The Coptic Alphabet


The language that was spoken in Egypt at all times  and until nearly the end of
the ninth century A.D. (250 years after the  Arab's conquest of Egypt)  was the
Egyptian language  with many dialects  thereof. Gradually, it started to  phase
out and got replaced  by the  Arabic language. By the end  of the 12th century,
the dominant language of  the  Northern part of  the country was the Arabic and
the South followed at the  end of  the 16th  century.  Three distinct phases of
the Egyptian language can be identified:

  1) Ancient Egyptian Language
  2) Intermediate Egyptian Language
  3) New Egyptian Language

The above languages were spoken in  many dialects in  different parts of Egypt.
The new Egyptian language is different from  the other two languages because it
started  as  a  colloquial spoken version of  the Egyptian  language. Later, it
replaced the classical Egyptian written language as well.

Parallel to the changes in the language there were changes in  the script.  The
Egyptian original script (Hieroglyphic) was time consumming because it required
elaborate  drawings.  Over   the centuries,  its  use became   limited to  tomb
decoration  and expensive artwork.   A  simplified version of  the Hieroglyphic
script, invented  and used  by  the  Priests and  authorities,  was called  the
"Heratic" script. The priests duties included writing  down marriage documents,
selling and buying documents,...etc. They    used the Heratic script for   that

For the  purpose of exchanging  written texts  among  people, a more simplified
version of the script --  called  the Demotic  script  --  was derived and used
during the intermediate Kingdom.  The demotic script  was introduced  about the
same  time  the  New Egyptian (colloquial) language   started  to  be used  for

The latest Hyrogliphic script  dates back to about  450 A.D. at  the  island of
"Anas AlWegood", where Idols were still worshiped at this place till this time.

The New Egyptian language is also known  as the "Demotic"  language since it is
the colloquial  Egyptian spoken by   the  people.  The  gradual replacement  of
Hieroglyphic  by Demotic  is similar  to  the   replacement of Latin by English
French, Italian, etc.
Coptic is  the common colloquial Egyptian. Its  roots  stem  from  from the New
Egyptian Language   and has  a  large similitude   with the version  of the the
Egyptian Language of the 25th  Kingdom (Saees  Kingdom named after its Capital:
At about  200  BC, Greek was  understood in places like  Alexandria due  to the
influence of the Greek  culture and religion.  In fact many Greek words entered
the Egyptian (Coptic) language at that time.  The Egyptians  adopted a phonetic
Greek alphabet for their language since  about 200 BC.  To suit their language,
they incorporated some  demotic letters  that varied from  11  to 5 and finally
settled for 7 (  +1  ) demotic letters,  forming a 32 alphabet  for  the Coptic
It should be noted that the words "Hieroglyphic/Heratic/Demotic" are scientific
names and are not the names of the scripts themselves as used by the Egyptians.

The following are the  characters of  the Coptic Language.  They are  listed in
their order  in  the  Coptic   Alphabet. The  ASCII  characters designated   to
represent each character  (according to a standard  developed by Copt-Net)  are
also given.

In addition  to the above letters, the  Coptic language uses a   special symbol
called the "Jenkem" as an apostroph. The Jenkem looks like the Latin Apostroph.

The Coptic  Language makes use of abbreviations as well, especially with  words
that are used frequently. An abbreviated word can be recognized by a bar on its
top. For example, the words for "Jesus Christ" (pronounced  Isoos  Pi'ekhrestos
in Coptic) are abbreviated as shown below (see also the Copt-Net Logo on top of
this Newsletter):

        ___  ___
            IHC  nXC  (Abbreviated forms of the words "Jesus" and "Christ")