[Editorial note: [...] indicates use of Coptic or Greek text. Original script is available for viewing in the PDF format of this article.]
DIALECTS. The geographical characteristics of the habitable area of Egypt favored the subdivision of its language. One may note first of all two linguistic entities, “languages” rather than “dialects,” of very wide scope and more than local—indeed, more than regional—character. The first of these corresponds to the Nile Delta and the second to the Nile Valley above the Delta. These are in turn (probably in the Delta, certainly in the valley) subdivided into smaller linguistic units (see especially, although with partially divergent opinions, Kahle, 1954, pp. 193-278; Kasser, 1982; Krause, 1979; Layton, 1976; Vergote, 1973, pp. 53-59; Worrell, 1934, pp. 63-82; and DIALECTS, GROUPING AND MAJOR GROUPS OF and GEOGRAPHY, DIALECTAL).
It appears very likely that BOHAIRIC (B) was the indigenous language common to the whole of the Nile Delta. It is called a “vehicular,” or supralocal, language because it permitted the inhabitants of the different regions of this Delta (where each spoke his local dialect) to understand one another. (These local idioms very probably existed there, as elsewhere, even if the paucity of discoveries of texts in the soil of the Delta, which is too damp, prevents detection of these dialects; one among them could be the mysterious DIALECT G.) On the other hand, it is certain that the vehicular language of the whole valley of the Egyptian Nile above the Delta was SAHIDIC (S, accompanied for some time in the Theban region by DIALECT P, a PROTODIALECT that often looks like what can be known about the logical predecessor of S, a tentatively reconstructed *pS proto-Sahidic), an autochthonous language dominating (then tending gradually to stifle) the multiple local and regional dialects of this habitable zone, relatively narrow but extending for nearly five hundred miles.
Moving upstream from immediately above the Delta (the land of the Bohairic dialectal group), among the various local dialects of the valley that have left sufficient traces in extant texts, this article will follow the chain that runs from classical B (to the north) to A (the so-called AKHMIMIC dialect, which is frequently considered the ancient local dialect of Thebes and thus the most southerly of the known Coptic dialects). The first to call for mention will be the various subdialects of FAYYUMIC. Chief among those with lambdacism are F7, a kind of “north Fayyumic” presenting interesting consonantal it similarities with the Bohairic subdialect B74, a kind of “south Bohairic,” a transition between the dialects of lower Middle Egypt and B4 (cf. Kasser, 1981, p. 92), and B5, called “classical Bohairic,” still further to the north; F5, Fayyumic of classical type, abundantly attested but relatively late; and F4, of more ancient attestation, with some similarities with V. Chief among the forms without lambdacism are V, also called “south Fayyumic”; and, at the extreme southern limit of the “Fayyumic” group and almost in the MESOKEMIC dialectal group, the idiom W (or “Crypto Mesokemic with South Fayyumic phonology”). With Mesokemic, or Middle Egyptian (M), located immediately to the south of W, one is no longer in the Fayyumic dialectal group, Mesokemic being an independent group.
Should one then locate on the south of M (between M and L) the strange DIALECT H (also known as Hermopolitan or Ashmuninic)? In truth, it is rather difficult to locate exactly, despite the hypothetical name assigned to it; one must recall that some of its characteristics caused it to be considered formerly as a kind of Fayyumic, certainly very barbaric and, in any case, without lambdacism; however, many of its features also bring it close to S, in addition to its very evolved if not decadent structures (see METADIALECT). It is also very likely that the regional dialect that became the classical S, the vehicular language of the whole valley of the Egyptian Nile above the Delta, originated between M and L.
However that may be, according to the most common opinion of Coptologists, one then finds, further to the north of M, in the region of Asytut and upstream, the different varieties of LYCOPOLITAN, or Subakhmimic. “Subakhmimic” is a rather deceptive name and has been almost completely abandoned: it stemmed from the belief, held for some time at the beginning of the twentieth century and soon re-vealed to be untenable, that L was a kind of subdialect of Akhmimic, A, which it certainly is not, in any of its varieties. The varieties of L are L4, attested by the Manichaean texts; L5, found above all in an important Johannine manuscript, published by Thompson (1924); and L6, known from the published non-Sahidic Gnostic texts and from the Heidelberg manuscript of the Acta Pauli, published by Schmidt (1904, 1909). (With regard to these Lycopolitan or, better, LYCO-DIOSPOLITAN varieties, including DIALECT i, or proto-Lyco-(Dios)politan, pL, see kasser, 1984; Funk, 1985; and PROTODIALECT.)
Still further to the south, probably around Akhmim and perhaps even as far as Thebes (if not Aswan), seems to be the domain of Akhmimic, which was perhaps outflanked on the south (at Thebes and with P?) by some variety of L, which tended to function as a semivehicular, or supralocal, language (see DIALECT, IMMIGRANT); of this function L is to be dispossessed by the most vigorous and active vehicular language of the whole Egyptian Nile Valley to the south of the Delta—S.
