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Coptic language

Coptic Language

Coptic Egyptian was spoken only in Egypt, and historically has had little influence outside of Egypt proper, with the exception of monasteries located in Nubia. Coptic's most noticeable impact has been on the various dialects of Egyptian Arabic, where an immense amount of words from the Coptic lexicon has been preserved as well as many morphological, syntactical, and phonological correspondences. There are also a handful of words of Coptic origin that have been borrowed more generally into Standard Arabic.

As an extinct language, Coptic does not have any official status. The mediaeval Bohairic dialect is, however, presently used as a liturgical language of the Coptic Orthodox and Coptic Catholic churches (along with Arabic and Greek).


Coptic possesses a number of regional dialects that were in use from the Mediterranean coast and south into Nubia, as well as the western oases. However, while many of these dialects reflect actual regional linguistic variations, some are more probably localised orthographic traditions and likely should not be taken as a true indication of linguistic variation. Some dialects are:

Sahidic (formerly called Thebaic) is dialect in which most known Coptic texts are written, and was the leading dialect in the pre-Islamic period. It is thought to have originally been a regional dialect from the area around al-Ashmunayn (ancient Hermopolis magna), but around AD 300 it began to be written in literary form, including translations of major portions of the Bible. Almost all native authors in Coptic wrote in this dialect. Sahidic was, beginning in the 9th century challenged by Bohairic, but is attested as late as the 14th century.

The Bohairic (or Memphitic) dialect is generally believed to originate in the western Nile delta. The earliest Bohairic manuscripts date to the 4th century AD, but most texts come from the 9th century and later; this may, however, be due to poor preservation conditions for texts in the humid regions of northern Egypt. It shows several conservative features in lexicon and phonology not found in other dialects. Bohairic is the dialect used as the liturgical language of the Coptic Orthodox Church.

Akhmimic was localised around the town of Akhmim (ancient Panopolis), and flourished during the 4th and 5th centuries, after which it became extinct. Akmimic is phonologically the most archaic of the Coptic dialects. One characteristic feature is the retention of the phoneme /x/, which is realised as /š/ in most other dialects. Similarly, it uses an exceptionally conservative writing system strikingly similar to "Old Coptic".

Lycopolitan (also known as Subakhmimic and Assiutic) is similar to Akhmimic in terms of when and where it was attested, though manuscripts written in it tend to be localised in the area of Asyut, ancient Lycopolis. The main differences between the two dialects seem to be only graphical in nature, though Lycopolitan was used extensively for translations of gnostic and Manichaean works, including the Nag Hammadi library texts.