
Future III Future tense conveyed as necessary, inevitable, or obligatory
Perfect I Primary narrative tense (predicate focus)
Negative Perfect I Negative of Perfect I
Perfect II Primary narrative tense (adverbial focus); relative clause form of Perfect I
Habitual Characteristic or habitual action
Negative Habitual Negative of Habitual
Injunctive Imperative for first and third persons ('let me', 'let him', etc.)
Conditional Protasis (if-clause) of a conditional (if-then) statement
Conjunctive Event shares the TAM of a preceding initial verb
Future Conjunctive of Result Used in clauses that express a resultant action
Temporal Past action in a subordinate temporal clause ("when NP V-ed, ...")

Second tenses[edit]

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.[31]


Coptic has prepositions, rather than postpositions:









ϩⲓ ⲡ̀ϫⲟⲓ

hi pjoi

hi p-joi

on DEF:M:SG-ship

'on the ship'

Pronominal objects of prepositions are indicated with enclitic pronouns:







'to you'







'for us'

Many prepositions have different forms before the enclitic pronouns.[32] Compare:







'to the ship'







'to him'


Sentential syntax[edit]

Coptic typically shows subject–verb–object (SVO) word order, as in the following examples:[33][29]




















ⲧⲉϭⲁⲙⲁⲩⲗⲉ ⲙⲓⲥⲉ ⲛ̀ⲟⲩϣⲏⲣⲉ ⲛ̀ϣⲓⲙⲉ

A tecamaule mise ənoušēre ənšime

a te-camaule mise ən-ou-šēre ən-šime

PFV DEF:F:SG-camel deliver.ABS PREP-INDEF:SG-girl link-woman

'The she-camel delivered a daughter.'













ⲡⲉϫⲟⲉⲓⲥ ⲛⲁⲕⲣⲓⲛⲉ ⲛ̀ⲛⲉⲗⲁⲟⲥ

Pejoeis nakrine ənnelaos

pe-joeis na-krine ən-ne-laos

DEF:M:SG-lord FUT-judge PREP-DEF:PL-people

'The Lord will judge the people.'









ⲁⲓϭⲓⲛⲉ ⲙ̀ⲡⲁⲉⲓⲱⲧ

Aicine əmpaeiōt

a-i-cine əm-p-a-eiōt

PFV-1sg-find.ABS PREP-DEF:MASC:SG-1SG-father

'I found my father.'

The verbs in these sentences are in the absolute state grade,[34] 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

a-i-cen p-a-eiōt

PFV-1SG-find.NOM DEF:M:SG-1SG-father

'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 differences.

Upper Egypt[edit]


Pottery shard inscribed with 5 lines in Coptic Sahidic. Byzantine period, 6th century AD. From Thebes, Egypt. The Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology, London

Sahidic (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.


Akhmimic was the dialect of the area around the town of Akhmim (Ancient Greek: Πανὸς πόλις, romanizedPanopolis). 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.


Aswanic was the dialect of the area around the town of Aswan. It is considered a sub-dialect and is very close to Akhmimic, although, what makes it different is that "ϩ" is written before pronouns, for example in normal Coptic it is said Afso, which means drank, but in the Aswanic dialect it is said Hafso. It also has a distinctive way of writing; so the letter "ⲃ" is written instead of the letter "ϥ".


Lycopolitan (also known as Subakhmimic and Assiutic) 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 and Manichaean works, including the texts of the Nag Hammadi library.

Lower Egypt[edit]

Papyrus Bodmer III is an early Bohairic manuscript containing the Gospel of John and parts of Genesis


  • The Bohairic (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 and phonology 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.
  • Bashmuric (also known as Mansurian and Dialect G) was a sub dialect of Bohairic most likely spoken in Eastern Delta. Its main characteristic is using solely Greek letters to represent Coptic phonemes.


  • Fayyumic (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 (which corresponds to /l/), where other dialects generally use /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/.
  • South Fayyumic (also called Dialect V) was spoken around modern towns of Beni Suef and Bush and is distinguished from central Fayyumic by not having lambdacism.
    • Ashmuninic (also known as Hermopolitan or Dialect H) was spoken around the city of Shmun and shares South Fayyumic features like vowel gemination and absence of lambdacism.


Oxyrhynchite (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.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ 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, El Zenya or Al Zeniya north of Luxor), passive speakers over 50 years old 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).
  2. ^ [ɟ] is the local equivalent of Cairene [ɡ].


