Pre-Late Egyptian Reconstruction/Egyptian Pronunciation

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Most of this information comes from the masterminds of:

Werner Vycichl
Jozef Vergote
Sir A.H. Gardiner
Pierre Lacau
Antonio Loprieno
Helmut Satzinger
James P. Allen
Carsten Peust

Any contributing scholars not mentioned above will be added in future edits. Thank you for your hard work.

Consonants[edit | edit source]

f, p and b[edit | edit source]

m and n[edit | edit source]

  • These are pronounced as in English: bilabial nasal (m) and alveolar nasal (n).
  • It also appears that a vowel preceding m or n was strongly nasalized, culminating in n => velar nasal (ŋ) in sing or possibly uvular nasal (ɴ) at the end of a syllable when followed by specific consonants (like g, k, etc.); in other instances m and n may have had a geminated (prolonged) enunciation.
  • Original < n > develops into < m > when preceding the labials < p, m > and sometimes < b > but not < f >[1]. There are also indications that < q > could provoke an assimilation n > m at a Pre-Coptic stage. While < n > frequently assimilates to a following labial, m is normally unaffected in its place of articulation by a following consonant, except in a few Coptic words.
Note: This assimilation is not regular across a morpheme boundary. However, the final -ⲚCopt of some proclitic elements may develop into -ⲘCopt before a labial. Assimilation is common (obligatory at least in Sahidic)[2].
  • Another point to bear in mind is that Coptic neutralised the difference between /o/ and /u/ adjacent to /m/ and /n/. Therefore, besides disliking /o/ in unstressed syllables, Egyptian also replaced it with /u/ in certain phonemic environments. For instance, if /o:/ (Ⲱ <ō>) forms a syllable with preceding (non-syllabic) /m, n/, it is according to Layton “always manifested as /u/ (OⲨ <ou>)” and otherwise as /o:/ (Ⲱ <ō>). Layton (2000: 21) gives a paradigm example of the possessive prefix formation in single masculine, single feminine, and plural:
ⲠⲰ= <pō> /po/
ⲦⲰ= <tō> /to/
ⲚOⲨ= <nou> /nu/

Hence, /u/ is an allophone of /o:/ in Coptic.

The change from the standard vowel /o/ to /u/ takes place precisely after /n/. However, the Coptic phenomenon of reducing /o/ to /u/ adjacent to /m, n/ serves as a perfect example alongside other Egyptian-influenced variation in Greek. It is not regular. It sometimes shows in nonstandard spellings of Greek /o/ but it does not completely apply to Egyptian-influenced spelling of Greek, nor to the nonstandard usage of Greek loanwords in Coptic. Both have /o, u/ confusion that seems allophonic and is undoubtedly influenced by Egyptian, but not only after /m, n/[3].
Coarticulation is a regular feature in the nonstandard spellings of Egyptian scribes. Even in the examples provided by Girgis (1966, 81-82), /o/ is replaced with /u/ not only after /m, n/, but seemingly according to the consonantal environment. The tendency seems to point toward favouring /u/ with phonemes that might raise the vowel quality from /o/ to /u/, i.e. bilabials, dentals and liquids; one exception is replacing /o/ with /a/ (adjacent to liquids and bilabials) if it appears in a pre-stressed syllable, and with /u/ or /e/ if post-stressed. The sample so far is small, though, so more research is required to resolve the matter[4].

The Four H's: h, ḥ, ḫ, h[5][edit | edit source]

Egyptian < ḫ > frequently substitutes Semitic /x/ in New Kingdom loans.
Occasionally (irregularly) used in lieu of a voiced pharyngeal fricative (ʕ) from Semitic loan words[6].
This sound has two (Pre-)Coptic descendants: and the palatalized h. This occurred in the New Kingdom, with ḫj (h̭) occasionally used for older ḫ where the Coptic descendant is h . This new digraph in the New Kingdom indicates a secondary palatalization (x > x).
  • h has an interesting history. In the earliest time there was no phoneme corresponding to /h/. The sound /x/ corresponding to < š > was frequently palatalized to /sh/ in the Old Kingdom. One of the most widely accepted hypotheses for this sound is that the grapheme < š >, which formerly had represented a back fricative, thus became primarily a means of writing a palatal fricative. In the minority of words in which /x/ escaped palatalization, the preserved back fricative now had to be expressed by a different sign; for this purpose /h/ was invented [7].
It appears that most scholars believe this sound (agreed upon that it was an < h > of some sort) was a voiceless palatal fricative (ç), articulated with a hint of palatalization, especially from the Middle Kingdom onward. Other scholars claim this sound was initially a voiceless counterpart of < ḫ >, so that < ḫ > would have needed to be voiced - according to this scheme (and excluding the hypothesis of the split ḫ ~ h), ḫ was palatalized to < š > under certain environments.
The conditions for the palatalization of š > /x/ are not known. There is perhaps a connection to the palatalization of "back stops" discussed below in the section Palatalization under Palatalization caused by labials in the Old Kingdom[8].

š[edit | edit source]

  • voiceless palato-alveolar sibilant (ʃ). The consonants transcribed as h and š are regularly distinguished only after the Old Kingdom. Words with later h were at first regularly spelled š (but not vice versa).

s[edit | edit source]

  • This was a voiceless alveolar fricative (s), although originally there may have been a supplementary feature |+palatal| yielding an articulation close to - similar to the cluster [sj] occurring in English miss you.
  • In Ancient Egyptian, the sign 𓊃 (s=z) is said to represent a sound much like Arabic ز /z/ (though possibly, voiceless) and (ś) is said to represent 'unvoiced s', (presumably /s/ with post-aspiration).
There is some uncertainty about the values of these two signs. Worrell comments: "It would be strange if any language were without a plain s-sound and a plain z-sound, particularly Egyptian, since the Semitic languages all have a plain s and z." The Egyptian sign s is probably etymologically equivalent to old Semitic z (a voiced dental fricative ð) and is confused in Egyptian writing with d (𓆓; Ϫ partly derives from d), also a voiced sound, though it appears in all dialects of Coptic as voiceless s. The ś is not related to any voiced sound, nor ever confused with any. In order, then, to provide Egyptian with a plain s-sound and z-sound, it is necessary to suppose that the Egyptian sign s really represented z, and that the sign ś represented s; and that z (from z and ð) lost its voicing from the Middle Kingdom onward, and thus became plain s. That would explain why both Egyptian ś and s appear in all dialects of Coptic as Ⲥ.
To be sure, there is no reason why this fricative should lose its voicing in Egyptian: there is no general movement in Egyptian phonological history that would account for it. Nevertheless the unvoicing must have occurred, for Coptic has no z.[9]
Professor Johnstone comments: "Worrell here however makes difficulties for himself.. Ancient Egyptian is quite likely to have started with a series of voiceless unaspirated and aspirated consonants, as with a series of voiced and voiceless consonants ... By this criterion, /z̥/ (s) and sʰ would be a part of this series:
( z̥ ) ( sʰ )
Moreover, the z̥ / sʰ opposition fits well with the facts in Coptic ..." (Johnstone)
  • Worrell, in his comment on the Zeniya tradition, says, "The [Coptic] letter C is called sámma (Stern, sima, same; Steindorff, sīma), and is pronounced /s/ in all but a very few cases "It is palatalized to š, without any reason other than the presence of a front vowel in one word ⲤⲈ <ši> - yes ..." This is also noted and explained by Antonio Loprieno[10].

z[edit | edit source]

k, q and g[edit | edit source]

d and t[11][edit | edit source]

  • d may have been:
an ejective apical consonant t̺ˈ, or
an apical non-ejective d̺ (see the section Glides below)
Other hypotheses:
a laminal denti-alveolar (d̪) similar to Spanish, or
like the emphatic/pharyngeal of Arabic
Its actual pronunciation is a matter of debate but it may have been similar to an ejective apical t̺ˈ or apical non-ejective d̺ - indirect evidence is provided by ejective/aspirated alternations within some consonants, and by the Coptic change from orthographic d to t. Its disappearance in Coptic does not resolve the issue.
  • If we assume d ~ t̺ˈ, then t may have been t̺(ʰ), the non-ejective aspiratable counterpart of d.

d and t[edit | edit source]

a voiced velar stop (g) as in English gaggle, typically before the vowels / a, u, o /; or
a voiced palato-alveolar sibilant (ʒ / ž) sometimes before the vowels / e, i / ; a few rural speakers away from Cairo pronounce [ʒ] instead of [ɡ]
An interesting feature shown here is still questioned:
I too still presume that /j/ might have shifted into /g/ (in Egypt). Nonetheless Wadi Hanifa pointed out some historical notes suggesting that no changes have occurred, but instead Egyptian Arab speakers have retained an originally Yemenite pronunciation of /j/, which some claim to be /g/. However no body has provided any archaeologically authentic evidence for these indications so far. I wonder: how come no reliable scholar has ever taken this issue, in a scientific manner, into account?[12] An article here goes into further detail[13].
This means that a native palatalization feature (stemming from Ancient Egyptian palatalization) emerged against an Arabicized /g/ in an area where ancient Egyptian was once spoken, thus indirectly influencing the sound change. Further south in modern-day Egypt, the palatalization is distinctive in all Egyptian dialects:
Asyut - palatalized voiced velar stop / voiced post-palatal stop (ɡʲ)
Luxor - palatalized voiced dental / alveolar stop (dʲ), regarded as an affricate - ğ / dj
Aswan - d͡sʲ , an extremely unusual sound of which I have not been able to find any examples
Western Delta - voiced alveolar fricative (z)
In Ahmīm and Girgah (in Upper Egypt), the sound /d/ often stands for /g/. The people there say 'Dordy' for Giorgy, and 'Damian' for Gamian, and 'Dirdisi' for Girgiso. This however does not mean that they cannot pronounce the letter /g/; but to some people it is sometimes very difficult to pronounce the hard /g/. Their priests often say 'Dawardios' for Gawargios[14] In Minya and Asyūṭ (Upper Egypt); on the other hand, /d/ is sometimes pronounced /ɟ/. Also, Worrell notes: "In Luxor, Arabic ɟ > d before š: dēš for ɟēš and daḥs for ɟaḥš ..."
Thus the word camel (جمل - ɟamalStandard Arabic) is pronounced gěměl, ɡʲěměl, dʲěměl, and d͡sʲěměl, respectively.[15]
  • Ϭ ( t ) in Coptic appears to be a particularly uncertain and ambiguous letter but vocalized mostly as a generalized /š/. Another popular pronunciation is the unusual combination /gš/ or /ɟš/ specifically in the Bohairic Dialect spoken in and around Cairo. Ϭ is generally believed to have been some kind of /tch/ sound or even /k/, but seems to have been a rather unpopular sound, vanishing and being replaced by other similar sounds.

