Coptic alphabet

Coptic alphabet
Coptic alphabet
Type Alphabet
Languages Coptic language
Time period c. 300 AD to 14th century AD (Still used today in Coptic churches in Egypt and abroad)
Parent systems
Phoenician and Egyptian hieroglyphs
Sister systems Old Nubian
ISO 15924 Copt, 204
Direction Left-to-right
Unicode alias Coptic
Unicode range

U+2C80 to U+2CFF

U+03E2 to U+03EF
Note: This page may contain IPA phonetic symbols.
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The Coptic alphabet is the script used for writing the Coptic language. The repertoire of glyphs is based on the Greek alphabet augmented by letters borrowed from the Demotic and is the first alphabetic script used for the Egyptian language. There are, in fact, several Coptic alphabets as the Coptic writing system may vary greatly among the various dialects and subdialects of the Coptic language.



Coptic letters in a florid Bohairic script

The Coptic alphabet has a long history, going back to the Hellenistic period, of using the Greek alphabet to transcribe Demotic texts, with the aim of recording the correct pronunciation of Demotic. During the first two centuries of the Common Era, an entire series of magical texts were written in what scholars term Old Coptic, Egyptian language texts written in the Greek alphabet. A number of letters, however, were derived from Demotic, and many of these (though not all) are used in "true" Coptic writing. With the spread of Christianity in Egypt, by the late 3rd century CE, knowledge of hieroglyphic writing was lost, as well as Demotic slightly later, making way for a writing system more closely associated with the Christian church. By the 4th century, the Coptic alphabet was "standardised", particularly for the Sahidic dialect. (There are a number of differences between the alphabets as used in the various dialects in Coptic.) Coptic is not generally used today except by the members of the Coptic Church to write their religious texts. All the Gnostic codices found in Nag Hammadi used the Coptic alphabet.

The Old Nubian alphabet—used to write Old Nubian, a Nilo-Saharan language —is written mainly in an uncial Greek alphabet, which borrows Coptic and Meroitic letters of Demotic origin into its inventory.


The Coptic alphabet was the first Egyptian writing system to indicate vowels, making Coptic documents invaluable for the interpretation of earlier Egyptian texts. Some Egyptian syllables had sonorants but no vowels; in Sahidic, these were written in Coptic with a line above the entire syllable. Various scribal schools made limited use of diacritics: some used an apostrophe as a word divider and to mark clitics, a function of determinatives in logographic Egyptian; others used diereses over and to show that these started a new syllable, others a circumflex over any vowel for the same purpose.[1]

Coptic is largely based on the Greek alphabet, another help in interpreting older Egyptian texts,[2] with 24 letters of Greek origin; 6 or 7 more were retained from Demotic, depending on the dialect (6 in Sahidic, another each in Bohairic and Akhmimic).[1] In addition to the alphabetic letters, the letter ϯ stood for the syllable /ti/. The Coptic alphabet is more obviously Greek-based than the Cyrillic alphabet[citation needed], and may be compared to, say, the Latin-based Icelandic alphabet (which also has special letters at the end which are not in the original Latin alphabet). The Coptic alphabet in turn had a strong influence on the Cyrillic alphabet.[citation needed].

Alphabet table

image maj. image min. majuscule minuscule numeric value name Greek
translit. (IPA)
CopteAmaj.png CopteAmin.png 1 alpha Α, α a [a]
CopteBmaj.png CopteBmin.png 2 bēta Β, β w,v,b [w]
CopteCmaj.png CopteCmin.png 3 gamma Γ, γ g [ɡ]
CopteDmaj.png CopteDmin.png 4 dalda Δ, δ d [d]
CopteEmaj.png CopteEmin.png 5 ei Ε, ε e [i]
Copte6.png Copte6.png 6 su ϛ (stigma)
CopteZmaj.png CopteZmin.png 7 zēta Ζ, ζ z [z]
CopteYmaj.png CopteYmin.png 8 ēta Η, η ē,e [eː]
CopteTHmaj.png CopteTHmin.png 9 thēta Θ, θ th,t' [tʰ]
CopteImaj.png CopteImin.png 10 iōta Ι, ι i [iː]
CopteKmaj.png CopteKmin.png 20 kappa Κ, κ k [k]
CopteLmaj.png CopteLmin.png 30 laula Λ, λ l [l]
CopteMmaj.png CopteMmin.png 40 Μ, μ m [m]
CopteNmaj.png CopteNmin.png 50 Ν, ν n [n]
CopteKSmaj.png CopteKSmin.png 60 ksi Ξ, ξ ks [ks]
CopteOmaj.png CopteOmin.png 70 o Ο, ο o [o]
CoptePmaj.png CoptePmin.png 80 pi Π, π p [p]
CopteRmaj.png CopteRmin.png 100 Ρ, ρ r [r]
CopteCCmaj.png CopteCCmin.png 200 sēmma Σ, σ, ς s [s]
CopteTmaj.png CopteTmin.png 300 tau Τ, τ t [t]
CopteUmaj.png CopteUmin.png 400 he Υ, υ u,ou [uː]
CopteVmaj.png CopteVmin.png 500 phi Φ, φ ph,p' [pʰ]
CopteXmaj.png CopteXmin.png 600 khi Χ, χ kh [kʰ]
CoptePSmaj.png CoptePSmin.png 700 psi Ψ, ψ ps
CopteWmaj.png CopteWmin.png 800 ō Ω, ω ō,o [oː]
CopteSmaj.png CopteSmin.png Ϣ ϣ šai (none) sh [ʃ]
CopteFmaj.png CopteFmin.png Ϥ ϥ 90 fai (none) f [f]
CopteKHmaj.png CopteKHmin.png Ϧ (Ⳉ) ϧ (ⳉ) xai (none) x [x]
CopteHmaj.png CopteHmin.png Ϩ ϩ hori (none) h [h]
CopteJmaj.png CopteJmin.png Ϫ ϫ ḏanḏia (none) j,dzh [dʒ]
CopteTSHmaj.png CopteTSHmin.png Ϭ ϭ qima Ϙ, ϙ (koppa) q [q]
CopteTImaj.png CopteTImin.png Ϯ ϯ ti (none) ti [ti]
Copte r barre.png Copte r barre.png 900 psis nše (none)

