Coptic Language Primer


This manuscript is a basic introduction to the alphabet, pronunciation, and grammar of the Bohairic dialect of the Coptic language written for Arabic speakers by Iryan Moftah (1826–86). It is copied in a commercial notebook. The author divides each page vertically with text in Coptic script on the left and Arabic translation or explanation on the right. The manuscript is written in a bold black ink. Title and author are given on a label pasted on the front cover. The work is undated, but it is most likely from the mid-19th century. In addition to the alphabet, the author teaches formation of nouns, adjectives, adverbs, and telling time. The Coptic language, although no longer spoken by Egyptians, is of cultural and liturgical importance to Coptic Christians in Egypt and around the world. As a grammarian and teacher, Iryan Moftah participated in the educational and cultural reforms of the Coptic pope, Cyril IV (reigned 1854–61), which included advocacy of the Bohairic dialect as the vernacular of the liturgy. This dialect incorporated significant vocabulary and even pronunciation from Greek and on that account met opposition from some quarters, especially in Upper Egypt. It is not known whether Moftah’s primers were ever printed and used in schools and seminaries. His manuscripts on religious, historical, and linguistic subjects are preserved in the Iryan Moftah Collection of the American University in Cairo.

Last updated: July 21, 2014