r and l[edit | edit source]

  • The Ⲗ ~ Ⲣ replacement is a well-known Fayyūmic peculiarity, but it is by no means confined to Fayyūmic.
  • Worrell comments on the AE /r-l/ sound: "Egyptian ꜥrj must have been pronounced with an /l/, because that word has an /l/ in the Semitic languages as well as in Coptic; ⲀⲖⲈ. There would seem to be no doubt that New Egyptian has an /l/. The Canaanitish /l/ was correctly heard; and was represented, like their own /l/, by the /n-/ sign or the /r-/ sign, or by a combination of the two"[18].
He adds: "It is true that the Fayyumic dialects (with more or less consistency) have an Ⲗ where all the other dialects have Ⲣ. But the other dialects have both Ⲣ and Ⲗ, and it is more likely that /r/ and /l/ have fallen together in Fayyumic, than that they have been differentiated in the other dialects. At the same time, it is possible that Egyptian writing lay under the influence of people who pronounced the /r/ in such a way as to remind one, of /n/ on the one hand, or of /l/ on the other. The sound /r/ has many possible transformations and must have been pronounced differently in Egypt at different times and places"[19].
It could be deduced from this evidence that /r/ raises the quality of /o/ in the same way as does nasalization[20]. Peust (1999: 240-243), however, suggests that vowel raising only appeared in front of /r/ in Semitic loanwords due to an originally velarised quality of Semitic liquids, still present in some of the more archaic vocabulary such as allah.
Often, /r/ lowers the quality of a preceding close vowel: < Ⲓ > /i/, < ⲈⲒ > /(e)i/, < Ⲏ(Ⲓ)> /ē(i)/ are often replaced with < Ⲉ > /ɛ/, and < Ⲉ >, < ⲀⲒ > /e/ are replaced with <a>[21]. Hence Coptic /r/ seems to retract a preceding vowel's quality, although /r/ generally seems to centralise vowels.

Glides & Weak Consonants[edit | edit source]

  • The Egyptian orthography < ꜥ > may have originally been a:
ejective apical consonant /t̺ˈ/ -- then eventually evolving into a glottal stop < ʔ > - currently the most popular theory
voiced dental apical non-ejective /d̺/ - this phonological change is termed the Rösslerian view, named after the scholar who first theorized it. [22] -- then eventually evolving into a glottal stop < ʔ > in the progressive dialect.
emphatic/pharyngeal /tˤ, dˤ/ -- then evolving into a pharyngeal < ˤ , ʕ >

The merging was achieved by the time of Middle Kingdom thus losing its consonant nature[23].[24]

  • After < ꜥ > adopts the pharyngeal sound value < ˁ > or glottal stop < ʔ >, there is a tendency for it to undergo dissimilation to < j > in the neighborhood of < ḥ >[25]:
ꜥḥ ~ jḥMEg - palace.
mḥꜥw ~ mḥjwMEg - flax
  • When < ꜥ > adopted the value < ˁ > or < ʔ > at about the time of the Middle Kingdom, it could be dissimulated to < j > in the neighborhood of < ḫ > (perhaps h), as it was in the neighborhood of < ḥ >[26].
  • This phoneme was generally believed to be The Egyptian Ayin a voiced pharyngeal fricative (ʕ), possibly a voiced epiglottal (pharyngeal) central approximate (ʕ̞), but this theory has slowly been disregarded by a majority of scholars.
  • Egyptian < ꜥ > was occasionally devoiced to /ħ/ and then retained in Coptic as Ϩ. This development is found primarily in Bohairic, but is by no means regular[27]

  • By the Middle Kingdom, < ɜ > turned into a glottal stop (ʔ)- which is similar to the gulping/choking sound found in the British pronunciation of bottle.
  • Was originally regarded as The Egyptian Aleph < ا , ʔ The Glottal Stop> but the glottal stop enunciation of this phoneme appeared to exist as a secondary feature during the Middle Kingdom and because of this experts have come up with new hypotheses.


  • Since prehistoric times |j| is believed to have represented a palatal approximate (j, ʲ).
  • By the beginning of the Middle Kingdom |j| assimilated into a glottal stop (ʔ, ʔ) before an unstressed vowel in initial position (jawīn > ʔawīn), as well as at the end of a syllable of a stressed syllable (bājnat > bāʔnat).
  • Roots with medial <j> / <ɜ> eventually conform to a hollow root in Coptic. In the older language there may have been other rules applied determining when to simplify the pronunciation/spelling, until now, there is not enough research but it can be thus assumed, when a root was used as a verb, medial <j> / <ɜ> was most likely omitted (or modified) because of constant fluctuations due to the additions of suffixes and nouns (or any verbal form being used as a noun) used the full pronunciation. For more examples and explanations, I have dedicated a page to the hollow verb here.[29]


  • Either represents y in yes or can be used in lieu of j. It appears to have been originally used for Afroasiatic y in loan words or group writing but also took on the unstable characteristics of Egyptian < j >.
  • There are also indications where < y > may have indicated, or at the least included, an indiscriminate vowel (possibly i, e or a).
  • < y > may have been the ancestor, or at the least the inspiration, of the Late Egyptian/Demotic letter < e >.


  • Is like it is in English labio-velar approximant (w).
  • Like Egyptian -j, w may have signaled a vowel rather than -Vw / -wV especially when used as a suffix/clitic/addition.
  • The diphthong -aw may have sounded like äʊ or äʊ̯ which is a popular pronunciation used in many Afroasiatic languages.

Elimination of Weak Consonants[edit | edit source]

  • /t, r, j, w, ꜥ and Ꜣ/ are deemed The Weak Consonants and usually will fall away at the end of an unstressed syllable[30]:
natǎrat ~ natǎraʔ
  • /t, r, ꜥ and Ꜣ/ can additionally also fall away even in stressed position:
jātraw ~ jāʔraw
  • /w/ is the most stable of the weak consonants appearing in most positions; that is if it was used as a consonant, there are instances, where, instead, /w/ indicated the presence of a vowel explaining its disappearance in Coptic (i.e., the participle forms and stative).
  • Sometimes other consonants such as /d, t/ (especially when assimilated to /t/ in later phases of the language), /m/, /n/, /l/ & periodically /b, p, k, ect.../ can all fall away in an inconsistent manner.
  • These phonological processes are not always indicated in the hieroglyphics (when they were most likely pronounced) but is majorly used in Coptic and to a lesser degree in Demotic.
As Matres Lectionis[edit | edit source]

In more recent developments, /ꜥ, Ꜣ, w, j, y/ may have signaled a vowel + semi-consonant syllable especially in combination with other glides, i.e., Ꜣj, jj, ꜥꜢ, ect. In this type of scenario the syllable structure changes in 3-rad words consisting of a medial /Ꜣ/ - bꜢk ... ultimately in these type of words we were probably dealing with eventual reduction: baꜢək ~ baaꜢk (a combined guttural long 'aaa' sound which quickly turned into an /oooo/ vowel); words like baaꜢk were spelled either with medial /Ꜣ/ or /0/ in the hieroglyphics... and sometimes in lieu of /Ꜣ/ we have /j ~ i/ especially at the end of a word. Medial /w & j/ had a tendency to completely vanish in speech or pronounced in a very light fashion which is possibly why in the hieroglyphs there can be found various spellings with and without /w & j/. /ꜥ/ followed a similar pattern to /Ꜣ/, except that in most cases the vowel was short and not long and the /a/ vowel generally continued to be pronounced /a/. Because of these inconsistencies it can be rather difficult to learn new words by just reading the hieroglyphics because you would have to first recognize the word being used in order to tell how that word may have been pronounced especially if the original scribe spelled the word in a reduced fashion.

Extra Notes on Weak Consonants[edit | edit source]

In group writing transcriptions of Semitic words, it is interesting to note that the Semitic consonants: ʿ, ḫ, ḥ and ǵ (Arabic Ghain/Ghayn: ʁˤ / ɣ~ʁ/) (which is transcribed as g or q in Egyptian) are all transferable to the Egyptian renditions. The diphthongs ay and aw usually appear in their contracted forms and Ꜣ usually represents Semitic r~l.

Emphatic/Pharyngeal VS Ejective/Glottal[edit | edit source]

There is some debate as to whether q, g, d, z, t, and d were emphatic, pharyngeal, glottal or ejective.

Emphatic groupings (a fancy way of implying pharyngeal characteristics /tˤ/) tend to be the most accepted theory in the field with glottalized groupings (a fancy way of implying ejective features /tˀ/) not far behind. In Egyptological sources, both emphatic and glottalized consonants are not entirely defined and instead can imply a much more broad spectrum of phonological features.

I have chosen to lean towards an ejective grouping of consonants, mainly because other Egyptian consonants were ejective in nature which causes speculation as to other consonants were as well and that these series of consonants constituted an ejective grouping- there is some indirect evidence in Bohairic orthography. Ejective consonants are also fairly prominent among other Northern African languages near to Egypt and extend down the Nile river into the Horn of Africa.

This diacritic /tʼ/, in IPA, can either represent Emphatic or Glottalized.

Palatalization[edit | edit source]

In Proto-Egyptian and Old Egyptian, under specific environments velar consonants shifted to their palatalized counterparts.

Original Modified
k t [31]
g, q d [32]
ḫ and h š

In Pre-historic Egyptian, those roots which appear to be an Afroasiatic (better analyzed as a Semitic) cognate which contained the vowel /i/ following the Afroasiatic consonant(s) /k, g/ sometimes /q/ (and some other consonants) shifted to their palatalized counterparts in Egyptian. It is also interesting to note, that this consonant + vowel combination constitutes one unit in Egyptian, in e., -kiPAA => tProro-Eg then a vowel was added unrelated to this original unit, possibly a schwa, i.e., -atə

-ki (2nd fem sing pronoun - you) = -at(ə)

Former /s/ (including /z/) frequently develops into a palatal sibilant < Ϣ > in Coptic by assimilation to another palatal in the word. The principal rules are the following[33]:

  • /s/ usually becomes ϢCopt if there is another Ϣ (< š) somewhere in the same word[34]:
zšn (possibly original zššn) - lotus ~ ϢⲰϢⲈⲚ
  • A palatal sibilant Ϣ which is derived from ḫ causes assimilation in Bohairic only[35], OⲨⲰⲤⳈA.:
ḫsf - to repulse ~ ⲤⲰϢϤS. (with metathesis), ⳈⲰⲤϤA., ϢⲰϢϤB.
  • If an original palatal stop (i.e. Ϭ / Ϫ < d, t) follows somewhere in the same word, /s/ is assimilated, though not always in all dialects:
sdd - to talk ~ ϢⲀϪⲈS., ϢⲈϪⲈA., ⲤⲀϪⲈB.
If it precedes, there is no assimilation:
tzj - ϪⲒⲤⲈS.A., ϬⲒⲤⲒB.
  • A palatal stop derived from g / k has an even less palatalizing effect. It can only affect < s > in direct contact:
sg - stupid ~ ⲤOϬS.
  • The palatalization of /s/ can occasionally already be observed in Demotic. In words of this type, palatal assimilation can be observed even earlier[36].