Letters derived from the demotic:

hieroglyph   demotic   coptic
Demotique sh.png Ϣ š
Demotique f.png Ϥ f
Demotique kh.png Ϧ x
Demotique h.png Ϩ h
Demotique j.png Ϫ
Demotique tsh.png Ϭ q
Demotique ti.png Ϯ ti

The additional letter xai is in Akhmimic and in Bohairic, both for a velar fricative /x/.


In Unicode, most Coptic letters formerly shared codepoints with similar Greek letters, but a disunification has been accepted for version 4.1, which appeared in 2005. The new Coptic block, containing a distinctive Byzantine Coptic font, is U+2C80 to U+2CFF. The Greek block includes seven Coptic letters derived from Demotic, and these need to be included in any complete implementation of Coptic.

Greek and Coptic[1] chart (PDF)
  0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 A B C D E F
U+037x Ͱ ͱ Ͳ ͳ ʹ ͵ Ͷ ͷ ͺ ͻ ͼ ͽ ;
U+038x ΄ ΅ Ά · Έ Ή Ί Ό Ύ Ώ
U+039x ΐ Α Β Γ Δ Ε Ζ Η Θ Ι Κ Λ Μ Ν Ξ Ο
U+03Ax Π Ρ Σ Τ Υ Φ Χ Ψ Ω Ϊ Ϋ ά έ ή ί
U+03Bx ΰ α β γ δ ε ζ η θ ι κ λ μ ν ξ ο
U+03Cx π ρ ς σ τ υ φ χ ψ ω ϊ ϋ ό ύ ώ Ϗ
U+03Dx ϐ ϑ ϒ ϓ ϔ ϕ ϖ ϗ Ϙ ϙ Ϛ ϛ Ϝ ϝ Ϟ ϟ
U+03Ex Ϡ ϡ Ϣ ϣ Ϥ ϥ Ϧ ϧ Ϩ ϩ Ϫ ϫ Ϭ ϭ Ϯ ϯ
U+03Fx ϰ ϱ ϲ ϳ ϴ ϵ ϶ Ϸ ϸ Ϲ Ϻ ϻ ϼ Ͻ Ͼ Ͽ
1.^ As of Unicode version 6.0
Coptic[1] chart (PDF)
  0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 A B C D E F
U+2CBx ⲿ
U+2CFx ⳿
1.^ As of Unicode version 6.0

Diacritics and punctuation

These are also included in the unicode specification.


  • normal English punctuation (comma, period, question mark, semicolon, colon, hyphen) uses the regular Unicode codepoints for punctuation
  • dicolon: standard colon U+003A
  • middle dot: U+00B7
  • en dash: U+2013
  • em dash: U+2014
  • slanted double hyphen: U+2E17

Combining diacritics

These are codepoints applied after that of the character they modify.

  • combining overstroke: U+0305 (=supralinear stroke)
  • combining character-joining overstroke (from middle of one character to middle of the next): U+035E
  • combining dot under a letter: U+0323
  • combining dot over a letter: U+0307
  • combining overstroke and dot below: U+0305,U+0323
  • combining acute accent: U+0301
  • combining grave accent: U+0300
  • combining circumflex accent (caret shaped): U+0302
  • combining circumflex (curved shape) or inverted breve above: U+0311
  • combining circumflex as wide inverted breve above joining two letters: U+0361
  • combining diaeresis: U+0308

See also


  1. ^ a b Ritner, Robert Kriech. 1996. "The Coptic Alphabet". In The World's Writing Systems, edited by Peter T. Daniels and William Bright. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press. 1994:287–290.
  2. ^ Campbell, George L. "Coptic." Compendium of the World's Writing Systems. 2nd ed. Vol. 1. Biddles LTD, 1991. 415.
  • Quaegebeur, Jan. 1982. "De la préhistoire de l'écriture copte." Orientalia lovaniensia analecta 13:125–136.
  • Kasser, Rodolphe. 1991. "Alphabet in Coptic, Greek". In The Coptic Encyclopedia, edited by Aziz S. Atiya. New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, Volume 8. 30–32.
  • Kasser, Rodolphe. 1991. "Alphabets, Coptic". In The Coptic Encyclopedia, edited by Aziz S. Atiya. New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, Volume 8. 32–41.
  • Kasser, Rodolphe. 1991. "Alphabets, Old Coptic". In The Coptic Encyclopedia, edited by Aziz S. Atiya. New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, Volume 8. 41–45.

External links

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