It would be tedious to describe afresh here all these dialects and subdialects, each of which is treated, separately or in groups, in one or other of the special linguistic articles of this encyclopedia. Here, however, is a list of the sigla of these idioms, in alphabetical order and with mention of the article in which it is presented.
A See AKHMIMIC.
B Equals B5 in agreement with B4; see BOHAIRIC.
B4 Bohairic subdualect; see examples below and Kasser, 1981, p. 92.
B5 Classical Bohairic, in contrast to B4 in the rare cases of disagreement between B4 and B5; see BOHAIRIC.
B74 A kind of south Bohairic; see examples below and Kasser, 1981, pp. 93-94.
B74! See Below.
F Equals F5 in agreement with F4; see FAYYUMIC.
F56 A variety of F5 very often replacing [...] by [...]; presented with F.
F7 A kind of somewhat archaic “north Fayyumic”; presented with F.
G See DIALECT G.
H See DIALECT H.
H! See below.
I See pL
L Equal L4 in agreement with L5 and L6; see LYCOPOLITAN and LYCO-DIOSPOLITAN.
L4 Variety of L in the Manichaean texts; presented with L.
L5 Variety of L in the London papyrus of John etc.; presented with L.
L6 Variety of L in the non-Sahidic Gnostic texts and the Heidelberg Acta Pauli; presented with L.
M See MESOKEMIC.
P See DIALECT P.
PL See DIALECT i
S See SAHIDIC
V A kind of “south Fayyumic”; presented with F.
W A kind of “crypto-Mesokemic with South Fayyumic Phonology”; presented with F.
To allow readers who are no Coptologists to sample in some way the “music,” the sounds, of the Coptic language (truly an authentic form of the autochthonous Egyptian language) in its different dialectal varieties, it has seemed useful to present in Table 1 a list of some phonologically rather characteristic lexemes. These specimens illustrate the most striking characteristics of the dialects and subdialects. To make them more readily accessible, the Coptic is transliterated here, following the sytem chosen for the encyclopedia as a whole, but with the following remarks and adaptations.
The tonic accent of each word that has one is noted by an acute accent placed above the vowel concerned. [...] b in F56 and especially H is probably to be pronounced rather [v] (it is probably the same in G). [...] and oo in P (when this vowel duplication indicates simply “one” vowel, but accentuated [see Kasser, 1985], and not the tonic vowel followed by /’/ [see ALEPH]) are rendered respectively by [...] and [...] and not by [...] or [...] as everywhere else. In the autochthonous Coptic vocabulary of P, [...] is rendered by k and [...]. by [...] (the first possibly to be pronounced a little more to the back of the throat, somewhat like q qoph, the second rather to the front of the throat; but it remains most probable that the k in the autochthonous vocabulary P has the value of c in the other dialects, and the [...] of the autochthonous P (like the [...] of Copto-Greek p) that of k elsewhere. [...] in P is rendered by k(e). [...] in pL and [...] in P are rendered by ç (pronounced like the ch in German ich, or nearly like the initial h in English human, and thus to be distinguished from [...] sh, German sch). [...] in P is rendered by ’, (which one must beware of confusing with the apostrophe ’ which serves to distinguish s’h [...] from sh [...]). Finally, one cannot render the polyvalent [...] of the various Coptic idioms uniformly by c, for though c fits for A, L, M, and S, [...] in W, V, F4, F5, and H has probably the value of [...] (to be distinguished in pronunciation, without one’s knowing exactly how, from j [...]), and [...] in B5 and B4 has the value of jh. (P. F7, and B74 do not have any [...].)
Only the thirteen principal Coptic idioms and (sub)dialects are presented in the table, some supplementary linguistic forms appearing in addition in the footnotes to the table. Thus, L4, L5, and L6 are noted in relation to one another (L4 + L5 + L6 = L); W is noted in relation to V (= V4 + V5); F4 and F5 are noted in relation to each other; H! is noted in relation to H; B4 and B74 (and even G when its forms are attested, in a few cases only) are noted in relation to one another and to B, which is almost always identical with B5 (B4 + BS = B). An exclamation mark indicates “metorthography”; thus, H! and B74! are, respectively, H and B74 in metorthography. Metorthography is the new orthographic and phonological system toward which numerous copyists writing a dialect or subdialect are strongly tending; thus, in H! the final atonic vowel is [...]. rather than i; in B74! [...] will be replaced by h and the aspiration typical of Bohairic, still vigorous in B74 as in B4 and B5 (kh for k, ph for p, th for t, in certain well-defined conditions), will disappear (jh for j in B4 and B5 is already abandoned in B74).
[See PDF version of this article for Table 1: Characteristic Lexemes in the Principal Coptic Dialects and Subdialects]
Click tabs to swap between content that is broken into logical sections.