It is generally believed that Egyptian did not originally have palatalized consonants, but that they appeared under specific environments and continued to be used this way into Coptic sometimes with slight instabilities.

Palatalization caused by labials in the Old Kingdom[edit | edit source]

  • /k/ and /q/ are incompatible with /p/ and /w/ [37] (and perhaps other labials, for example /b/ ) within an Egyptian root and also shifted to their palatal counterparts.
kbw - sandals ~ tbw
kw (normally tw) - dependent pronoun 2nd pers. sg. masc.[38]
tp - to load, carry
wꜢd - green, yellow

Vowels[edit | edit source]

Numerous scholars of the 19th century to early 20th century, examining the Egyptian language in its infancy, hint at Egyptian, at its core, being a type of fusional hybrid language, at the most extreme an enhanced creolized language[39]. Whether this has to do with the concepts of other Afroasiatic languages being used to understand Egyptian to extract grammatical information, or Egyptian is, in fact a hybridized language, it is quite possible that Egyptian does not exclude nor entirely include the below mentioned theories but rather coalesces them thus culminating into the Egyptian language.

Vowels for Egyptian are fairly difficult to reconstruct since we don't much insight on the manner of exact articulation. In studies throughout the field there appears to be three major theories in regard to the Egyptian vowels and how they were used:

  • 1) the vowel was always a generalized /a ~ ə/ and due to the proximity of specific phonological and grammatical environments, as well as adaptations of foreign words /a ~ ə/ morphed into another vowel causing harmonious enunciation. We'll call this theory The a-Vowel Theory throughout this study. Representation of the vowels /i/ and /u/ were represented by phonemes if they were used.


They (i.e., the Akkadians) did not realize the tremendous advantage of vowels, but rather thought of syllables as single sounds. I think, distinction between consonants and vowels was realized much late. Egyptians and/ or Western Semites possibly heard not syllables, but only consonantal sounds.
~ Vadim Cherny[40]


Proto-Hebrew was unambiguous: the language had a single vowel /a/, which later evolved into other vowels according to syntactical accent. Differentiation of vowels runs exactly along morphological differentiation. Written languages beyond the Egyptian and West Semitic [languages] differentiate vowels even in shorthand writing. To omit the vowels is odd – unless vocalization was unessential or unambiguous.[41]


  • 2) the Semitic-centric vowel inventory of |a-i-u| (in the sense of templatic inflectional root patterning) could have existed since Prehistoric Egyptian times. We'll call this theory The |a-i-u| Vowel Semitic-centric Theory.
Popular theory among a group of scholars ... the |a-i-u| theory can add an extra layer of Semitic-ism that can distract from the identity of the Egyptian language as noted by several scholars opposing the |a-i-u| theory.
  • 3) Pharaonic Matres Lectiones existed since the Old Kingdom, this appears to stem from New Kingdom syllable writing as well as other Semitic languages which utilized a similar system. In this theory the semi-vowels are as follows[42][43]:
Ꜣ > a (a guttural/pharyngeal a sound)
ꜥ > a (a uvular/palatal a or l, j, y sound)
j/y > i (breathy a, e, i sound)
w > u/o (nasal vowel u /o )


  • In my own opinion, after relentlessly researching and studying the Egyptian language, I feel confident enough to opine that all three theories were used in Ancient Egyptian, in some way, as followed by the below rules:
  1. 1 - The a-Vowel Theory existed orthographically, unless /i/ or /u/ were intended as both vowels and consonants, i.e.:
ḥrw - day, I opine was originally pronounced: ḥarǔ (or ḥară, depended on vowel harmony), and in the plural it was most likely amended to ḥərăw (ḥrw.w) with the addition of the plural marker -w. Colloquially, and especially in fast speech, ḥarú was shortened to "ḥaw", interestingly the plural stayed the same "ḥərăw".
  1. 2 - The Semitic Theory also existed because there were 3 vowels being used: a, u, i, and all were used (I'd also like to add that the vowels ə-schwa and /e/ most likely existed alongside /a, u, i/)
  1. 3 - Matres Lectionis also existed in orthography, especially in group-writing, because it assisted in separating words into the proper syllables.

Realization of Egyptian Vowels [44][edit | edit source]

The following may be applicable using any theory:


  • Could have had one (or more) of these three vowel types, especially in regards to phonetic environments and its relationship to adjacent consonants:
an open central unrounded vowel (ä) -- Spanish rata
an open back unrounded (ɑ) -- similar to American English - hot but pronounce it like an /a/; spa, palm
or near-open front unrounded vowel (æ) -- American English cat, ash, laugh, hat
  • During the Late New Kingdom stressed /a/ turns into stressed /o/. There are periodic exceptions as well as confusion in regards to a stressed /a ~ o/ throughout the Coptic phase of the language (this is very similar to Hebrew).
  • In Coptic, the vowel /ɑ/ is typically represented by ⲁ, and its presence may be an indicator of emphasis spread in the same syllable, for example, ⲥⲁ (used in the construction 'man of [trade]') is transcribed ⟨sˤɑ⟩ in medieval Coptic-Arabic papyri and in some environments /a/ is a more forward [æ]


  • Could have had one of two pronunciations:
near-close near-front unrounded vowel (ɪ) -- American English sit, little
Close front unrounded vowel (i) -- American English green
  • In early New Kingdom, short stressed /i/ turns into short stressed /e/. This can also be regarded as a regular development in most unstressed syllables if utilizing < i >
  • According to the Semitic-centric |a-i-u| Vowel Theory, at a later date, |i > e| and short stressed /u/ merged into /e/[45].


  • It is to be noted that /u/ did not appear to be a functional vowel in ancient Egyptian. The only indication of it's possible existence is in Akkadian cuneiform and it's relationship to Coptic reflexes (not including /u/ used as an allophone of /w/). This indirectly explains the confusion of /u/ when scholars attempt to reconstruct the vowels in nouns, as if /u/ had not existed as an independent sound before the Canaanite Vowel Shift, then those words which were believed to have used /u/ fall under the normal /a/ paradigms of the a-Vowel Theory.
  • Original /u/ may have been pronounced as a close back rounded vowel (u) in all positions
  • or a near-close near-back vowel (ʊ) -- like American English hook / full but more on the upper of mouth with lips more compressed
  • According to the Semitic-centric |a-i-u| Theory -- At some point between the Middle Kingdom and Late Kingdom long stressed u may have been pronounced as a close back unrounded vowel (ɯ) due to the speakers' adaptability to enunciate (u) as an unrounded vowel in relation to the vowels /a, i/ - that is articulating /u/ with the lips unrounded rather than pressed together, just like one would pronounce /a/ or /i/[46].
  • Also According to the Semitic-centric |a-i-u| Theory -- During the Late New Kingdom long stressed /u/ turns into long stressed /e/.


  • Late Egyptian introduced to the Egyptian language a new sound, /o/. There are basically two theories in relation the o-vowel:
The Standard Interpretation - the difference between Ⲱ ~ O was of quantity/length and was based upon classical Greek:
Ⲱ = long /ō/
O = short /o/
or The Quality Theory - the difference between Ⲱ ~ O was of quality (a term in phonetics for the property that makes one vowel sound different from another), which is based upon research by Kuentz who questioned the standard interpretation. Worrell mentions coarticulation in relation to the vowel quantity hypothesis (following Vycichl) as a factor behind some of the variation. In his opinion, there were two variants for /e/ and /o/, a close one [o] near front consonants (such as /j/ and /w/) and an open one [ɔ] used with back consonants (such as /ħ/, a voiceless pharyngeal fricative). Likewise, there were an open [ɛ] and a close [e] treated along the same principles)[47]. In this representation, we have:
Ⲱ = Open-mid back rounded vowel (ɔ) -- American English thought but lower in throat[48]
O = Close-mid back rounded vowel (o) -- American English comb, old, telephone
  • The presence of /o/ appeared to only exist after the Canaanite Vowel shift, in a similar distribution to Hebrew.


Diphthongs and Triphthongs[edit | edit source]

In order to understand how diphthongs and triphthongs were pronounced, it is necessary to fully understand the way the vowels utilizing them were used. A majority of the following examples are taken from Coptic with reference to the hieroglyphics.

The Egyptian Semivowels[edit | edit source]

Sonja Dahlgren suggests that stressed syllables and unstressed ones both had a vocalic /u/ in Coptic, dependent on the phonemic environment, and therefore /i/ was probably also sometimes vocalic and sometimes consonantal. Depuydt (2003, 351-353) claims that the variation is partly conditioned by grammatical distinctions, the indefinite article OⲨ <ou>, /u/ being sonantic before nouns, but consonantic when preceded by some prefixal elements, such as certain conjugation bases and prepositions. These are, for example,[49]

ⲈⲨ < eu > (prep., 'to a..')
ⲀⲨ < au > (conjugation base of the perfect)
ⲈⲨ- < eu- > (circumstantial converter)
[w] (labiovelar approximant)[edit | edit source]

Sonja Dahlgren is not sure that the distinction between vocalic and consonantic is anything but a phonetic 'accident'. Depuydt himself believes this to be a simple result of speech rhythm, < ou > being pronounced as /w/ in rapid speech and as /u/ in slower articulation. Furthermore, Depuydt shows examples of this ‘sonantic/consonantic’ variation between two forms of the same verb, ⲤⲀϨOⲨ (sahou) 'curse' in absolute state (sonantic), and ⲤϨOⲨⲰⲢ (shouōr) ('curse' in status pronominalis). There are other examples, but in all of them the same pattern actualises, it seems to follow the same rules in Coptic as in nonstandard renderings of Greek, be it Greek texts or Greek loanwords in Coptic. A symmetrical alternation between consonants and vowels seems to be what was wanted, the phonemes being realised as consonantal after or before a vowel and vocalic in between two consonants or a consonant cluster.[50]

