[Editorial note: [...] indicates use of Coptic or Arabic text. Original script is available for viewing in the PDF format of this article.]
MUQADDIMAH. Muqaddimah is the Arabic term for a grammar of the Coptic language in Arabic. When the Coptic language was facing extinction in the thirteenth century, Coptic scholars began to fix the rules of their own national and religious language in order to enable the reader to understand the Coptic of biblical and liturgical texts. These grammars, called muqaddimah (plural, muqaddimat), meaning primarily “introduction” or “preface” but also “account” or “statement,” were written in Arabic and used Arabic grammatical terminology. There is no reference to earlier Greek authorities, such as Aristarchos of Samothrace (217-145 B.C.), the creator of grammatical terminology, who lived in Alexandria, or to his pupil Dionysos Thrax, the author of the first Greek grammar, in only twenty-five paragraphs, a model for countless later treatises.
The creation of an appropriate grammatical terminology for Coptic was the work of several scholars using terms of the Arabic national grammar and adapting others to the spirit of the Coptic language. When comparing the different authors, one sees that there was a continuous progress in exactitude that reached its peak with the Qiladah of Athanasius of Qus, the longest and most elaborate such treatise that survives. The term muqaddimah has been retained by Arabic and Western scholars for independent treatises, such as Ibn Khaldun’s historical work. There is, however, a different form, muqaddamah, meaning literally “what has been proposed”, used in the sense of “preface [of a book]” (de Biberstein-Kazimirski, 1868, Vol. 2, p. 692) or “first chapter” (Al-Munjid, 1962, p. 613). In some dictionaries both forms (muqaddimah, muqaddamah) occur (Wehr, 1952, p. 669).
The first of these grammars is the Muqaddimah of Amba Yuhanna as-Samannudi (laic name al-As‘ad ibn ad-Duhayri) who was consecrated bishop of Samannud (western Delta) in 1235 by Patriarch Cyrillus in Old Cairo (Graf, 1947, Vol. 2, pp. 371-75). There are two versions: the Bohairic one (Codex Vaticanus Copt. 71) was published and translated into Latin by Athanasius Kircher (1643, pp. 2-20). A translation into French was done by E. Dulaurier, professor of Malay and Javanese and author of different publications on the Coptic language (Catalogue, 1849, pp. 360-64, 718-39); this (partial) publication brillantly illustrates the work accomplished by the Coptic scholar.
In Amba Yuhanna as-Samannudi’s work one can observe the birth of new grammatical studies. Some definitions seem to be somewhat primitive, but they nevertheless led to development of a real grammatical terminology. Thus, it is true that “words beginning with [...]” are masculine, those “beginning with [...] are feminine, and those “beginning with [...]” are plurals. He observed that masculine words in Coptic may be feminine in Arabic and vice versa, as with the Coptic feminine [...], fox or vixen, and the Arabic masculine ath-tha‘lab, fox; conversely, the masculine [...], earth, is the feminine al-ard in Arabic. There is almost no theory concerning the prefix conjugation, but the examples quoted are nevertheless helpful: [...] = li-kay natakallama, that we may speak; [...] = takallama, he has spoken; [...] = yatakallamu, he will speak; etc. At the end of the Muqaddimah there is a list of similar words: the reader has to distinguish between [...], brother; [...], robber; and [...], the sister.
The different chapters are reproduced and translated, sometimes accompanied with linguistic notes, so that the logical structure of the treatise becomes fully apparent. Dulaurier admired the logical composition of the Coptic possessive pronouns consisting of the definite article and the suffix pronouns: “C’est une idée très logique qui a conduit les Egyptiens à former leur pronoms possessifs de l’article déterminatif accru des marques des personnes” (e.g., [...], his, = article [...] and suffix = [...]).
When reading Amba Yuhanna’s Muqaddimah one is well aware that his work was a creatio ex nihilo, as there was no tradition of linguistic studies. He had to use grammatical terms of the Arabic national grammar and, when necessary, adapt them to the need of Coptic. His language is medieval Egyptian Arabic: mudakkar, masculine (= mudakkar), and muwannat, feminine (= mu’annath). Coptic words beginning with [...] are “indeterminate singulars” (mufrad bi-ghayr al-alif wa-l-lam, literally “singular without the letters al-,” i.e., without the Arabic definite article).
The postscript reads as follows: “This is the end of the Muqaddimah. Whoever will remark a mistake may note and correct it and in return for this service he may receive the retribution and the recompense that he merits” (Dulaurier’s text; omitted by Kircher, 1643). A Sahidic version of Amba Yuhanna’s Muqaddimah, probably the work of another scholar whose mother language was Sahidic, has been published in Arabic and Coptic, but without translation, by Munier (1930, pp. 46-64).
Al-Wajih Yuhanna al-Qalyubi (from Qalyub, north of Cairo) wrote a Coptic grammar to fulfill a wish of his friend Abu Ishaq ibn al ‘Assal. He was still living in 1271, for in that year he composed a funeral oration for Patriarch Gabriel. Instead of using the paradigmatic method of Amba Yuhanna as-Samannudi’s work, he began to establish rules for the morphology of Coptic. His introduction has been translated by Mallon (1906, pp. 126-29). Abu Ishaq mentions him in his own grammar as “the estimable, learned, venerable Sheikh al-Wajih Yuhanna, son of the Priest Michael, son of the Priest Sadqah al-Qalyubi” (Mallon, 1907, pp. 222-29).
