What Do You Know About The Coptic Language?

By Shereen Azer

The Coptic Language is the Egyptian language, which the Church has preserved in its liturgies, prayers, books and scripts, after it became almost impossible to use as a spoken language because of the great persecution that it suffered from.

Many of the foreign rulers, threatened to cut the tongue of any Egyptian that was found speaking in Coptic, in spite of it being the ancient Egyptian language.

What do you know about our ancient heritage?

The Coptic language is the last stage of the old Egyptian dialect, which has been used in the Nile Valley for not less than 5000 years BC. At the time Christianity entered Egypt, it was used as the spoken language. With the advent of the Arabs (7th century) and spread of the Arabic language, many Copts entered into Islam, and so the Coptic language usage began to diminish in many places, except for Upper Egypt; where it was still used as the spoken language till the beginning of the 18th century.

Currently, it is used in our holy churches.

The credit in preserving the Coptic language, and later, being able to uncover the mysteries of the ancient language, actually, goes to the Egyptian Patriarchs. They used to issue strict orders, every once in a while, that it should be used in churches. For through learning it, the French scientist Jean Francois Champollion (1790-1831), was able to decipher the Hieroglyphic Language, and preserve to us all the knowledge and civilization of our ancestors.

Furthermore, because the Coptic language was used hand in hand with the Arabic language for a very long time, it left its prints in the Egyptian Arabic dialect. You can easily recognize it among all the other Arab-speaking people, to the extent of using many Coptic words and phrases as if they were Arabic in origin.

The Egyptian language, like any other language that has survived for more than 6000 years, was subject to various changes throughout time; beginning with the Pharaonic Kingdoms (Old, Middle and New), passing by the Greek and Roman rule, then entering into the Christian era, the Islamic, the Middle ages and finally our present time. Originally, it was written in Hieroglyphics on stone and papyrus paper, then in Hieratics on papyrus and clay vessels, and in Demotics toward the end of the kingdoms throughout the Roman era. It was finally written in Coptic around the 2nd century.

We can recognize in the Coptic language, at least, five main dialects. Interestingly enough, this is even clear among the various Arabic dialects within Egypt itself ... The first and main dialect is the Bohairic, which is predominantly used, then the Saidic, Ikhmimic, Fayoumic and Memphic. So let's try and learn the Coptic Language and regain our ancient glory and civilization.