ⲤⲰOⲨⲚB, ⲤOOⲨⲚSF <sōwun> - to know[51] (swn - recognize; know)
ⲤOⲨⲚ-S, ⲤOⲨⲰⲚ=SFB <suwōn>, ⲤⲈOⲨⲰⲚ=S as in ⲤOⲨⲰⲚOⲨ <suwōnu> - to know them
ⲦⲰOⲨⲚSA2BF, ⲦⲰⲰⲚSA2 - to arise (dwn - to stretch out)
ⲤⲀϨOⲨ - curse (absolute state) - Ⲥ͡ϨOⲨⲰⲢ - status pronominalis
  • <w> is never lost before the stressed vowel.
  • <w> can be preserved or lost in pretonic position. The conditions are not clear. Sometimes there is dialectal variation in Coptic[52].
  • If a cluster of two glides directly follows the stressed vowel, only one of them is preserved in Coptic. Two different developments are possible for a cluster of two glides one of which is <w>. There appears to be no rule to predict which development applied[53] and the Coptic dialects may show different developments:
1) The first possibility is that Coptic has /w/, no matter whether <w> appears in the first or in the second position of the cluster in Egyptian. A good explanation would be that assimilation took place at some stage of the language:
jry.w - fellows ~ ⲈⲢⲎⲨS., ⲈⲢⲎOⲨB. ~ jarjǔw?!
gꜢw - narrow ~ ϬⲰOⲨ ~ gāꜢaw
gwꜢ - to push off ~ ϬⲰOⲨS., ϪⲰOⲨⲚB. ~ gāwaꜢ
tꜢw - wind ~ ⲦⲎⲨS., ⲐⲎOⲨB. ~ tǔꜢaw
tꜢ.w - to be taken (stative) ~ ϪⲎⲨS., ϬⲎOⲨB. ~ tǔꜢaw
djw - five ~ ϮOⲨS., ⲦⲒOⲨB. ~ dǐjaw
Note: The combination Ꜣw/jw usually renders OⲨCopt
2) Another possibility is that the first consonant survives in Coptic. Thus, if <w> is the first consonant, it is preserved:
nǐwiꜢ - to see ~ ⲚⲀⲨ
ḥāwaꜢ - to be rotten ~ ϨOOⲨS., ϨⲰOⲨB.
3) If <Ꜣ> is the first consonant, it can be preserved or lost in Coptic, as is true for word-final <Ꜣ>:
ḥkꜢw - magician ~ ϨⲀⲔOS., ⲀⲔⲰB.
ḥfꜢy.w - snakes ~ ϨⲂOⲨⲒS.B.
sbꜢ.w - discipline ~ ⲤⲂOⲨⲒS.B.
zꜢw - beam of wood (since Middle Kingdom) ~ ⲤOⲒS.B.
zꜢw - a town (Sais) ~ ⲤⲀⲒS., ⲤⲀB. - attested as sa-a-a (probably to be interpreted [sajɘ] or similarly) in Neo-Assyrian cuneiform transcription (see Borger 1996: 20)
Note:[54] If the preceding consonant was lost, the glide comes in direct contact with the stressed vowel. Therefore it preserves its consonantal nature in Coptic, however <j> is lost in the Sahidic dialect (on the phonological interpretation of the Bohairic forms):
jrj.j < jrj.w - (he) is done (3rd pers masc stative) ~ OS., OⲒB., ⲀⲒF.
mrj.t - to love ~ ⲘⲈS., ⲘⲈⲒB., ⲘⲈⲒⲈA.
hꜢj.t - to fall ~ ϨⲈS., ϨⲈⲒB., ϨⲈⲈⲒA.
r-prj.t - temple ~ ⲢⲠⲈS>, ⲈⲢΦⲈⲒB., ⲢⲠⲈⲈⲒA.; ⲀⲢⲠⲀⲈ / ⲀⲢΨⲀⲈOld Nubian - borrowed from the Bohairic form.
mꜢwt - to think (since Middle Kingdom) ~ ⲘⲈⲈⲨⲈS.A., ⲘⲈⲨⲈB.
tbw.t - sandals ~ ⲦOOⲨⲈS.A., ⲐⲰOⲨⲒB. - with irregular loss of [ b ].
Note II:If the preceding consonant was not lost, then it directly precedes the glide in Coptic. There is thus a tendency for the glide to be vocalized. <w> is preserved as a consonant in some dialects of Coptic, and vocalized to /u/ in others. <j> is always vocalized; however in most varieties of Coptic it does not develop into /i/ - as might be expected -, but it merges with /Ⲉ/. Only in certain varieties of Lycopolitan is it indeed written < Ⲓ > and thus kept distinct from the final vowel /ə/ that is written < Ⲉ >.
rsw.t - dream ~ ⲢⲀⲤOⲨS. [rasu], ⲢⲈⲤOⲨA., ⲢⲀⲤOⲨⲒB. [raswi], ⲖⲈⲤⲂⲒF.
mtw.t - poison ~ ⲘⲀⲦOⲨS. [matu], ⲘⲈⲦOⲨA., ⲘⲀⲐOⲨⲒB. [matwi], ⲘⲈⲦⲂⲒF.
pḥ.wj - back ~ ⲠⲀϨOⲨS.A. [pahu], ΦⲀϨOⲨB.
šnw.t- granary ~ ϢⲈⲨⲚⲒB. [shewni] with metathesis.
tzj.j > tzj.w ( < w > is only graphical) - to be exalted (stative) ~ ϪⲀⲤⲒL., ϪOⲤⲒS.
mnjw - herdsman ~ ⲘⲀⲚⲈS., should be ⲘⲀⲚⲒ in in Lycopolitan which is accidentally not attested.
3) Some words are attested with both developments which may be distributed over different dialects:
šmꜢ.w - aliens ~ ϢⲘⲘOⲈⲒS., ϢⲘⲘⲰOⲨB.; But -ⲰOⲨB. may also be a secondary development[55].
gꜢw - to be narrow; the infinitive develops into ϬⲰOⲨS. and the participle form is ⲔOⲨⲒS. - narrow.
The pluralic adjective ꜥꜢ.w - great, is preserved as the final component of certain compounds as follows:
ϨⲖⲖ-OⲈⲒS., ⳊⲈⲖⲖ-OⲒB., ⳈⲖⲖ-ⲀⲒA. - old men
4) We have an irregular development in
rwj - to depart, go away ~ ⲖOS.A2, ⲖⲀS.F. ... Carsten Peust states: It is unclear whether stress was originally on the first syllable (ra'wVj) or on the second (rV'waj). The vowel class can be explained in both cases, but the loss of <w> is irregular in any case... There are several other words which follow a similar pattern:
zwr (> zjr) - to drink ~ ⲤⲰS.B., ⲤOⲨS.A.A2
nꜥy.j (> nꜥy.w) - to go (stative) ~ ⲚⲀ
5) If the cluster contains only <Ꜣ> or <j>, then Coptic has /j/:
mꜢj - lion ~ ⲘOⲨⲒS.B. ( = muj)
ḥꜢ.ty-j - my heart ~ ϨⲦⲎⲒ
The following example is similar, but /j/ is lost in Sahidic:
dy.j - (he) is given (3rd pers. sg. masc. stative) > dy.w (w> is only graphical), ⲦOS., ⲦOⲒB. , ⲦOⲒⲈL., ⲦⲈⲒⲈA..
[j] (palatal approximant)[edit | edit source]

For example, the phoneme is consonantal in ϨⲒOⲘⲈ (hiome, hjomə), where it precedes another vowel, but vocalic in ⲤϨⲒⲘⲈ (shime, shimə), where it is situated in between two consonants. In ϤⲒ (fi), /fi/ it is again vocalic because a word consisting of only two consecutive consonants is difficult to pronounce, but consonantal in ϤⲀⲒ (fai), (faj), because it follows another vowel. So it seems that after or before vowels, it was probably realised as a glide in the spoken language; it was probably all related to ease of articulation in spontaneous speech. No doubt this allophonic variation was used to create morphological distinctions in Coptic (maybe more so than conditioned by it), but it does appear to prove that both ⲈⲒ < ei > and OⲨ < ou > had a vocalic realisation, contrary to what Haspelmath presents in his analysis of these two phonemes. And these phonological rules were probably used also in second language production.[56]

  • In Sahidic Coptic, the vowel version is always spelled < ⲈⲒ > in initial position; ⲈⲒⲚⲈ ~ (íne), ⲈⲒⲤ ~ (ís). Internally or in final position both < Ⲓ > and < ⲈⲒ > are used but < Ⲓ > is preferred.
  • In Sahidic Coptic, the combination < ⲈⲒ > less commonly < ⲈⲈⲒ > can indicate two separate letters, a knowledge of the grammar is needed to distinguish between the two uses, for example, ⲈⲒ has the value Ⲉ (vowel) + Ⲓ (semi-consonant):
1) in the demonstrative adjectives: ⲠⲈⲒ, TⲈⲒ, ⲚⲈⲒ ... ⲠⲈⲒⲢⲰⲘⲈ (pey-rōme)... same is true of ⲠⲀⲒ, TⲀⲒ, ⲚⲀⲒ
2) in the first person verbal prefixes of the forms -ⲈⲒ, -ⲚⲈⲒ, -ⲘⲈⲒ
3) and in a few isolated words like; ⲈⲒⲈ (eye) - a participle, ⲈⲒ (ey) - come
  • There are specific rules in how (and when) this sound was pronounced according to Coptic[57] [the same can be assumed in the earlier stages of the language with some modifications[58]):
  • Glides which directly precede the stressed vowel are normally preserved in Coptic:
ⲈⲒOⲘ (ym) - sea
ⲒⲈⲒⲢⲈ (jr.t) - eye[59]
But <j>/<ɜ> can also be lost. This concerns the following cases:
1) In most verbs <j> / <ɜ> is lost even before the stressed vowel[60]
2) <j> is usually lost before CoptⲎ (rule by Vycichl 1940: 87)
jꜢw.t - cattle, conserved in ⲦⲂⲚ-ⲎS., ⲦⲈⲂⲚ-ⲎB. - animal ... Note: jwꜢMEg - ox, long-horned cattle; 'w.tMEg - small cattle, goats, herds
jp.t - number ~ ⲎⲠⲈS., ⲎⲠⲒB.
jrp - wine ~ ⲎⲢⲠS.B.
-- An exception is Ꜣbw - Elephantine (name of a town) > ⲒⲎⲂS.. Note also rmy.t - tear (since Middle Kingdom) > ⲢⲘⲈⲒⲎ but ⲈⲢⲘⲎB.
3) There's a few others in Coptic with unexplained reasons for the loss of the glide.
  • A glide is usually retained if it directly follows the stressed vowel[61]:
OⲨϪⲀⲒ [widǐɜ] - to be healthy
ϨⲀⲒ [hy] - husband
  • <j> / <ɜ> is always lost in pretonic position[62]:
ⲀⲚOⲔ - independent 1st singular pronoun ... ect.
Pronunciation Rules of eta-Ⲏ[63]: According to Old Bahairic[edit | edit source]
  • eta < Ⲏ > can either be pronounced /a/ as in bath, or /i/ as in queen[64].
  • /a/ in closed syllables
OⲨⲎⲂ <uāb>
ϨⲒⲘⲎⲢ <himār>
ⲦⲎⲢOⲨ <dar-u>
ⲠϨⲎⲦ <ebhāt>
ⲚⲀⲎⲦ <naād>
ⲤⲎⲘ <sām> old testament name
ⲦOⲨⲎⲦ <ţuwāt>
ΓⲀⲂⲢⲒⲎⲖ <ġabriyāl>
ΔⲀⲚⲒⲎⲖ <danyāl>
ΔⲒⲀⲚⲎ - Diana (name)
ⲈϤⲢⲎⲘ <afrām>
ⲘⲰⲨⲤⲎⲤ <musās> or <mōysās>
Some exceptions include, but are not limited to:
(ϩ)ⲀⲘⲎⲚ <amīn> - borrowing from Ancient Greek ἀμήν (amḗn), from Biblical Hebrew אָמֵן‏ (ʾāmēn)
ⲒⲎⲤ (from ⲓⲏⲥⲟⲩⲥ which is a borrowing from Koine Greek Ἰησοῦς (Iēsoûs), from Biblical Hebrew יֵשׁוּעַ‏) is pronounced <yasūs> but more commonly <yisūs>, <īsūs>, <yisōs>, <īsōs> - Jesus ... coincidentally, this also explains the bivalent enunciation of Isis - ⲎⲤⲈ