Ath-Thiqah ibn ad-Duhayri was the author of a grammar in which he tried to improve on the works of Amba Yuhanna and al- Qalyubi. When he saw Ibn Katib Qaysar’s Tabsira, he noticed how it depended on the muqaddimat of as-Samanndi and al-Qalyubi. His Muqaddimah follows the Arabic categorization of words: ism (noun = substantive, adjective, numeral, pronoun), fi‘l (verb), and harf (particles, such as prepositions and conjunctions). Its appendix discusses some statements of Ibn Katib Qaysar’s grammar. It is now known that Ibn Katib Qaysar wrote an explanation of the Revelation of John 20:4 in AM. 983/A.D. 1266-1267, but after this passage the manuscript breaks off. It is thus certain that Ath-Thiqah’s Muqaddimah was written after that year, probably the year in which Ibn Katib Qaysar died.
Al-As‘ad Abii al-Faraj Hibat-Allah ibn al-‘Assal was a member of a famous family of Coptic scholars, the ‘Assalids (Mallon, 1906, pp. 109-131; 1907, pp. 213-64), being al-Safi’s brother and al-Mu’taman Abu Ishaq’s half brother; he lived in the first half of the thirteenth century. He, too, intended to improve as-Samannudi’s work. Bohairic and Sahidic are described in the same book.
An-Nushu’ Abu Shakir ibn Butrus ar-Rahib was the son of an archon and administrator of the Sarga Church in Cairo. The name an Nushu’ is in full Nushu’ al-Khilafah, which means “growth of the caliphate.” His activity in A.D. 1249 and 1264-1282 is known (Graf, 1947, p. 428). He was deacon at the Church of al-Mu‘allaqah in Cairo and wrote two voluminous theological treatises and a grammar. He endeavored to be more pedagogic than his predecessors, explaining the meaning of monoliteral prefixes ([...], [...], [...], [...], [...], [...], [...], [...], [...], [...]]) and translating complex word forms and sentences collected from the works of “the bishop of Sakha” and Ibn Rahal or Rahhal, as well as from biblical and liturgical books, hagiographic texts, and St. Cyrillus’ “Book of Treasures.” The introduction to his Muqaddimah has been translated by Mallon (1907, pp. 230-58). The origin of his biblical quotations is always indicated by sigla.
A grammar called At-Tabsirah (The Enlightment) is the work of Ibn Katib Qaysar, literally “son [in fact, grandson] of [the Emir] Qaysar’s secretary.” His full name (with genealogy) is Abu Ishaq ‘Alam ar-Ri’asah Ibrahim ibn ash-Shaykh Abu Th-Thana ibn ash- Shaykh Safi ad-Dawlah Abu l-Fada’il Katib al-Amir ‘Alam ad-Din Qaysar (i.e., his grandfather was secretary to Emir ‘Alam ad-Din Qaysar). His grammar, though appreciated by Abu Ishaq ibn al-‘Assal, depends both on as-Samannudi’s Muqaddimah and on Arabic grammar. Thus, he distinguished three numbers of the noun (singular, dual, plural) as in Arabic, while there are only two numbers in Coptic (singular, plural). Nouns are either primitive ([...], the earth) or composed ([...], the truth). If the pronouns are numbered 1-5 (singular) and 6-8 (plural), he gave the following order: 12674358. Also the relative pronouns are quoted as [...], [...], [...]. His examples are not always correct: [...], Egyptians, = Misriyun (Kircher, 1643, p. 27). In spite of this, Ibn Katib Qaysar was an authority in the exegetic field (Commentary on the Apocalypse, the Corpus Paulinum, the Catholicon, etc.; cf. Graf, 1947, p. 379).
Athanasius, bishop of Qus (Upper Egypt, north of Luxor), the author of the last and most complete Coptic grammar, was born near Qamulah (north of Luxor, but on the western bank of the Nile). His father, called Salib, was a priest and Athanasius became a monk in the nearby Monastery of St. Victor. His grammar, which has been transmitted in two versions, Sahidic and Bohairic, bears a rhymed title:
Qiladat at-Tahrir fi ‘Ilm at-Tafsir (Necklace of Redaction in the Science of Explanation), inspired by Arabic models. Nothing is known of his life, but there is a detailed study on his work by Gertrud Bauer (1972), who was able to collect some data on the time in which he lived. He mentioned a vocabulary called As-Sullam al-Kan’isi, by Yuhanna as-Samannudi, who died after 1257, so it is certain that he lived in the second half of the thirteenth century. It may even be that he lived into the fourteenth century, as there was then a bishop of Qus called Athanasius who was the author of several writings, including “History of the Myron-Consecration Under the Patriarch Gabriel IV” (ibid., pp. 11-12). That these two authors were the same person is probable but not absolutely certain, for Athanasius is even today a common name among Copts.
