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Coptic alphabet
Coptic-render.svg
Script type
Time period
2nd century A.D.[1] to present (in Coptic liturgy)
Directionleft-to-right Edit this on Wikidata
LanguagesCoptic language
Related scripts
Parent systems
Child systems
Old Nubian
ISO 15924
ISO 15924Copt (204), ​Coptic
Unicode
Unicode alias
Coptic
 This article contains phonetic transcriptions in the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA). For an introductory guide on IPA symbols, see Help:IPA. For the distinction between [ ], / / and ⟨ ⟩, see IPA § Brackets and transcription delimiters.

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.

History

The letters of the Coptic alphabet
The letters of the Coptic alphabet

The Coptic alphabet has a long history, going back to the Hellenistic period, when the Greek alphabet was used 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 spiritual 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 Orthodox Church of Alexandria 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.

Form

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 and to show that these started a new syllable, others a circumflex over any vowel for the same purpose.[2]

The Coptic alphabet's glyphs are largely based on the Greek alphabet, another help in interpreting older Egyptian texts,[3] 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).[2] In addition to the alphabetic letters, the letter ϯ stood for the syllable /te/ or /de/.

As the Coptic alphabet is simply a typeface of the Greek alphabet,[4] with a few added letters, it can be used to write Greek without any transliteration schemes. Latin equivalents would include the Icelandic alphabet (which likewise has added letters), or the Fraktur alphabet (which has distinctive forms). While initially unified with the Greek alphabet by Unicode, a proposal was later accepted to separate it, with the proposal noting that Coptic is never written using modern Greek letter-forms (unlike German, which may be written with Fraktur or Roman Antiqua letter-forms), and that the Coptic letter-forms have closer mutual legibility with the Greek-based letters incorporated into the separately encoded Cyrillic alphabet than with the forms used in modern Greek.[5][6]

Letters

These are the letters that are used for writing the Coptic language.

Uppercase (image) Lowercase (image) Uppercase (unicode) Lowercase (unicode) Numeric value Letter Name[7] Greek equiv. Translit. Sahidic pron.[8] Bohairic pron.[8] Late Coptic pron.[9] Greco-Bohairic pron.[10]
Coptic Alpha-maj.svg
Coptic Alpha-min.svg
1 Alpha Α, α a /a/ /æ/, /ɑ/ /ä/
Coptic Beta-maj.svg
Coptic Beta-min.svg

[note 1]
2 Beta Β, β b /β/ /β/
(final [b])
/w/
(final [b])
/b/, (/v/ before a vowel [except in a name])
Coptic Gamma-maj.svg
Coptic Gamma-min.svg
3 Gamma Γ, γ g /k/
(marked Greek words)
/g/, ( /ɣ/ before ⲁ, ⲟ, or ⲱ) /ɣ/, /g/ (before // or /i/), /ŋ/ (before /g/ or /k/)
Coptic Dalda-maj.svg
Coptic Dalda-min.svg
4 Delta Δ, δ d /t/
(marked Greek words)
/d/
(marked Greek words)
/ð/, (/d/ in a name)
Coptic Ei-maj.svg
Coptic Ei-min.svg
5 Eey Ε, ε ə /ɛ/, /ə/
(ⲉⲓ = //, /j/)
/ɛ/, /ə/
(ⲓⲉ = /e/)
/æ/, /ɑ/
(ⲓⲉ = /e/)
//
Coptic Sou.svg
Coptic Sou.svg
6 Soou (6) ϛ
Ϛ, ϛ*
(
Greek Digamma cursive 07.svg
,
Greek Digamma cursive 04.svg
)
s͡t[note 2]