< Ⲏ > in open syllables had two outcomes both used interchangeably without a reasonable explanation but in accordance with the indirect evidence of the Egyptian monophthongization theory stated above, it appeared /a/ was the original intended pronunciation, with an option to instead pronounce /i/ if one chose to especially if it was a reduction of a diphthong[65]. Despite the theory believed, a general rule is shown below:

  • /i/ in open syllables:
ΦⲎ <bi> or <bei>
ϢⲎⲢⲒ <šīri>
ⲀⲢⲔⲎⲖⲀOⲤ <ark-ī-laos>
  • and /a/ in open syllables
ⲬⲎ <ka>
ϨⲎ <ha> - front
ⲘⲎ <mā> - not
ⲘⲒⲎ <mjā> - lioness
ⲚⲎ <na>
ⲬⲎⲘⲒ <kāmi> - Egypt (ⲔⲀⲘⲒ is also attested)
ⲔⲎⲚⲒ <kāni> - fat
ϨⲀⲚOⲨⲎⲂ <hanuāb>
  • < ⲎⲒ & ⲎOⲨ > preferred /a/:
ⲎOⲨⲒ <ăwi>
ⲎⲒ <ăy> or <āj> - house
ⲢⲎⲒ <rāy> - a kind of fish
ⲘⲀⲐⲘⲎⲒ <mǎt-mai>
ⲈⲐⲚⲎOⲨ <at-nao>
ⲚⲒΦⲎOⲨⲒ <nei fǎui> or <nifāwi>
ϨⲢⲎⲒ <ɛh-rāj> - upward
ⲈⲠⲒⲎⲒ <abi-ai>
ⲤⲎⲒⲚⲒ <saj-ni> - physician
ⲘⲎⲒⲚⲒ <maj-ni> - sign
Example of co-articulation next to /s/ => ⲠⲒⲤⲎOⲨ <bi-siio>

In foreign transcriptions, there were several outcomes, in many instances it could also be /ě/,/ē/[66]:

ⲂⲎⲐⲖⲈⲈⲘ <bě-ět-laam> or <bǐ-ǐt-laam>
ⲈⲢⲰΔⲎⲤ <ěr-ô-das> or <irudas>
ϨⲎΓⲈⲘⲰⲚ <ě-ğǎ-mon>

Pronunciation Rules of Diphthongs and Triphthongs[edit | edit source]

Diphthongs and triphthongs in combination with the semi-vowels are one of the most trickiest things to master not only in Coptic but in the hieroglyphics as well... so, because of this, I have decided to jot down some pointers on how best to recognize these phonetic elements. I based these rules on the Old Bohairic Pronunciation with some additional notes from other sources whenever it deviates from the normal rules.

-ⲀⲒ <ay>
-ⲎⲒ <ay>, <āy>
-ⲈⲒ <ay> or <ey>
-OⲒ <oy>, <ōy>
-ⲰⲒ <ōy>, <oy>
* Sometimes Ⲓ disappears in -OⲒ / -ⲰⲒ and it is thus pronounced <ō>
ⲰⲒⲔ ~ ⲰⲔ <ōk>
ϬOⲒⲤ ~ ϬOⲤ <šōš>, <šōs>
-ⲀⲨ <aw>
* The /w/ sound of -ⲀⲨ is sometimes lost and the combination pronounced /a/ (notice that this example is in unstressed position):
fawķānī (an Arabic loan word) ~ fagāni
* On the other hand, CA. /aw/ is usually monophthongized in EA., and in other Arabic dialects, into /ō/ ... Similarly -ⲀⲨ, -ⲈⲨ in ritual expressions and in Coptic and Greek loan-words in Arabic are sometimes monothphongized into /ō/.
* Ⲱ sometimes stands for ⲀⲨ in dialectal equivalents
ⲈⲒⲰ for ⲈⲒⲀⲀⲨ - flax
ⲘⲰ for ⲘⲀⲀⲨ - mother
'ⲘⲘⲰ - there
ⲚⲰ - see
ⲚⲰ - time
ⲚⲰ - to them
ⲤⲚⲰ - two
-ⲈⲨ <aw> or <ěu>
ϢⲈⲨⲚⲒ (šnw.t) - barn, is always pronounced <šūna>
-ⲒOⲨ <īw>, <(i)yū>
ⲤⲒOⲨ <sīw> also heard <siyū> and <sio>
ⲒOⲨΔⲀⲤ <yudās>
-ⲎⲨ <āw>, <aw>
-OOⲨ <ow>, <ū>
-ⲰOⲨ <ōw>, <ō> sometimes <aw>
But <sōwn> ⲤⲰOⲨⲚ sometimes sounds like <sōun>
and after /o/ or /ō/ the /w/ is sometimes lost: hō, hū - ϨOOⲨ; mō - ⲘⲰOⲨ
-ⲒⲀ <ya>
-ⲒⲈ <ya> or <ye>
-ⲒⲎ <yā> or <ya>
ⲘⲒⲎ <mjā> - lioness
(Ϩ)ⲒⲎⲂ <(h)jāb> - sewing
-ⲒO <yo> or <yō>
-ⲒⲰ <yo> or <yō>
-OⲨⲀ <wa>
ⲈⲐOⲨⲀⲂ <atwāb>
ⲬOⲨⲀⲂ <kwab>
-OⲨⲈ <wa> or <we>
ⲈⲤOⲨⲈⲚ <asoúān>
-OⲨⲎ <wā>, <wa> sometimes <wī>
OⲨⲎⲂ <wāb>
ϪⲈ OⲨⲎⲒ <ja waj>
OⲨⲎⲢ <wīr>
-OⲨⲒ <wi>, <uwi>, and sometimes <ūj> in some words
OⲨⲒⲚⲀⲘ <(u)winam>
ϨOⲨⲒϮ <(h)uwīdi>
OⲨⲒ <wī>
ⲔOⲨⲒ <kūy>
-OⲨO / -OⲨⲰ <wo>, <wō> and rarely <'ūō>
  • It is not uncommon for some diphthongs to be monophthongized (for example with the usage of eta-Ⲏ, as shown in the above sections)
  • αι in Greek words included in Coptic texts is usually rendered by Ⲉ, less commonly by Ⲏ, Ⲁ or even Ⲩ. This may indicate the early tendency among the Copts to monophthongize diphthongs
  • In dialectal equivalents sometimes Ⲁ stands for ⲀⲒ

Unstressed Syllables[edit | edit source]

The unstressed syllable, in Egyptian, based upon renditions of Egyptian words in Coptic, Cuneiform, Arabic, Greek as well as other linguistic sources appears to have been a schwa-like vowel-ə along with some indications of co-articulation with the adjacent consonant in some instances of unstressed syllables. Some dialects also show a different vowel in final vowel unstressed position, for example:

Sahidic and Achmimic = -Ⲉ (ⲢⲀⲘⲈ / ⲢⲀⲘⲎ[67][68])
Bahairic and Fayyumic = -Ⲓ (ⲢⲀⲘⲒ)
... Kasser (1991a) lists dialectal variants in which F7, a Fayyumic subdialect (according to Kasser an archaic, northern form of Fayyumic), has the form sôtom - hear, listen, in a list in which all other dialects, including other Fayyumic variants, have sôtem, sôtm, or sôtme, sôtm(e). The stress was on the first syllable long vowel, leaving the final syllable unstressed. It seems clear that the various forms listed here employ different strategies in which to display the unstressed vowel’s quality, and bearing in mind that Coptic phonetically had no unstressed < o >, the F7 marking of the final syllable with < o > must be a graphic convention for schwa in that dialect. In Kasser (1991c), he elaborates that F7 specifically used < e > (sometimes i) after a closed tonic syllable, in a closed atonic syllable with a sonorant as the final, but < o > before the bilabials < m > and < b > (such as in sôtom). Other Fayyumic dialects (generally Fayyumic) used < e > also for this purpose. Marking the unstressed syllable with < o > is therefore an exception and possibly limited to some coarticulatory purposes as bilabials tend to lower the quality of close vowels, as mentioned before, as well as round the vowel quality[69]...

  • In reference to Coptic renditions of Greek words:
... The first group consists of the depiction of the (often word final) unstressed syllable’s vowel, which fluctuates between /a/, /e/ and /o/, most often taking the graphemic variant <e>. This is probably due to Coptic influence, in which the reduced unstressed vowel was customarily marked with <e>, although certainly this could also be seen as fronting of /o/ to /e/ adjacent to coronal consonants[70] ...
  • In reference to Coptic renditions of Greek words:
... there are instances where the same is happening in Greek stressed syllables. The vowel quality is altered, and often seems to follow that of the adjacent consonant, thus acting like the vowels in the unstressed syllables[71]...

Syllabic Consonants[edit | edit source]

Among the examples cited by Layton are syllabic consonants /l/, /p/, and /b/. This could be what is going on in ⲖⲈⲂⲈⲚOⲨ(Ⲥ)[72] <lébenous> from the standard (λίβανος) <líbanos> whose vowels are all nonstandard – it is possible that the syllable peak was on /b/, and the surrounding vowels are simply assimilated to the quality of the consonant, /b/, a bilabial, able to lower the quality of close vowels, and raise the quality of open ones[73].

