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Old Bohairic Pronounciation

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Bohairic dialect in Bohairic pronounciation (B) was the one used by the Coptic Church all over Egypt, due to the availablity of its manuscript that were produced by monks of the desert of Shihat (Natron Valley), & the condition was so for many many centuries, & it's so until now, in a very few minority of churches in upper Egypt.

In the 1858-1860, there was a trial to merge the Coptic Church with the Greek Church so that one Patriarch be the head of both Churches in Egypt, but the trial did not succeed till now. The union of pronounciation of Coptic & Greek was one of the demanded requests as was witnessed.

The teacher of Coptic in the Patriarchal Church at that time was Arian effendi G. Moftah, he was very enthusiastic to the change of Coptic sounds, he made a project & applied it to do so.
       1. He thought that as long as Coptic & Greek have almost the same alphabet so they share the same pronounciation, thus any change of Coptic pronounciation towards Greek is a reform. This was his hypothesis.
       2. Also, the expected union between the 2 churches was a co-factor, to proceed.
       3. The Egyptians were at that time suffering stresses, & inferiority complex, due to the appearance of the French expedition (1798-1801) & the scientists of the expedition who stayed many years after the expedition left Egypt. Many people turned out thinking that whatever European is correct, due to the vast difference that was between Egyptians & French people.

The fact is that many languages share same alphabet, e.g. Latin alphabet is used in English, French, Spanish, Italian, German etc. but the phonetic value of sounds vary much from one language to another, imagine pronouncing parlez vous francais in English pronounciation, or a name like Southampton, in a french style. That is the difference in addition, Coptic borrowed Greek letters in approximate values to what they had at that time, Greek language itself was changed much overtime. Bohairic pronounciation (B) is a natural one, while the GB came as a synthetic man made one.

The pronounciation of Arian effendi G. Moftah was spread by the central power of the Klirikia (Theological Seminary), Patriarchal School and it took about 50 years to be generalized all over Egypt & used till now by almost all Churches except for a very few minority in upper Egypt that refuses any priest from outside their village.

Along course of spread, the Old Bohairic (B) pronounciation was mistakenly named by Arian's scholars as Sahidic, or that the change would help an expected merge. It was generalized after that.

The Old Bohairic pronounciation

It has got no strict rules of pronounciation, it is as variable as English, sounds much like a natural language, where you can not state what are the rules of pronounciation. It just comes by listening & practice.  It fits 100% with slang Egyptian tongue. Many consonants are the same as the Ecclesiastical pronounciation e.g. z,k,l,m,n,r,s,sh,f,kh, others are different. Here's a rough guide about its pronounciation.


    * Alpha (a, a) as in far & at
    * Wida (b,w) as in bad, was
    * Gamma (g,n,gh) ...
    * Dalda (d) as in duck
    * Eia (a) as in at
    * So (6)
    * Zada (z)
    * Hada(h) (a, ee) as in at, teen
    * Tita (t) as in town
    * I (i) as in pin
    * Kappa (K)    

    * Laula (L)
    * Mei (M)
    * Nei(N)
    * Eksi (X)
    * O (o,oa) as in off, oat
    * Bei (b) as in boat
    * Ro (R)
    * Sima (S)
    * Dau (D,T) as in do, wet
    * ha ( i, w) as in pin, how
    * Fi (F,B) as in fat, bat

    * Kei (K,sh, kh)
    * Epsi (ps)
    * Omega (oa) as in boat
    * shy (sh)
    * fy (f)
    * khy (kh)
    * hoary (h, h) as hat & occasionally, like haa (7a) in Arabic as in temsa7, 7arb,
    * djandja (dj) as in age
    * gshima (gsh, sh)
    * di (di) as in dig

from http://www.geocities.com/remenkimi/pronounciation.html

Scientific backup of Old pronounciation (prior to Arian's changes 1858-1860)

