Coptic alphabet

Coptic alphabet
Languages Coptic language
Time period
c. 200 BC to 18th century AD (Still used today in Coptic churches in Egypt and abroad)
Parent systems
Sister systems
Old Nubian
Direction Left-to-right
ISO 15924 Copt, 204
Unicode alias

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 Egyptian Demotic and is the first alphabetic script used for the Egyptian language. There are 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, 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 Orthodox Church of Alexandria to write their religious texts. All the Gnostic codices found in Nag Hammadi used the Coptic alphabet.

The Old Nubian alphabetused 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/. As the Coptic alphabet is simply a typeface of the Greek alphabet, with a few added letters, it can be used to write Greek without any transliteration schemes. Latin equivalents would include the Icelandic alphabet (which likewise has added letters), or the Fraktur alphabet (which has distinctive forms).

Alphabet table

Image maj. Image min. Unicode maj. Unicode min. Numeric value Name Greek equivalent Translit. (IPA)
1 Alpha Α, α a [a, ʔ, ʕ]
2 Bēta Β, β b, v [β~v]
3 Gamma Γ, γ g [ɡ]
4 Delta Δ, δ d [d]
5 Ei Ε, ε e [i, e][note 1]
6 So Ϛ, ϛ (stigma)
7 Zēta Ζ, ζ z [z]
8 Ēta Η, η ē / e [eː]
9 Thēta Θ, θ th / t' [tʰ]
10 Yota Ι, ι i [iː~j]
20 Kappa Κ, κ k [k]
30 Lamda Λ, λ l [l]
40 Me Μ, μ m [m]
50 Ne Ν, ν n [n]
60 Eksi Ξ, ξ ks
70 O Ο, ο o [o]
80 Pi Π, π p [p]
100 Ro Ρ, ρ r [r]
200 Sima Σ, σ, ς s [s]
300 Taw Τ, τ t [t]
400 Epsilon Υ, υ u / ou [uː][note 2]
500 Fi Φ, φ ph / p' [pʰ]
600 Khe Χ, χ kh [kʰ]
700 Epsi Ψ, ψ ps
800 Ōu Ω, ω ō / o [oː]
Ϣ ϣ Shay (none) sh / š [ʃ]
Ϥ ϥ 90 Fay Ϙ, ϙ (koppa)
(form, number)
f [f]
Ϧ (Ⳉ) ϧ (ⳉ)[note 3] Khay (none) x [x]
Ϩ ϩ Hōri (none) h [h, ħ]
Ϫ ϫ Janja (none) j / dzh [dʒ]
Ϭ ϭ Tshēma Ϙ, ϙ (koppa)
q / tsh [kʲ, tʃ][note 4]
Ϯ ϯ Ti / De (none) ti / de [ti, de][note 5]
  1. In Sahidic dialect, it is [i], while, in Bohairic dialect, it is [e].
  2. The vowel /uː/ is commonly written with ⲟⲩ not alone.
  3. The additional letter xai is in Akhmimic and in Bohairic, both for a velar fricative /x/.
  4. Some scholars constructed its pronunciation as [kʲ], while others as [tʃ].
  5. In Sahidic dialect, it is [ti], while in Bohairic dialect, it is [de].

Letters derived from Demotic

The following letters were derived from Demotic:

Hieroglyph   Demotic   Coptic
Ϣ š
Ϥ f
Ϧ x
Ϩ h
Ϭ q
Ϯ ti


In Unicode, most Coptic letters formerly shared codepoints with similar Greek letters, but a disunification was accepted for version 4.1, which appeared in 2005. The new Coptic block is U+2C80 to U+2CFF. Most fonts contained in mainstream operating systems use a distinctive Byzantine style for this block. The Greek block includes seven Coptic letters (U+03E2U+03EF highlighted below) derived from Demotic, and these need to be included in any complete implementation of Coptic.

Greek and Coptic[1][2]
Official Unicode Consortium code 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 ; Ϳ
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 9.0
2.^ Grey areas indicate non-assigned code points
Official Unicode Consortium code 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 9.0
2.^ Grey areas indicate non-assigned code points
Coptic Epact Numbers[1][2]
Official Unicode Consortium code chart (PDF)
  0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 A B C D E F
U+102Ex 𐋠 𐋡 𐋢 𐋣 𐋤 𐋥 𐋦 𐋧 𐋨 𐋩 𐋪 𐋫 𐋬 𐋭 𐋮 𐋯
U+102Fx 𐋰 𐋱 𐋲 𐋳 𐋴 𐋵 𐋶 𐋷 𐋸 𐋹 𐋺 𐋻
1.^ As of Unicode version 9.0
2.^ Grey areas indicate non-assigned code points

Diacritics and punctuation

These are also included in the Unicode specification.


Combining diacritics

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

See also


  1. 1 2 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.
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