In Coptic, any consonant could be syllabic or non-syllabic, i.e. any one of the consonants could form the nucleus of a word and act as the syllable peak, and no vowel was necessary for a given syllable (Layton 2000, 28-30); however, mostly this concerned sonorants (Peust 1999, 263-264)[74].

One of the most distinctive features of Sahidic spelling is the short stroke placed over certain consonants or groups of consonants. This supralinear stroke, as it is called, indicates a syllable, but there is some disagreement among Coptic scholars on how this syllabification actually sounded in the spoken language. When the stroke is used over a voiced consonant such as N, it probably meant that the consonant is functioning as the the final n of English button and sudden... The voiced consonants capable of having this syllabic pronunciation are β, λ, Μ, Ν, ρ, known mnemonically as the blemner consonants.[75]

Some examples of odd supralinear stroked or syllabic words[76]:

Ⲛ̄Ⲛ͡ⲚⲚⲀⲂⲈ (b = Ϥ or OⲨ in this word) - the first n must have been separated by the 2nd n by a change of pitch or stress, otherwise the word would have been indistinguishable from: Ⲛ͡ⲚⲚⲀⲂⲈ. The second syllable must have been a long n to prevent further confusion with Ⲛ̄ⲚⲀⲂⲈ... in my opinion, Ⲛ̄Ⲛ͡ⲚⲚⲀⲂⲈ = n̩-nen-na-be, Ⲛ͡ⲚⲚⲀⲂⲈ = nen-na-be, Ⲛ̄ⲚⲀⲂⲈ = n̩-na-be, all with appropriated stress alignment when necessary.
Difference between the pair ϢⲖ͡Ⲗ and ϢⲖⲎⲖ (for example), could be a syllabic ϢⲖ͡Ⲗ (shə-l-l̩ or esh-l-l̩) vs ϢⲖⲎⲖ (shə-lēl). Same is said of Ⲃ͡Ϭ ~ ⲂⲎϬ and any similar pairs... something to note, in these examples in my opinion, we are probably more dealing with a reduced vowel rather than a syllabic word.
Words like ⲤⲤⲰⲦ͡Ⲙ and Ϣ̄ϢⲈ (in lieu of Ⲥ̄ϢⲈ) are rather odd. They are often regarded as some sort of consonant lengthening possibly resulting from a preceding/adjacent word or from an attached auxiliary unit (? need more information on this topic). Same is even more true of words like: ⲔⲔⲰ, ⲠⲠⲒⲚ and ⲦⲦO, with the initial syllable tending to be lengthened adjacent to a sonorous sound.

Coarticulation and Stress-Related Allophonic Distribution (in Arabic loan words)[77][edit | edit source]

Egyptian also has a phonological rule regarding vowel fronting or retraction according to the quality of the adjacent consonant, in Arabic philology called imāla. Imāla is the Arabic linguistic term for the effect of consonantal coarticulation on vowels, meaning a vowel shift from /a, aː/ to /e, eː/ everywhere but near the emphatic consonants, uvulars, (to a lesser degree) the pharyngeal consonants /ħ/ and /ʕ/, and /r/. Examples of this phonological process are below using Arabic words rendered in Coptic:

  • Unstressed /a/ retracted to /e/
dānaq ~ ⲦⲀⲚⲈⲔ (tanek)[78]
  • Retraction of /a/ to [ɑ] adjacent to a uvular stop[79]
al-qārūra ~ ⲀⲖⲔⲀⲢOOⲢ (alkaroore)
  • Retraction of /u/ to /o/ before /r/ (in stressed position)[80]
al-qārūra ~ ⲀⲖⲔⲀⲢOOⲢ (alkaroore)
  • Retraction of /u/ to /o/ after /r/ (in stressed position)
al-rūbʿ ~ ⲀⲢⲢⲰⲠⲀ (arrōpa)
  • Retraction of /i/ to [ɑ] adjacent to pharyngealised stop
al-miṯqal ~ ⲀⲖⲘⲀⲦⲔⲀⲖ (almatkal)
  • Retraction of /a/ to [ɑ] adjacent to pharyngealised stop
al-miṯqal ~ ⲀⲖⲘⲀⲦⲔⲀⲖ (almatkal)
  • Raising of /a/ to /e/ adjacent to a velar stop[81] (in original stressed position)
al-kātib ~ ⲀⲖⲬⲈⲐⲒⲠ (alkʰetʰip)
  • Arabic ayin marked with Ⲁ <a> /a/
al-rūbʿ ~ ⲀⲢⲢⲰⲠⲀ (arrōpa)
  • Assimilation of article /l/ to /r/ adjacent to a coronal consonant
al-rūbʿ ~ ⲀⲢⲢⲰⲠⲀ (arrōpa)
  • Retraction of /a/ to [ɑ] after a uvular (in unstressed position)
al-qabāla ~ ⲀⲖⲔⲀⲠⲈⲖⲈ (alkapele)
  • Raising of /a, aː/ to /e/ near /b/ and /l/ (in stressed position)
al-qabāla ~ ⲀⲖⲔⲀⲠⲈⲖⲈ (alkapele)
  • Retraction of /i/ to /e/ before /r/ (in stressed position)
dǐrham ~ ΔⲈⲢϨⲀⲘ (děrham)
  • Retraction of /a/ to [ɑ] after /h/? (in unstressed position)
dǐrham ~ ΔⲈⲢϨⲀⲘ (děrham)

What I can perhaps offer as further detail is the probable use of Coptic orthographic practices, i.e. word-final /a/ marking with <e>, i.e. phonetically schwa, and the use of /o/ instead of /u/ in stressed syllables.

The same applies for features stemming from Coptic phonology: for instance the allophony of /o/ and /u/ according to Coptic stress patterns is a feature related to the phonological structure of the language in terms of phoneme distribution, but again the outcome of it in spoken language seems phonetic because it is tied to the effect of the stress in the word: quite simply, the mid vowel /o/ cannot as easily hold a distinct phonetic value in an unstressed position, it will be easily reduced to schwa, whereas /u/, a close vowel, is easier to distinguish in any position.


The importance of stress in Egyptian for (vowel) phonemic value can also be seen when looking at some attestations of the (e, i) variation. According to Girgis, unstressed (i) usually held its value in Greek loanwords in Coptic but in some instances, albeit rarely, it could vary with (e) as in λεгεωɴ from (legiōn) 'legion', and in some cases further on with the supralinear stroke. On the other hand, also stressed (i) could vary with all of the graphemes mentioned for the unstressed one, and likewise with Ⲉ (e), although even more rarely than in unstressed syllables; but again, even the vowel stroke can replace (i). It can therefore be concluded that although (i) could become subject to variation if it was in a weak position, it was nevertheless capable of sustaining its quality even in unstressed syllables.


... the date of the adoption of the word (Migdol[82]) by the Egyptians probably preceded that of the well-known papyrus in which a scribe of conservative views bitterly laments that young fashionable Egyptians used a number of Semitic words alien to their true and better mother tongue. It apparently became changed from its true pronunciation after its importation into the Egyptian vocabulary because there is every reason to believe that the ancient Egyptian town names Ma-k-to-ra or Ma-k-ti-ra are this word[83]...


Sound Changes[edit | edit source]

Victor (with penultimate/initial stress: Víctor) is coarticulated and changed in colloquial Arabic into fuktur, buktur or buķțur. ⲔⲨⲢⲒⲖⲖOⲤ (Κύριλλος) is pronounced krullus. ⲈⲠⲒⲤⲔOⲠOⲤ (επίσκοπος) is sometimes spelled ⲈⲠOⲤⲔOⲠOⲤ and pronounced <aboskobōs>. ϨⲈⲢⲈⲦⲒⲔOⲤ (αιρετικός) - heretic, is transcribed as harțūķi in Arabic.

Victoria is pronounced fakturya/faktūrya. ⲂⲀⲤⲒⲖⲒOⲤ <basalyōs>, ⲠⲒⲤⲦⲀⲨⲢOⲤ <basțawrōs>, ΦⲒⲖOⲐⲈOⲤ <faltawōs> and telephone <talafōn>, telegraph <tallaġrāf>, television <talafazyōn>.

Stress-Tone[edit | edit source]

Egyptian appears to have had a distinct stress pattern culminating in various vocalizations if stress is relocated (according to Coptic spellings- one must thus adduce that this also occurred in the earlier phases of the language[84]). First we'll go into some identifiable stress rules:[85]

1.) If the ultimate syllable is long (i,e., CV́C or CVCC) then that syllable is always prominent.
* ⲠⲈϤϪⲰⲘ (CVC-CV́C) - his book
* ϮⲚⲀⲈⲢϨⲰⲂ (CV-CV-CVC-CV̄C) - I shall do work
* ϮⲚⲀⲂⲰⲖ (CV-CV-CV̄C) - I shall lose
* ϮⲚⲀⲂOⲖϤ (CV-CV-CV́CC) - I shall lose it
2.) Words of which the ultimate syllable is not long have for the most part the penultimate syllable prominent
* ⲢⲰⲘⲈ (CV́-CV) - man
* ⲤOⲖⲤⲈⲖ (CV́C-CVC) - to comfort
* ⲀϤϨⲒⲤⲈ (CVC-CV́-CV) - he became tired/toiled
* ⲀϤϮⲠⲀϨⲢⲈ (CVC-CV-CV́C-CV) - he gave drugs; he healed
3.) When both the penultimate and antepenultimate syllables are short, then the antepenultimate syllable is prominent (this appears more be to in response to Greek and foreign loan words);
* ⲂⲀ́ⲠⲦⲒζⲈ > βαπτίζειν - baptize
* Ⲁ́ⲤⲠⲀζⲈ > άσπάςεσφαι - greet; kiss
* ⲤⲨ́ⲚⲀζⲈ (CV́-CV-CV) > συναγειν - gather; bring together
* ⲤⲔÓⲢⲀⲔⲒⲢ ((CV)C-CV́-CV-CVC) - steep place; slope
However, it is not uncommon for the penultimate syllable to be prominent.
4.) Moreover sometimes the stress falls on the syllabic consonant, but only if it is a sonorant consonant. The sonorant consonants are b , l , m , n , r , and the glide w.[86]

Though most elementary stems in Egyptian are going to have stress on the penultimate syllable (that is second to last syllable). There are instances where a change of stress occurs and will be discussed below:

5.) In monosyllabic words augmented by suffixing another short syllable, the prominence does not shift,i.e.,
* (Ⲉ)ⲒⲰ́Ⲧ - father > ⲒÓϮ / ⲒÓⲦⲈ - fathers
* ⲠⲈ́ - sky > ⲠⲎ́ⲨⲈ > skies
* ⲂⲰ́Ⲗ - loosen > ⲂÓⲖⲦⲈⲚ - loosen us
But if the suffixed syllable is long the prominence is shifted according to rule #1 above, to the long syllable,i.e.,
* ⲤÓⲚ - brother > ⲤⲚⲎ́OⲨ - brothers
* ϨⲰ́Ⲃ - thing > ϨⲂⲎ́OⲨⲒ - things
6.) Prominence shifts on suffixation in words with the penultimate syllable prominent according to the afore-cited rules. Thus,
a) If the suffix is a consonant, which will make the ultimate syllable long, the prominence will shift to that syllable.
* ⲤÓⲖⲤⲈⲖ (CV́C-CVC) - to comfort > ⲤⲈⲖⲤⲰ́ⲖⲔ (CVC-CV̄CC) - to comfort thee
b) If the suffix is a short syllable the prominence will shift to the new penultimate position in the word, i.e.,
* ⲀϤⲂÓⲢⲂⲈⲢ (CVC-CV́C-CVC) - he threw down
* ⲀϤⲂⲈⲢⲂⲰ́ⲢⲦⲈⲚ (CVC-CVC-CV̄C-CVC) - he threw us down
* ⲀϤⲂⲈⲢⲂⲰ́ⲢOⲨ (CVC-CVC-CV̄C-CV / CV̄) - he threw them down
c) If a suffix of the v(c) type is added to a word where a penultimate open syllable is prominent, the prominence will not shift from this same syllable since it becomes long through closure, /i/ being elided in open non-prominent syllables,
* ⲀϤⲤⲰ́ⲦⲈⲘ (CVC-CV̄-CVC) - he heard > ⲀϤⲤÓⲐⲘⲈϤ (CVC-CV́C-CVC) - he heard him > ⲀϤⲤÓⲐⲘOⲨ (CVC-CV́C-CVC) - he heard them
7.) When two or more words are placed closely together to form a compound noun or a word group of a looser kind, the prominence falls on the last word only according to the afore-cited rules and the long vowel of the preceding words is shortened (more on this rule in the section below). Here's some examples:
* ⲢⲘ̄ⲢⲀⲔÓⲦⲈ (CVC-CV-CV́-CV) - man of Alexandria
Similarly, in a rapidly pronounced sentence, the prominence falls on the last word only,
* ⲀⲘⲎⲚ ⲈⲤⲈ́ϢⲰⲠⲒ (amin asašōbi) - Amen, it will befall

Below I have provided some generalized rules in connection with compound nouns which was mentioned under rule #6 as well as nouns with suffixes and prefixes:

In the case of a nominal object, the addition of the object directly to the verb causes the tone to pass from the verb to the object,

Ⲁ.Ϥ.ϩⲈTB.Π.ⲢⲰⲘⲈ - we might call this object the 'tonal object'. However, when the object is a pronoun, it does not itself receive the tone, but rather follows the stressed syllable in the pronominal form of the verb, e.g

Ⲁ.Ϥ.ⲔOTB.Ϥ - It might be described as the 'post-tonal object', but in view of the fact that some verbs, owing to the loss of original consonants, do show a tonal stress on some suffix endings, e.g

ⲘⲈCⲦⲰ.Ⲕ - To hate thee
CⲀϩⲰ.Ϥ - To set him up, etc
A better name would be "direct suffix object", e.g
Ⲁ.Ⲛ.ⲢⲰⲘⲈ ⲘⲈPⲈ.Π.ⲔⲀⲔⲈ Ⲛ.ϩOYO Ⲉ.Ⲛ.OYOⲈⲒⲚ - Men loved darkness more than light
Ⲁ.Ϥ.NOϪ.Ϥ.Ⲉ.ⲠⲈ.ϢⲦⲈⲔO - He cast him into prison [87]

When two or more words are placed closely together to form a compound noun or group, the tone falls on the last word only and the formative vowel of the preceding word or words shortens; e.g

ϩOY-ⲘⲒCE - birthday (from ϩOOY - day and ⲘICⲈ - to give birth to)
ⲠⲈⲒ.PⲰⲘE - this man (from ⲠⲀⲒ - this and PⲰⲘⲈ - man)
CKPKP.Π.KOT - to revolve the wheel (from CKOPKP - To roll and Π.KOT - the wheel)

Plumley [88] mentions, "the older forms of the language show that, apart from some verbs mentioned above, originally the direct object— either tonal object or direct suffix object— was the normal usage with all tenses".

James P. Allen [89] mentions, The rule of Egyptian word order is, VsdoSOA (Verb, subject pronoun, dative (ex, n - of), object pronoun, Subject, Object, Adverbs and prepositional phrases) - capital letters refer to nouns, and small letters refer to pronouns. Pronominal datives (d) and objects (o) are separate words but were probably pronounced together with the verb without a separate stress of their own. Thus,

rdjt n.f t-ḥd (giving him white-bread) probably had two stresses, rdjt-n.f and t-ḥd, just like in English, GIVing-him WHITE-bread.
rdjt.k n.j (n)syt.k (your giving me your kingship) probably had one stress on rdjt.k-n.j and (n)syt.k, just like in English, your-GIVing-me your-KINGship.
jrt n.f st (to do it for him) probably had only one stress, just like in English, to DO it for him.

Nominal subjects, objects, and datives, on the other hand, tend to be stressed separately:
rdjt mntw tɜwj n jtj (MONtu’s GIVing the-Two-LANDS to-the-SIRE).

It is also to be noted, in relation to subject / object additions, that in Egyptian the subject and object are behind the verb and in Coptic the subject is in front of the verb:

prt sm - the emerging of the sem-priest
prt.s - it's emerging

Ⲡ.PⲰⲘE CⲰⲦⲘ - the man hears
Ϥ.CⲰⲦⲘ - he hears

And the direct object follows the subject in Egyptian, and in Coptic the direct object follows the verb:

jrt jst jɜkb - Isis's making mourning
tzt.j jb.j - my lifting up my heart
rdjt.f wj m ḥɜt hrdw.f - his placing me in front of his children

Ϯ.NⲀ.ⲂⲰⲖ - I will loose => †.NⲀ.ⲂⲖ.THYTN - I will loose you [uses the pronomial form]
Ⲁ.Ϥ.ϩⲈⲦⲂ.Ⲡ.PⲰⲘⲈ - He killed the man [with a nominal object the construct form is used]

This results in different stress patterns between Egyptian and Coptic spelling.

Antonio Loprieno[90] mentions: 'Infinitives may be used in construct or in pronominal state followed by the subject (with intransitive verbs: pr.t=k /'pirtvk/ "your going forth") or by the object (with transitive verbs: sdm=f /'saɟmvf/ "to hear him"; the subject is introduced in this case by the preposition jn).

Loprieno also gives an example of a noun augmented to a nominal verb stem (which he terms emphatic/nominal [like its Semitic equivalent iparras] - this pattern follows the a-Type vocalization)[91]. This inflectional verb pattern is basically identical to that of the Egyptian infinitive:
sdm zɜ=j ~ saɟam'zi:ʀaj - my son listens
jrr=s ~ ja'ra:rvs - she does

Pre-Late Egyptian Construct Form[edit | edit source]

In order to render a shift in stress-tone orthographically for Pre-Late Egyptian, I have chosen to use an acute accent which goes on top of the secondary stressed vowel. For example:

prt sm => pǎratOEg / pǐritMEg + sǎm (pírit-sǎm) - the emerging of the sm-priest

Anaptyxis [92][edit | edit source]

Anaptyxis is the insertion of a vowel between two consonants in pronunciation, as in filim for film. Both Egyptian Arabic and Coptic have consonant clusters. In Coptic these are more common in Sahidic dialect, while in Bohairic dialect the syllabic centres are plainly marked by vowels, which have been preserved by a different manner of speaking.
Sahidic Coptic has combinations that have in them an unusual number of consonants, i.e.,

ⲚⲦⲚⲚⲦⲘⲚⲦϨⲖⲖO - and we bring old age

In such forms the very short vowels had disappeared leaving syllabic consonants in their place (this is in general possible only with nasals and liquids /m, n, r, l/). Division into syllables was indicated by placing a stroke over the consonant that served in place of a vowel as such a sonorous centre. The sound indicated by the stroke extended backward or forward so as to include in part a preceding or succeeding letter that belonged to the same syllable. With these strokes or dashes the combination read;

Ⲛ̄ Ⲧ͡Ⲛ Ⲛ̄ ⲦⲘ̄Ⲛ̄Ⲧ̄ Ϩ͡ⲖⲖO -- and was pronounced n-tn-n-tmnt-hl-loo

Every vowelless syllable is 'marked by such a stroke. In Bohairic the same combination would be written:

̀ⲚⲦⲈⲚⲈⲚⲐⲘⲈⲦϧⲈⲖⲖO -- where the division into syllables is plainly marked by vowels.

This stroke may be regarded therefore as a representation of a 'helping' or anaptictic vowel. The site of anaptyxis[93] depends upon whether the consonant clusters are initial, medial or final in the word.

Initial Consonant Clusters[edit | edit source]

Initial CCV syllable is very common in Coptic (writing), i.e.,

SB ⲘⲔⲀϨ - be painful ... ⲘϪⲰⲖ - onion ... ⲚⲔOⲦ - sleep ... ⲚϢOⲦ - be hard ... ⲤⲘⲎ - voice ... ⲤⲘOⲨ - bless ... ⲤⲚⲀⲨ - two ... ϢϢⲎⲚ - tree, ect ...