* 1. The names of Roman emperors written in hieroglyphic scripts
* 2. Spelling mistakes in hieroglyphs due to dictation
* 3. Quality of letters in Hieroglyphic & their phonetic values e.g. Hieroglyphic never included "Th", "dh" ,"v"
* 4. Spelling mistakes due to dictation of Greek names &/or specific terms e.g. Theotokos in Coptic.
* 5. Spelling variation & mistakes in typing Coptic itself, rendering same phonetic values for some letters e.g. in English some & sum
* 6. Coptic manuscripts transcribing Arabic, in Coptic letters, in other words manuscripts where Arabic is written in Coptic for educational purposes dating as far as 10th Century, where for example theta was always used to describe the letter "taa" & not "thaa"
* 7. Latin Phonetic transliteration done by various scholars dating from 16th upto 40's of last Century, done by Petraeus (1659), Maria Cramer, Rochemonix (1891), Georgy Sobhy (1915,1918), Worrell (1942)
* 8. Coptic manuscripts written in 3 columns Coptic/Arabicized-Coptic/Arabic translation, to aid people to read Coptic, in other words, manuscripts writing Coptic in Arabic letters, dating to 18th, & 19th Century, where events took place prior to Arian's era
* 9. Live evidence from a very few churches in Upper Egypt, that do not accept outsiders priests
* 10. Research & academic papers done by Georgy Sobhy, Worrell, Vischyl, Emile Maher, Hany Takla, Joseph Sedrak
* 11. Colloquial pronounciation of Arabic languages e.g letters as thaa, dhal, are always replaced by taa, & dal.
* 12. Ancient Greek pronounciation clarifying differences between it & modern Greek borrowed by Arian G. Moftah
* 13. Various records by Arian's contempoaray copts, who recorded the changes & commented about it.
* 14. Musicality & tonality of the Old pronounciation as compared to the new one proving its superiority & its matching with spoken languages.
* 15. The Coptic words that still survive in colloquial Egyptian dialect of Arabic, matches with Old Bohiric, but has nothing to do with Greco-Bohairic.
* 16. Other languages that borrowed the Coptic alphabet either completely or partially including Nubian, & Russian, Nubian borrowed almost all the alphabet & Russian borrowed 2 letters, they both have pronounciation matching with Old Bohairic.
All above evidences match with each other, making it a prefect close towards a real, authentic, living heritage named Bohairic pronounciation, that in addition to its being backed up with all these scinetific researches, evidences & findings, it's a living heritage that could be traced in egyptian colloquial dialect of arabic & in the churches that preserved this oral tradition, as well as its support by historical evidence dscribing the whole situation denoting a name of a person who did that & the year he did it, & the social circumstances for it. It's an unbroken chain, that can not be accused. Though scientific researches knows no shore as meterology or weather but it is like Anatomy or Geography, where you can't miss the arm or the presence of a mounatin, sea shore, rivers etc.

There's no point of suspecting defects with all above mentioned outlines, moreover, the Greco-Bohairic is not supported by a single evidence, instead it's accused not only by coptologists & coptic linguists but also by amateurs, & lay men who spend some time reading about Coptic or meditating in the names of people, food, villages & animal in colloquial egyptian dialect of arabic.

Recent History of Coptic pronounciation (19th-20th Century)

Since the very early introduction of Greco-Bohairic pronounciation  AD 1858-1860 it was met by severe resistance, that faded gradually due to Papal patronage of this pronounciation considering the sound one as informed by Arian G. Moftah