Coptic Zeta-maj.svg
Coptic Zeta-min.svg
7 Zeta Ζ, ζ z /s/
(marked Greek words)
/z/
(marked Greek words)
/z/
Coptic Eta-maj.svg
Coptic Eta-min.svg
8 Eta Η, η aa, ê // /e/ /æ/, /ɑ/, /ɪ/ //
Coptic Theta-maj.svg
Coptic Theta-min.svg
9 Theta Θ, θ th /th/ // /t/ /θ/
Coptic Iota-maj.svg
Coptic Iota-min.svg
10 Iota Ι, ι i //, /j/ /i/, /j/, /ə/
(ⲓⲉ = /e/)
/ɪ/, /j/
(ⲓⲉ = /e/)
/i/, /j/ (before vowels), /ɪ/ (after vowels to form diphthongs)
Coptic Kappa-maj.svg
Coptic Kappa-min.svg
20 Kappa Κ, κ k /k/ //, /k/ /k/
Coptic Laula-maj.svg
Coptic Laula-min.svg
30 Lola Λ, λ l /l/


Coptic Me-maj.svg
Coptic Me-min.svg
40 Mey Μ, μ m /m/


Coptic Ne-maj.svg
Coptic Ne-min.svg
50 Ney Ν, ν n /n/


Coptic Kxi-maj.svg
Coptic Kxi-min.svg
60 Exi Ξ, ξ ks /ks/
(only in Greek loanwords)
/ks/, [ks] (usually following a consonant, or sometimes when starting a word)
Coptic Ou-maj.svg
Coptic Ou-min.svg
70 O Ο, ο o /ɔ/ (ⲟⲩ = //, /w/) /o/ (ⲟⲩ = /u/, /w/) // (ⲟⲩ = /u/)
Coptic Pi-maj.svg
Coptic Pi-min.svg
80 Pi Π, π p /p/ /b/ /p/
Coptic Ro-maj.svg
Coptic Ro-min.svg
100 Roo Ρ, ρ r /ɾ/~/r/


Coptic Semma-maj.svg
Coptic Semma-min.svg
200 Seema Σ, σ, ς s /s/


Coptic Tau-maj.svg
Coptic Tau-min.svg
300 Tav Τ, τ t /t/ //, /t/ /d/
(final [t])
/t/
Coptic He-maj.svg
Coptic He-min.svg
400 Upsilon Υ, υ u /w/ (ⲟⲩ = //, /w/) /ɪ/, /w/ (ⲟⲩ = /u/, /w/) /i/, /w/ (between "" and another vowel except ""), /v/ (after /ɑ/ ( or // ()), /u/ (digraph "ⲟⲩ")
Coptic Phi-maj.svg
Coptic Phi-min.svg
500 Phi Φ, φ ph /ph/ // /b/~/f/ /f/
Coptic Khi-maj.svg
Coptic Khi-min.svg
600 Chi Χ, χ kh /kh/ // /k/
/k/, (if the word is Coptic in origin) /x/ (if the word is Greek in origin), /ç/ (if the word is Greek in origin but before // or /i/)
Coptic Pxi-maj.svg
Coptic Pxi-min.svg
700 Epsi Ψ, ψ ps [bs]
(only in Greek loanwords)
[ps], [ps] (usually following a consonant)
Coptic O-maj.svg
Coptic O-min.svg
800 Oou Ω, ω ô // /o/ // /o̞ː/
Coptic Sai-maj.svg
Coptic Sai-min.svg
Ϣ ϣ Shai (none) š /ʃ/


Coptic Fai-maj.svg
Coptic Fai-min.svg
Ϥ ϥ 90 Fai ϙ
(numerical value)
f /f/


Coptic Hai-maj.svg
Coptic Hai-min.svg
Ϧ (Ⳉ) ϧ (ⳉ)
[note 3]
Khai (none) x NA /x/


Coptic Hori-maj.svg
Coptic Hori-min.svg
Ϩ ϩ Hori (none) h /h/


Coptic Dandia-maj.svg
Coptic Dandia-min.svg
Ϫ ϫ
[note 4]
Janja (none) j /t͡ʃ/ /t͡ʃʼ/, /t͡ʃ/ /ɟ/ /g/, // (before // or /i/)
Coptic Cima-maj.svg
Coptic Cima-min.svg
Ϭ ϭ
[note 4]
Cheema (none) c // /t͡ʃʰ/ /ʃ/ //, [] (usually following a consonant)
Coptic Ti-maj.svg
Coptic Ti-min.svg
Ϯ ϯ
[note 5]
Ti (none) ti /t/ /i/, /ti/, /tə/ /di/ /ti/
Coptic Sampi.svg
Coptic Sampi.svg
900 Sampi Ϡ,ϡ
(numerical value)
  1. ^ seemed to have retained a [β] intervocalically in Late Coptic.
  2. ^ The upper line of s connected with t to distinguishes it from the standalone "s" and "t"
  3. ^ Akhmimic dialect uses the letter for /x/. No name is recorded.
  4. ^ a b Ϫ and ϭ seemed to have merged in Late Coptic into one phoneme, /ʃ/, with [ɟ] intervocalically.
  5. ^ When part of the digraph ϯⲉ, it is pronounced [de] in Bohairic.

