What Is Coptic language

Coptic language . It is the last phase of the ancient Egyptian language and by extension the writing system. Grammatically, Coptic is closer to demotic , yet it establishes an important change in the development of the writing systems used by the ancient Egyptians as it is written only with alphabetic signs.


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  • 1 Origins
  • 2 Coptic alphabet
  • 3 Dialects
  • 4 Coptic history
  • 5 Sources


The first attempts to use an alphabet in Egypt came down to the adoption of Greek letters. Greek was the administrative language of the country from 332 BC and became a common language for business and daily life. The earliest experiments with alphabetic writing included explanatory glosses, phonetically transcribing Egyptian words into Greek characters , in some hieratic religious texts, and magical demotic texts from the 2nd century AD along with a handful of texts in the Egyptian language.written entirely in Greek characters. These texts show not only the advantages of using an alphabetic system (the simplicity and precise indication of vowel sounds), but also the limitations of using an unalterable Greek alphabet, in which some Egyptian sounds were not represented.

Coptic alphabet

The Coptic alphabet consists of thirty-two letters, the twenty-four Greek letters, seven new characters for Egyptian sounds derived from the demotic, and a monogram (one letter representing two at a time), although the latter varied in number depending on the dialect . This alphabet was developed during the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD Coptic, like Greek, is written from left to right, which represents an important change in relation to demotic and hieroglyphs .

Letters of the Coptic alphabet with their respective phonetic values


Coptic is made up of a series of dialects , two of which roughly correspond to the two most important regions of the country:

  • Sahidic (centered perhaps on Shmoun-Hermopolis-AI Ashmunein, Upper Egypt). It reached the greatest literary importance and the widest use in the Nile Valley . Almost all the indigenous Coptic literature was composed in Sahidic, between the years 325 – 800 .
  • Bohárico ( Lower Egypt). The current texts of the liturgical language come from this dialect.

In addition, there were other minor dialects such as the Fayumic (region of the Fayum), the ajmimico (Ajmin) and the lycopolitano (Licópolis).

Coptic history

Egyptians who adopted Christianity from the 1st century onward , translated the holy scriptures of the new religion into their own language, but were reluctant to use demotic for that purpose, due to its association with the ancient pagan religion. In this way, they wrote their texts in Greek letters until they fully developed Coptic.

As Egypt became increasingly converted to Christianity, the older writing systems were relegated to the texts and temples of the ancient religion. By the end of the fifth century, Coptic had become the only means of writing in Egyptian, the same lay texts as religious (Christian). The establishment of Coptic as a literary language and means of expression owes much to the early translation of the New Testament from Greek to Coptic, as well as the growth of monastic writers such as Pacomius and Shenoute, who pushed the Coptic language into new spheres of expression and rhetoric. .

Coptic and Greek shared siamilar writings, and for much of its history the former coexisted with the latter in Egypt until shortly after the Arab conquest of 641 , and many literate Egyptians were bilingual. The rapid disappearance of the Greeks after the conquest and the relative increase of the Coptic in the following centuries make it questionable to what extent bilingualism was established. Ultimately, Coptic was replaced as a language and script in business and everyday life by Arabic (around the 9th and 10th centuries there was a significant decline in the daily use of Coptic writing, which was effectively supplanted by the Arabic in most uses for the 11th century. However the Coptic continued, and continues to this day as a language and writing system in the literature and liturgy of the Coptic Church).


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