* Up to 1918 it was not that common in the Coptic Church.
* In 1938 it was spreading heavily where Coptologists where tracing  the remnants of the Old Bohairic
* By the 1950's it became almost the one & the only used in Coptic Church (except for a very few minority)
* In 60's of past Century Dr.Emile Maher (now Fr.Shenouda Maher)  appeared in the scene as a teacher of the Greco-Bohairic  pronounciation who has got no idea about Old Bohairic
* Few years later, Abba Shenouda the Bishop of Education (currently Pope Shenouda III) discovered a mansucript discussing changes  of pronounciation, which he handled to Dr.Emile Maher to study. The same study of phonetics was highly recommended by Shakir Basilios main teacher of Coptic at the klirikia
* Dr.Emile Maher started conducting this study, which was sponsored by Bishop Shenouda, he reviewed all available documents, books & manuscripts related to the subjects that are  present in Coptic Monasteries of Egypt, The Old Patriarchate manuscript Libray, the klirikia Library, the societe d'archeologie  Copte, other Catholic important libraries, in addition to audio recordings from the very few churches preserving this same heritage,  including a very rare recording of a 102 old man who as  born at 1860, & witnessed all the changes himself & still keeping by heart the old authentic pronounciation.
* In 1968, Dr.Emile Maher announced his re-discovery of the authentic Bohairic pronounciation
* The results were shocking to almost all, esp. because it's hard for  older Coptic teachers & heads of Coptic institutes to re-learn this pronounciation, so if they admitted it they would have to lose their positions or spend an effort to learn it.
* Envy, fear to lose positions (as told by eye witnesses, who refused to mention his name) were amongst the main causes towards a vigorous attack towards this  pronounciation, but, this led to no more than more enthusiasm to Dr.Emile to spread the re-discovery of the authentic  pronounciation
* 1972, two British Coptologists were in a visit to Egypt, they reviewed the works of Dr.Emile Maher, they offered him a post at Oxford UK to accomplish his studies. , the post was accepted, sponsored & encouraged by Pope Shenouda III, & Dr.Emile Maher travelled to spend about 2-3 years in United Kingdom
* 1975, Dr.Emile Maher returned to Egypt with a Ph.D from Oxford University entitled "about the Old Bohairic pronounciation.
* 1976, Dr.Emile Maher starts a massive education of Old Bohairic pronounciation to many Churches
* 1976, the Opening of the Institute of the Coptic Language for the Old authentic Bohairic pronounciation at the abba Rewais Cathedral which covers a space almost equal to the Insitute of Coptic Studies which includes Coptic Language, Coptic Music, African Studies, Coptic History, Coptic Art, Coptic Textiles and Coptic Theology.
* 1976, Pope Shenouda III, Abba Maximos Bishop of Qualybeyya, Abba Bishoy, Abba Timotheos attended special party congratulating  hundereds of students for their mastery of Coptic in the Bohairic (OB) pronounciation.
* 1979-1981, Institute of Coptic Language for Old authentic Bohairic pronounciation, continues teaching Coptic depending on its scientific superiority, without religious interference or supervision. It continues in its same place at the heart of the abba Rewais Coptic Orthodox Cathedral, which inclludes the Patriarchate building, the klirikia, Bishopric of Social Services etc.
* 1980's massive attacks towards the Insitute of Coptic Language, led by Dr.Shakir Bassilios & Fr. Theodosius of Syrian Monastery. Attacks included calling him Arius of Coptic Language, the Heretic, causative of schism etc. Most opnions renders these attacks to envy to this supreme success, fear to lose positions of this OB spreads, other opinions renders it to the strict nature of Dr.Emile Maher & the stubborn nature of his enemies to pronounciation
* 1990's Pope Shenouda orders Fr.Theodosius to return to his Monastery & not to re-attack the Institute
* Mid 1990's Pope Shenouda III ordains Dr.Emile Maher as a priest. which in turn shut down any mouth yelling he's a heretic
* Recent years, Fr.Shenouda Maher prays in Old Bohairic, teaches Old Bohairic, even the Church Chorus sings in Old Bohairic at the Church he serves in Rochester, NY, USA

Here are synopsis of commentaries by Coptologists who were interested in the field of Bohairic pronounciation.

About Bohairic (OB), as the only dialect used in Egypt & about the  term Sahidic

 "Bohairic is the only dialect known to the present-day Copts.."

"The term <Sahidic> (Sa'idi) nowadays is reserved exclusively for  the despised <old> pronounciation of Bohairic, as heared particularly among the peasantry of Upper Egypt"
(W.H.Worrell, Coptic texts Ann Arbor 1942)

About the comparison between the Old Bohairic (OB) & the new one GrecoBohairic.

"Among the peasantry of Upper Egypt, their survives in ceratin places a family tradition about the pronounciatio of Coptic,  which though extremely meagre, is genuine & superior to the pronounciation of the clergy emanating from Cairo. They have great pride in the posession of a family tradition & its superiority" (Worell, A short Account of the Copts, Michgan 1945)

About the discovery of W.Till that all the Coptic liturgical tradition is Bohairic & not Sahidic

    "Till, in 1929 reached the correct conclusion that traditional Coptic pronounciation is at best Bohairic not Sahidic" (Worell, Coptic sounds Ann Arbor 1934)

About the Greco-Bohairic naming it reformed pronounciation & the superiority of Old Bohairic over it.

