Coptic Language

Coptic Language

Coptic Language

The Coptic language is an Afro-Asian language that has been spoken in Egypt since the 2nd century CE and represents the final step of the ancient Egyptian language. Unlike earlier Egyptian phases, which employed hieroglyphic writing, hieratic script, or demotic script, Coptic was recorded using the Greek alphabet, supplemented by seven demotic symbols. Coptic also acquired Greek vocabulary to replace earlier Egyptian religious terminologies and idioms.

Scholars classify Coptic into six dialects, four of which have been spoken in Upper Egypt and two in Lower Egypt, and which vary mostly in their sound systems. Upper Egypt’s Fayymic dialect, spoken primarily on the west bank of the Nile River, existed until the 8th century.

In the 4th century, Asyic, or Sub-Akhmmic, a language spoken around Asy, prospered. A text of the Gospel of John and the Acts of the Apostles, as well as a variety of Gnostic manuscripts, are preserved in itIn and around the Upper Egyptian city of Akhmm, Akhmmic was spoken. Sahidic (from Arabic, a-ad [Upper Egypt]) was initially a dialect spoken near Thebes, but it became the mainstream Coptic of Upper Egypt after the 5th century. It is one of the most well-known and well-documented dialects.

It is safe to assume that the Ancient Egyptian language is still spoken today. “Several top professors, popes, and some Upper Egyptian towns could speak Coptic as effectively as Arabic, their mother tongue,” stated Michael Heshmat, a lecturer at Saint Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in Cairo, to Egypt Today.

Except for seven letters, the Coptic language is the ultimate stage of the ancient Egyptian language. It is inscribed in the Greek alphabet. Only two thousand Coptic terms are borrowed from Greek, while the rest of Coptic words come from ancient Egyptians.

Coptic Language Egypt

Coptic Language from Egypt

Evolution of the ancient language

The ancient Egyptian language evolved through several stages before taking on the shape of the Coptic language. Ancient Egyptians created the Hieroglyphic language, which was utilized in temples and tombs to represent words and concepts. Temple scribes modified it to Hieratic, and then Demotic was created since average people couldn’t write both forms.

When the Ptolemaic Kingdom entered Egypt, the Greek language affected the ancient Egyptian language and expanded throughout Egypt, with letters derived from the Egyptian Hieroglyphic alphabet.

The evangelism was done in the Demotic version of the Egyptian language with the widespread expansion of Christianity in the late second century, particularly in Upper Egypt, where most people could only communicate Demotic and not Greek.

As a result, the divine texts were read in Greek and verbally translated into Egyptian, but due to the difficulties of Demotic and its signs, which included numerous pagan symbols, the translation was not documented.

When evangelists felt compelled to compose divine book translations, they substituted pagan symbols with Greek characters representing the same sounds, leaving just seven Demotic signs for sounds that did not have Greek equivalents, resulting in the Coptic language.

Bible and Coptic Language

Parts of the Bible were then converted from Greek to Coptic in the first half of the third century, while the rest was done in the fourth.

Coptic, like any other language, has its own literature, poetry, and culture, but Heshmat explained that “we concentrate on learning the Coptic language just for church reasons, and thus, we do not become engaged in much specifics of the language, such as its literature and poetry.”

Sahidic, Bohairic, and Fayumic are its main dialects, which can be learned through reading Coptic literature, as Coptic is the sole type of ancient Egyptian language with vowels indicating word pronunciation. They stem from ancient Egyptian dialects that varied depending on where they were spoken.

Bohairic is the dialect of today, however, it is only used in church for religious rites.

With the Islamic conquest of Egypt, the language began to fade as Arabic became the dominant language in various spheres of labour. Until until, the Coptic language was only spoken in church.

Who Spoke the Coptic Language?

Because the number of persons speaking Coptic was dwindling, the church was forced to transcribe the Bible and prayers into Arabic.

As a result, the Orthodox Church has made many initiatives to resurrect Coptic, including Pope Kyrillos IV, the 110th Pope of Alexandria and Patriarch of the See of St. Mark, who appealed to Christians to donate to the construction of a Coptic scientific center. He made it a requirement that all prayers be said in Coptic, and he chose Priest Takla to educate Coptic Christians.

Pope Shenouda III, the 117th Pope of Alexandria and Patriarch of the See of St. Mark, worked hard to revitalize the language and ensure that it was properly spoken and pronounced. He made the decision to train a large number of Coptic scientists to work alongside international experts to preserve Coptic tradition and language.

In December 1976, he founded the Coptic Language Institute in Cairo, where Bishop Demetrius was the chairman of the Coptic language department, which taught the Coptic language, including its phonetics, grammar, and writing.

In addition, a variety of courses are offered in churches in Egypt to teach the language.

“The Youth Bishopric course, for instance, focuses heavily on the Coptic language as it has two levels.” The first level is a preliminary level that covers signs and their pronunciations, while the second level studies Bible texts in the Coptic language to implement what we’ve learned in class,” Heshmat explained.

“The number of people who use Coptic as their first language is small, but they demonstrate that the language still exists,” he said.

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