Letters derived from Demotic

In Old Coptic, there were a large number of Demotic Egyptian characters, including some logograms. They were soon reduced to half a dozen, for sounds not covered by the Greek alphabet. The following letters remained:

Hieroglyph   Demotic   Coptic   Translit. Late Coptic pron.
SA
Demotic-character-š.png
Ϣ š /ʃ/
f
Demotic-character-f.png
Ϥ f /f/
M12
Demotic-character-ẖ.png
Ϧ x /x/
F18
Y1
Demotic-character-ḥ-2.png
Ϩ h /h/
U29
Demotic-character-ḏ-2.png
Ϫ j /ɟ/
k
Demotic-character-k.png
Ϭ c /ʃ/
D37
t
Demotic-character-ḏj.png
Ϯ di /di/

Numerals

Coptic numerals are an alphabetic numeral system in which numbers are indicated with letters of the alphabet, such as for 1.[11] The numerical value of the letters is based on Greek numerals. Sometimes numerical use is distinguished from text with a continuous overline above the letters, as with Greek and Cyrillic numerals.

Unicode

Main articles: Greek and Coptic (Unicode block), Coptic (Unicode block), and Coptic Epact Numbers (Unicode block)

In Unicode, most Coptic letters formerly shared codepoints with similar Greek letters, but a disunification was accepted for version 4.1, which appeared in 2005. 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 (U+03E2–U+03EF highlighted below) derived from Demotic, and these need to be included in any complete implementation of Coptic.

Greek and Coptic[1][2]
Official Unicode Consortium code chart (PDF)
  0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 A B C D E F
U+037x Ͱ ͱ Ͳ ͳ ʹ ͵ Ͷ ͷ ͺ ͻ ͼ ͽ ; Ϳ
U+038x ΄ ΅ Ά · Έ Ή Ί Ό Ύ Ώ
U+039x ΐ Α Β Γ Δ Ε Ζ Η Θ Ι Κ Λ Μ Ν Ξ Ο
U+03Ax Π Ρ Σ Τ Υ Φ Χ Ψ Ω Ϊ Ϋ ά έ ή ί
U+03Bx ΰ α β γ δ ε ζ η θ ι κ λ μ ν ξ ο
U+03Cx π ρ ς σ τ υ φ χ ψ ω ϊ ϋ ό ύ ώ Ϗ
U+03Dx ϐ ϑ ϒ ϓ ϔ ϕ ϖ ϗ Ϙ ϙ Ϛ ϛ Ϝ ϝ Ϟ ϟ
U+03Ex Ϡ ϡ Ϣ ϣ Ϥ ϥ Ϧ ϧ Ϩ ϩ Ϫ ϫ Ϭ ϭ Ϯ ϯ
U+03Fx ϰ ϱ ϲ ϳ ϴ ϵ ϶ Ϸ ϸ Ϲ Ϻ ϻ ϼ Ͻ Ͼ Ͽ
Notes
1.^ As of Unicode version 14.0
2.^ Grey areas indicate non-assigned code points
Coptic[1][2]
Official Unicode Consortium code chart (PDF)
  0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 A B C D E F
U+2C8x
U+2C9x
U+2CAx
U+2CBx ⲿ
U+2CCx
U+2CDx
U+2CEx
U+2CFx ⳿
Notes
1. ^ As of Unicode version 14.0
2.^ Grey areas indicate non-assigned code points
Coptic Epact Numbers[1][2]
Official Unicode Consortium code chart (PDF)
  0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 A B C D E F
U+102Ex 𐋠 𐋡 𐋢 𐋣 𐋤 𐋥 𐋦 𐋧 𐋨 𐋩 𐋪 𐋫 𐋬 𐋭 𐋮 𐋯
U+102Fx 𐋰 𐋱 𐋲 𐋳 𐋴 𐋵 𐋶 𐋷 𐋸 𐋹 𐋺 𐋻
Notes
1.^ As of Unicode version 14.0
2.^ Grey areas indicate non-assigned code points

Diacritics and punctuation

These are also included in the Unicode specification.