"The reform pronounciation has introduced eroors & confusion"

"Reform should have been in the direction of the peasant tradition, but that was too much to expect. Instead, Modern Greek values were introduced systematically, & these values are unfortunately being taught by those who are backing the very creditable enterprise of reviving the Coptc language in Egypt. The old tradition is now to be found so far as I know, only in Upper Egypt, or among those who have come from there & who have not yielded to the pressure of the cities (Worell Coptic Texts Ann Arbor 1942)

About the introduction of Modern Greek pronounciation to the Bohairic

"The introduction of the Modern Greek into Coptic nowadays is often an affectation: as though one were to pronounce all the French words in English according to the present usage of Paris. If this is bad, how much worse it is to pronounce Coptic according to the artificial Erasmian Greek system which belongs to no race, age place or dialect..." (Worrell, Coptic Sounds)

"It is not necessary to suppose that the Copts took over Greek letters with exactly their current Greek values but only their approximate ones. Even sounds ordinarily identified in two lnaguges are rarely actually identical. That is the case, for example when Persian or Turkish is written in Arabic letters. It is not likely that Coptic and Greek vowels were identical" (Worell, Coptic Sounds)

About the Greco-Bohairic in educational books

"All modern books written on Coptic by native authors adopt more or less a mutilated form of Greek pronounciation & apply it entirely to their language. Unfortunately, none of our native authors here knows sufficient Greek to realise the outstanding  mistakes he is trying to form into rules applicable to the Coptic language" (Georgy Sobhy,Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 1915)

About the superiority of authentic Bohairic (Old Bohairic) over the Greco-bohairic pronounciation.

"I believe that an ordinary uneducated priest in reciting any Coptic prayer in Church pronounces the language much more correclty & naturally too than if he followed these erroneous rules set down in the modern Coptic books" (Georgy Sobhy,Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 1915)

About the superiority of inherited Coptic pronounciation (old Bohairic) over the Greco-Bohairic

"Its unbroken use in the Church has undoubtedly preserved its pronounciation, for it has been handed down from one generation of priests to another until our days; and in my own belief a priest who has learned to pronounce this language from his predecessor without the use of the modern sophisticated rules exhibited by Coptic authors in their writings does inherenlty pronounce it more rightly than any other man" (Georgy Sobhy,Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 1915)

About the introduction of the mutilated Greek pronounciation

"The soundest observation that Sobhy has made is that the introduction of an ignoranlty mutilated Greek pronounciation is to be depreceated"

About a text dating to the 10th Century were Arabic was written in Coptic letters, & comparing pronounciation of the 10th Century to the one used at the churches (Old Bohairic) that was used excessilvely at that time.

"The importance of these leaves is paramount. They teach (us) first of all how Arabic was pronounced in the period when the manuscript was written ... They also teach us that until the period at which the manuscript was written Coptic was still the language spoken by the monks & the Coptic church at least in Monasteries. Last of all, the most important result of studying these leaves is the knowledge we gain of the values of different letters in the coptic alphabet and their equivalents in Arabic. It corresponds most closely with the actual pronounciation of Coptic in the Church" (H.G.Evelyn White, New Texts from the  Monastery of St.Macarius NY 1926).

About a manuscript dating to 1722 written in coptic & arabiczed Coptic (Coptic written in Arabic letters)

"Here lies the value of the book which shows us how Coptic was universally produced in Egypt in the Early XVIII century A.D. & when we compare it with the earlier manuscript & with the manuscript of St.Macarius which was Arabic in language but Coptic in lettering we can hardly detect any difference whatever in the phonetic values of the letters or in the way they were pronounced. Going back still further in time we can, from the documents we have, prove the stability of this pronounciation through the ages. Even the glosses written over the demotic words in Greek letters in the demotic magical papyrus of London  & Leiden show that the pronounciation in our book is practically the same as demotic of the above manuscript, which brings us  back to IInd Century A.D. (Georgy Sobhy, Tradional Pronounciation of Coptic in Church of Egypt, 1940).

Thank you for posting this valuable information on the Bohairic dialect although I would have liked to share a point of view...
Concerning the Bohairic dialect...
You seem to cherish a holistic view of language without proposing minor differences due to geography...
If Bohairic is what it sounds, wherein lies the difference with Saihidic?
Please specify more and post a linguistic relationship with Saihidic.
Yours sincerely,


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