  1. ^ a b Richter 2009, p. 404.
  2. ^ a b c d e f Allen 2020b, p. 1.
  3. ^ Atlas of the World's Languages in Danger (Report) (3rd ed.). UNESCO. 2010. p. 12. Archived from the original on 2020-11-11. Retrieved 2023-03-13.
  4. ^ a b c d Layton 2007, p. 1.
  5. ^ "Coptic". Ethnologue. Archived from the original on 2022-07-01. Retrieved 2022-05-17.
  6. ^ Blasco Torres, Ana Isabel (2017). Representing Foreign Sounds: Greek Transcriptions of Egyptian Anthroponyms from 800 BC to 800 AD. University of Salamanca. p. 613. doi:10.14201/gredos.135722 (inactive 2024-04-26). Archived from the original on 2021-05-16. Retrieved 2021-03-14. ...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.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: DOI inactive as of April 2024 (link)
  7. ^ "Coptic Language History". www.axistranslations.com. Archived from the original on 2016-03-27. Retrieved 2020-05-24.
  8. ^ "pAy, pA(n)y". Projet Rosette. Archived from the original on 2017-10-10. Retrieved 2017-10-09.
  9. ^ "nTr". Projet Rosette. Archived from the original on 2017-10-10. Retrieved 2017-10-09.
  10. ^ "ⲗⲁϩⲙϥ [lahmf], ⲗⲁϩⲙⲉϥ [lahmef]". Coptic Dictionary Online. Georgetown University. Archived from the original on 2017-10-10. Retrieved 2017-10-09.
  11. ^ Allen 2010, p. 1–2.
  12. ^ Rubenson, Samuel (December 31, 1996). "The Transition from Coptic to Arabic". Égypte/Monde arabe (27–28): 77–92. doi:10.4000/ema.1920. Archived from the original on September 2, 2021. Retrieved June 20, 2019 – via journals.openedition.org.
  13. ^ Guirguis, Fatin Morris (2010). "The Vision of Theophilus: Resistance Through Orality Among the Persecuted Copts".
  14. ^ Swanson, Mark N. (2010). The Coptic Papacy in Islamic Egypt (641-1517). American Univ in Cairo Press. ISBN 9789774160936. Archived from the original on 2024-05-26. Retrieved 2023-03-19.
  15. ^ Schaefer (2006), p. 50.
  16. ^ Miyokawa, Hiroko (2016). "Pharaonism and the Revival of the Coptic Language among Early Twentieth-Century Coptic Christians". Bulletin of the Society for Near Eastern Studies in Japan. 58 (2): 184–195. doi:10.5356/jorient.58.2_184. Archived from the original on 2021-07-11. Retrieved 2021-06-30.
  17. ^ "Dialect P (or Proto-Theban)". Claremont Colleges Digital Library. Macmillan – via Claremont Graduate University, School of Religion.
  18. ^ "The Coptic Alphabet" (PDF). www.suscopts.org. Archived (PDF) from the original on 2006-05-13.
  19. ^ "Coptic Lesson 5:The Rule of the JINKIM" (PDF). Coptic Orthodox Diocese of the Southern United States. Archived from the original (PDF) on Jun 21, 2022.
  20. ^ Girgis, WA (1963–64). Greek loan words in Coptic. Bulletin de la Société d'archéologie copte 17:63–73.
  21. ^ Gignac 1991, p. 174.
  22. ^ Sijpesteijn, Petra; Lennart Sundelin (2004). Papyrology and the History of Early Islamic Egypt. Leiden, Boston: Brill Academic Publishers. ISBN 978-90-04-13886-5.
  23. ^ a b Plumley 1948.
  24. ^ Greenberg 1962/1990
  25. ^ Lambdin 1983, pp. xii–ix.
  26. ^ Funk, Wolf-Peter (1987). "Die Zeugen des koptischen Literaturdialekts I7". Zeitschrift für Ägyptische Sprache und Altertumskunde. 114 (1–2): 129. doi:10.1524/zaes.1987.114.12.117. S2CID 192659355.
  27. ^ Takács, Gábor (2015). "Questions of Egyptian Historical Phonology and Afro-Asiatic". Bibliotheca Orientalis. 72 (5–6): 565–585. doi:10.2143/BIOR.72.5.3139332. p. 569: Firstly, as is well-known, Coptic had the value [v] or less probably [β].
  28. ^ Lambdin 1983, p. 2.
  29. ^ a b Lambdin 1983, p. 39.
  30. ^ Reintges 2010, p. 210.
  31. ^ Reintges 2004.
  32. ^ Lambdin 1983, pp. 30–31.
  33. ^ Reintges 2010, p. 211.
  34. ^ Reintges 2010, p. 208.

Further reading[edit]

General studies[edit]

  • 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 Aziz Suryal Atiya (ed.). The Coptic Encyclopedia. Vol. 8. New York and Toronto: Macmillan Publishing Company and Collier Macmillan Canada. pp. 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.
  • Schaefer, K. R. (2006). Enigmatic Charms: Medieval Arabic Block Printed Amulets in American and European Libraries and Museums. Leiden: E. J. Brill. doi:10.1163/9789047408529. ISBN 9789047408529.
  • 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.

Grammars and grammatical studies[edit]

  • 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'Académie des Sciences de l'URSS. 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, Benjamin (2007). Coptic in 20 Lessons: Introduction to Sahidic Coptic with Exercises & Vocabularies. Peeters Publishers. ISBN 9789042918108.
  • 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. Vol. 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. [1]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.



  • 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.

External links[edit]