Can you read Coptic?

Coptic is the most recent phase of ancient Egyptian. It is the direct descendant of the ancient language written in Egyptian hieroglyphic, hieratic, and demotic scripts. The Coptic alphabet is a slightly modified form of the Greek alphabet, with some letters (which vary from dialect to dialect) deriving from demotic. As a living language of daily conversation, Coptic flourished from ca. 200 to 1100. The last record of its being spoken was during the 17th century. Coptic survives today as the liturgical language of the Coptic Orthodox Church. Egyptian Arabic is the spoken and national language of Egypt today.

Source: Wikipedia on Coptic Language

Coptic, as used today, has signs of influence from the Greek language. If you speak Greek, you should be able to recognise every entry in the screenshot (it comes from the dictionary that is available from http://copticlang.bizhat.com/).

There is a Coptic Unicode block and there are at least three Unicode fonts available with Coptic glyphs.

I am not aware of a keyboard definition to write Unicode Coptic; Coptic uses several combining diacritical marks (accents) and appears to surpass even Ancient Greek/Polytonic in this respect. An easy way to create (easy to write with?) method would be to start from the Greek keyboard layout and replace the codepoints with the Coptic ones. For the 9 combining diacritical marks, three keys should be dedicated, accessible through 1) pressing as is, 2) pressing with shift, 3) pressing with Alt. To avoid using dead keys, there would be a requirement to type first the letter and then the diacritical mark.

In modern Greek we use the “;:” key (on the right of L) to produce the acute and the diaeresis (with Shift) accents. The second suitable key could be the ‘ ” key while the third the “/?” (debateable).

There are several efforts to convert non-Unicode fonts distributed by the Coptic Church. website. Moheb added the Coptic glyphs to the Freefonts. There is more work required to get them added by default to Linux distros. There is a discussion forum on Coptic.

Therefore, the most important task is to create a keyboard layout so that one can write in Unicode Coptic.

Then, existing (non-Unicode) text should be converted to Unicode Coptic so that there is material available. Moheb created support for this in iconv (glibc). There should be a bug report at http://sources.redhat.com/bugzilla/ under product glibc, component libc.

Source: Wikipedia (Coptic script)

There exist free Unicode fonts already to have the text displayed. The conversion of the Coptic Church fonts to Unicode would be beneficial as well. To have them included in Linux distros, the distribution license should be set to one of the FLOSS licenses. An option could be to add to the DejaVu fonts (allowed by the license) so that there is a general purpose open font that is easy to work with.

I, for one, would love to write Greek using a Coptic keyboard layout and a Coptic Unicode font. 🙂

Update: Screenshot that demonstrates how well Unicode Coptic fonts behave when combining marks are used.

Update #2: You can test the above on your system by opening this OpenDocument file using OpenOffice.org or any other OpenDocument-compatible application. OpenOffice.org was verified that it can show combining marks. Your mileage may vary, your comments will be appreciated.

Get Unicode fonts with Coptic coverage.

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