The Qiladah uses, as do earlier muqaddimat, Arabic grammatical terminology. In many cases, expressions occur with different meanings to meet the necessities of Coptic. In her study Bauer presented an exhaustive catalogue of Arabic grammatical terms used by Athanasius, in which she specified whether each was used in the sense of the Arabic authors or in a special sense for Coptic.
A harakah (movement) is in Arabic a vowel sign placed over or under a consonant; in the superior position it signifies a or u, and in the inferior, i. A muharrak is a consonant bearing such a vowel sign and is pronounced with a following vowel (a, i, u): ba, bi, bu. In Coptic the muharrak means something different, the auxiliary vowel preceding a word, such as the name [...], Gregorios (pronounced with a short central vowel, Eghreghoriyos, written [...]), in order to facilitate the pronunciation of a consonant cluster at the beginning of the word (ibid., p. 40).
In Arabic al-huruf az-zawa’id (additional letters) are the consonants ’, t, s, l, m, n, h, w, and y used as prefixes, infixes, and suffixes. In Coptic the same expression means the additional letters at the end of the Greek alphabet, that is, the letters of demotic origin, such as [...] (ibid., p. 123). Murakkab (composed) is a term created by Athanasius for the three letters [...], [...], and [...] (ibid., p. 124). Taksir jam‘ al-asma’ is not the phenomenon of broken plurals, as in Arabic (e.g., bayt, house, plural, buyut), but the normal plural form of Coptic nouns (ibid., p. 125). The jazm, in Arabic the modus apocopatus (as in lam yaktub, he did not write, not yaktubu, he writes)—that is, the vowelless form (third-person singular yaktub)—is in Coptic the imperative or the prohibitive (ibid., p. 126). Tashdid is in Arabic a gemination (double ll as in Allah, God), but in Coptic (Sahidic only) it means [...] = [...] and [...] = [...] (ibid., p. 127).
Like other Coptic grammarians, Athanasius adopted the classification of words in three categories: ism, noun; fi‘l, verb; and harf, particle. It is astonishing that there is not the slightest trace of the famous grammatical school in Alexandria. There are only four expressions derived from Greek terms: ahruf sawtiyah, vowels (fwn»enta); ahruf nawatiq, vowels (another translation of the preceding term); al-ahruf an-nisf nawatiq, semivowels (¹mifwna), in Arabic a postclassical formation; and ahruf sawamit, voiceless consonants ([...], scil. [...]; ibid., pp. 147-48).
Almost all quotations in the Qiladah are of biblical or liturgical origin, including even the beginning of Genesis in Sahidic, otherwise not conserved [...], “In the beginning God made the heaven and the earth” (ibid., p. 197). In any case, Athanasius did not wish to teach his readers Coptic as a spoken language.
Quite new are the phonetic paragraphs at the end of the book, where one finds, for example, the pronunciation of [...] as witah (-w), except at the end where it is bitah, as in [...], the priest (ibid., p. 230). Likewise, [...], is pronounced sh in four (or five) words, such as [...], a greeting ([...]), which survives even today in shara, but elsewhere it is [...], as in [...], soul, and [...], prayer, today pronounced ebsika and awka at Zainiyah Qibli, a village north of Luxor, and in other places.
At the end of his Qiladah, Athanasius spoke of the Coptic dialects still spoken in his time. There were still two dialects alive: (1) Sahidic, spoken from Aswan to Munyat al-Qays (i.e., Munyat Bani Khasib, today Minyah), and (2) Bohairic, spoken in the “Bohairah” (Buhairah), probably the northwestern Delta, in Old and New Cairo. A third, Bashmuric, formerly spoken in “the region of Bashmur” (probably the eastern Delta), was extinct.
Athanasius also spoke of Coptic words that sounded alike but were written differently (ibid., p. 306). He had decided to write a kind of poem called muthallath (threefold) to teach them to his readers. This verse form is Arabic and has been used in Coptic only once, in the so-called Triadon, the swan-song of Coptic literature.” It employs strophes of four lines; the first three rhyme with each other, but the last one rhymes with other last lines, producing the scheme aaab, cccb; dddb, and so on. There are some anonymous muqaddimat (Graf, 1947, Vol. 2, p. 446) not yet edited. Two scholars known to have written grammars are “the bishop of Samannud” and Ibn Rahal or Rahhal, both mentioned by an-Nushu’.
Together with the Coptic scalas (see SULLAM), the muqaddimat proved extremely important for the study of Coptic and Egyptian in Europe. Thanks to Athanasius Kircher’s Lingua Aegyptiaca Restituta (1643), Jean François Champollion was able to recognize the partly phonetic character of the Egyptian hieroglyphs, mainly because of the monoliteral pronominal suffixes, and to achieve their decipherment in a relatively short time. On the other hand, a Coptic priest, RUFA’IL AL-TUKHI (1695—1787), used Yuhanna as Samannudi’s Muqaddimah for his Rudimenta Linguae Coptae sive Aegyptiacae ad Usum Collegii Urbani de Propaganda Fide (Rome, 1778).
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