Punctuation

Combining diacritics

These are codepoints applied after that of the character they modify.

Macrons and overlines

Coptic uses U+0304 ◌̄ COMBINING MACRON to indicate syllabic consonants, for example ⲛ̄.[12][13]

Coptic abbreviations use U+0305 ◌̅ COMBINING OVERLINE to draw a continuous line across the remaining letters of an abbreviated word.[13][14] It extends from the left edge of the first letter to the right edge of the last letter. For example, ⲡ̅ⲛ̅ⲁ̅, a common abbreviation for ⲡⲛⲉⲩⲙⲁ 'spirit'.

A different kind of overline uses U+FE24 ◌︤ COMBINING MACRON LEFT HALF, U+FE26 ◌︦ COMBINING CONJOINING MACRON, and U+FE25 ◌︥ COMBINING MACRON RIGHT HALF to distinguish the spelling of certain common words or to highlight proper names of divinities and heroes.[13][14] For this the line begins in the middle of the first letter and continues to the middle of the last letter. A few examples: ⲣ︤ⲙ︥, ϥ︤ⲛ︦ⲧ︥, ⲡ︤ϩ︦ⲣ︦ⲃ︥.

Sometimes numerical use of letters is indicated with a continuous line above them using U+0305 ◌̅ COMBINING OVERLINE as in ⲁ͵ⲱ̅ⲡ̅ⲏ̅ for 1,888 (where "ⲁ͵" is 1,000 and "ⲱ̅ⲡ̅ⲏ̅" is 888). Multiples of 1,000 can be indicated by a continuous double line above using U+033F ◌̿ COMBINING DOUBLE OVERLINE as in ⲁ̿ for 1,000.

See also

References

  1. ^ Coptic alphabet/Great Russian Encyclopedia
  2. ^ a b 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.
  3. ^ Campbell, George L. "Coptic." Compendium of the World's Writing Systems. 2nd ed. Vol. 1. Biddles LTD, 1991. 415.
  4. ^ "Coptic". Ancient Scripts. Retrieved 2 December 2017.
  5. ^ Everson, Michael; Mansour, Kamal (2002-05-08). "L2/02-205 N2444: Coptic supplementation in the BMP" (PDF).
  6. ^ For example: The composer's name "Dmitri Dmitriyevich Shostakovich" is Дмитрий Дмитриевич Шостакович in Cyrillic, and Ⲇⲙⲏⲧⲣⲓⲓ Ⲇⲙⲏⲧⲣⲓⲉⲃⲓϭ Ϣⲟⲥⲧⲁⲕⲟⲃⲓϭ in Coptic.
  7. ^ Peust (1999.59-60)
  8. ^ a b Peust (1999)
  9. ^ Before the Greco-Bohairic reforms of the mid 19th century.
  10. ^ "The Coptic Language" (PDF). Coptic Orthodox Diocese of the Southern United States.
  11. ^ "Section 7.3: Coptic, Numerical Use of Letters" (PDF). The Unicode Standard. The Unicode Consortium. July 2016.
  12. ^ "Revision of the Coptic block under ballot for the BMP of the UCS" (PDF). ISO/IEC JTC1/SC2/WG2. 2004-04-20.
  13. ^ a b c Everson, Michael; Emmel, Stephen; Marjanen, Antti; Dunderberg, Ismo; Baines, John; Pedro, Susana; Emiliano, António (2007-05-12). "N3222R: Proposal to add additional characters for Coptic and Latin to the UCS" (PDF). ISO/IEC JTC1/SC2/WG2.
  14. ^ a b "Section 7.3: Coptic, Supralineation" (PDF). The Unicode Standard. The Unicode Consortium. July 2017.