In the Cairene and Bohairic dialects an initial CCV syllable cannot stand (in pronunciation), and a prothetic vowel is added at the beginning of the form. This is usually represented in Coptic by a line over the first consonant, or by the addition of an anaptyctic vowel between C1 and C2. The same also occurs in the Sahidic dialect, but to a lesser extent, i.e.,

Bohairic ΦⲚOⲨϮ /ebnōsi/ - God, ⲘⲚOⲨⲦ /emnūt/ - sexton, ⲘⲚⲎ /emnī/ - there, ϢⲦOⲘ /išṭūm/ - damn, ϢⲐⲎⲚ /ištān/ - garment, ϢΦⲎⲢⲒ /ešbāri/ - wonder, Greek Κλήρος /eklīros/ - clergy

Sometimes the anaptyctic vowel is so established to be indicated by the letter Ⲉ in orthographic variants, mostly in Bohairic,i. e.,

ⲘⲔⲀϨ ~ ⲈⲘⲔⲀϨ - be painful, difficult
ⲘϨⲀⲨ ~ ⲈⲘϨⲀⲨ - tomb
ⲚⲔOⲦ ~ ⲈⲚⲔOⲦ - sleep
ϨⲖⲒ ~ ⲈϨⲖⲒ - anyone, anything
ϨⲢⲰⲦ ~ ⲈϨⲢⲰⲦ - wine-press
Examples of Anaptyctic Vowels between C1 and C2[edit | edit source]

In Sahidic words, there appears to be instead a different set of regulations with initial CCV syllables[94] (it also seems that Bohairic adopts this vocalization as well, but it appears to have existed exclusively with Sahidic):

It should be observed that ̀Ⲛ appears as ěn in Bohairic but in Sahiric as ni, i.e.,
̀ⲚϦⲎⲦϤ - enḫītfBahairic, niḫădafSahidic but, when, however, it is followed by a second /n/, this is not the case, i.e.,
̀ⲚⲚⲒⲢⲰⲘⲒ /ennirōmi/B & S. In the same way ̀Ⲙ = ěm in both pronunciations, ̀ⲘⲠⲈ /empē/Bahairic, /embǎ/Sahidic
The same can be said of other words which also had a stroke above the first consonant:
Ⲡ̄ⲤⲀϪⲒ /epsǎži/Bohairic, /bisǎgi/Sahidic
This also occurred even if there was a vowel after the first consonant:
Ⲧ̄ⲀⲢⲬⲎ /etǎrhi/Bahairic, /diǎrhi/Sahidic

Here's some examples without the stroke above the first consonant:

ⲀϪⲠⲒ /'ağbiyya/Bohairic /ğibiyya/Sahidic - horologium
ϪⲠSahidic (ϪⲈⲠ) ~ ⲀϪⲠS & B - hour
Κράμβη > ⲔⲢⲀⲘⲂⲈ ~ ΓⲢⲀⲘⲂⲎ /krumb/Sahidic Egyptian Arabic, /kurumb/Egyptian Arabic - cabbage
φάρια ~ όφάρια > ⲠⲤⲀⲢⲒⲀ /bisarya/Egyptian Arabic, /basarya/, /bsarya/ & /ebsarya/Sahidic Egyptian Arabic - small fish

In addition to the anaptyxis between C1 and C2 note the elision of the vowel between C2 and C3 in these three examples:

φραγέλλιον > ΦⲢⲀΓΓⲈⲖⲖⲒOⲚ /firgilla/Sahidic Egyptian Arabic - whip of cords
φλεγμα > ΦⲖⲈГⲘⲀ /balgam/Egyptian Arabic - phlegm
τραπεζα > ⲦⲢⲀⲠⲈΖⲀ /ṭarabēza/Egyptian Arabic, /ṭirbēza/Sahidic Egyptian Arabic - table

Some more examples (which are town names):

ⲐⲘOⲨⲒ /timay/Bohairic
ΦⲒOⲘ /fyum/Bohairic, /fayyūm/Sahidic
ⲤⲒOⲰⲨⲦBohairic, ⲤⲒOOⲨⲦSahidic (sɜwty, sywtDem) > /asyūṭ/ -- written also ⲤⲒOOⲨⲈ /syūṭ/ or /siyūṭ/
ϢⲘⲒⲚB & S, ⲬⲘⲒⲚSahidic /ahmīm/, pronounced also /ehmīm, hmīm, himīm/
ⲠⲢⲠⲈSahidic /(il)-birba/General Arabic

Sometimes the anaptyctic vowel is established and registered in orthographic variants with the vowel letter, usually Ⲉ:

ⲈⲘϢⲒⲢ, ⲘϢⲒⲢB & S > ⲘⲈϢⲒⲢSahidic, ⲘⲈⲬⲒⲢS & B, ⲘⲒϢⲎⲢFayyumic - the 6th Coptic Month
ⲀϪⲠS & B ϪⲈⲠSahidic - hour

Here's an example of Greek letter Ψ-ps being broken up, which gives us an insight of the biliterals of the hieroglyphics:

ΨⲀⲦⲈ > ⲠⲈⲤⲀⲦⲈ pronounced /bsāda/ or /bisāda/ - a proper name

Medial Consonant Clusters: (-C1C2C3-)[edit | edit source]

Medial clusters of three successive consonants can be pronounced in Sahidic Coptic and in the Arabic dialects of the same geographical region without any anaptyctic vowel, for example (using Egyptian Arabic):

/kattfu/, 'bind ( him!'
/fattšu/, 'inspect ( him!'
/mattnu/, 'make ( it (m.) tighter!'
/sakktu/, 'make ( him keep quiet!'
/yištmu/, 'he insults him'
/yilbdow/, 'they stand'
/yimsku/, 'he holds it (m.) /him'
/yumdġow/, 'they shew'
/yirdmow/, 'they hail dust'

In Coptic we have:

Sahidic Coptic
ⲦⲈⲔⲘⲚ̄ⲦϪOⲈⲒⲤ - thy lordship
Ⲛ̄ⲦⲤOⲚ - brotherhood
Ⲛ̄ⲦⲢⲰⲘⲈ - humanity
Ⲛ̄ⲦⲔOⲨⲒ - smallness
Ⲛ̄ⲦϨⲈⲂⲢⲀⲒOⲤ - Hebrew (language)
Ⲛ̄ⲦⲤⲰⲦⲠ - choice
Ⲛ̄ⲦⲤⲚOⲨⲤ - twelve
ϪOⲨⲦϢⲘⲎⲚ - twenty-eight
ϢⲘⲚ̄ⲦϢⲈ - three hundred
OⲨⲀⲘⲤⲚOϤ - blood thirsty man (lit: eater of blood)
The proper name ⲀⲚⲦⲢⲈⲤ < Ανδρεος is, still used in Upper Egypt and pronounced /andris/.
Bohairic Coptic
OⲨOⲢⲠⲦⲈⲚ - to send us
OⲘⲔⲦⲈⲚ - to swallow us
OⲘⲤⲦⲈⲚ - to dip us
ϤⲈⲘⲠϢⲀ - he/it deserves, pronounced /fambša/
Ⲛ̄ⲐⲈ /ïntʰě/ ... Ⲛ̄ϤϢⲰⲠⲈ /ïnfšōpe/
ⲚΓⲔⲰ /ingko/ ... Ⲛ̄ΓⲚⲀϨⲘⲚ̄ /ïngnǎhmin/

In the Bohairic dialect of Coptic and in many of the Arabic dialects of Lower Egypt, and to a lesser extent in Sahidic dialect of Coptic and the EA. dialects of Upper Egypt, medial or final clusters of three consonants may not occur and an anaptyctic vowel is introduced usually between the second and third consonants, i.e.,

Egyptian Arabic (Sahidic) /sakktu/ > EA (Bohairic) /sakkitu/, 'make ( him keep quiet!'
Egyptian Arabic (Sahidic) /fahhmu/ > EA (Bohairic) /fahhimu/, 'let ( him understand!'
EA(S) /ğibbtu/ EA(B) /gibbitu/, 'his cloak'
EA(S) /yimsku/ EA(B) /yimsiku/, 'holds it (m.)'
EA(S) /yuntru/ EA(B) /yunturu/, 'throws it (m.) away'
EA(S) /bintha/ EA(B) /bintaha/, 'her daughter'
EA(S) /ibnha/ EA(B) /ibnaha/, 'her son'
Bohairic Coptic
ϢOⲖϨⲤ /šǒlhəs/ - corpse
ⲬⲢⲈⲘⲦⲤ /krɛ́mdis/ - smoke
ⲘⲀⲤⲦϤ /mistef/ - to give birth to him
Ⲛ̄ϦⲎⲦϤ /niḫādaf/ - in it, Bohairic, in this example, (erroneously) has[95]: /enḫātf/
Also the proper name ⲀⲚⲦⲢⲈⲤ < Ανδρεος, used in Upper Egypt, is pronounced either /andris/ or /andaris/

The Coptic CV̄CC pattern of verbs (model: ΦⲰⲢϢB, ⲠⲰⲢϢS) has the pronominal form CVCC (ΦOⲢϢB, ⲠOⲢϢS). On the affixation of a consonantal suffix, the resulting cluster is pronounced with a helping vowel between C2 and C3, e.g.,

ΦOⲢϢϤB /foršif/ ... ⲠOⲢϢϤS /boršif/ - spread it
ⲤOⲐⲘⲈϤB - to hear him

To this pattern ( CV̄-CVC > CVC-C= ) belongs by far the largest number of Coptic verbs, over 200 in all.

Exceptions to this usual site of the anaptycptic vowel between C2 and C3 are due either to a tendency to preserve the distinctiveness of a word's main formative syllables or when a monogram letter represents both C2 and C3 together, i.e.,

Bohairic Coptic:
ⲚⲈⲚΨⲨⲬⲎ /nanebsīka/ - our souls
ⲚⲈϤⲤⲚOϤ /bafisnōf/ - his blood

Notice that the Coptic verbal pattern ( CVC-CVC > CVC-CV̄C= ) does not clash with the above-mentioned second rule,i.e.,

ⲤOⲖⲤⲖS - to console > ⲤⲖⲤⲰⲖ(Ⲉ)Ϥ - to console him... In these examples, the long vowel of the pronominal form, being in an apparently closed penultimate syllable, does not shorten, the syllable being pronounced as if it were in fact an open syllable, thus: ⲤⲖ̄ⲤⲰⲖ- > ⲤⲖ-ⲤⲰ-ⲖϤ and this is how it is realized in Sahidic, but in Bohairic it is a closed syllable, the long vowel being shortened despite the orthography.In this case therefore the long vowel denotes only the prominent syllable and not vowel quantity.

Final Consonant Clusters[edit | edit source]

Final clusters of two consonants are common in Coptic (writing), as well in Egyptian Arabic and in contrast to many Levantine and Iraqi dialects[96],

Egyptian Arabic
/fatk/, 'hole in clothes'
/hatm/, 'seal (nn.)' (ḫtm - to seal)
/nafs/, 'soul' ... etc.
ⲘⲀⲤϤ /masf/ - to give birth to him
Ⲉ̀ⲢⲀⲦϤ /arǎdf/ - to his foot/feet
ⲈϪⲠ /ağb/ - hour
ⲈⲒⲈⲂⲦ /yabt/ - east

In Coptic, final clusters of three consonants can occur without any anaptyctic vowel, e.g.,

ⲬⲢⲈⲘⲦⲤB /kramds/ - smoke
ⲔⲖΨ /kïlps/S - blow

The same also with clusters of, three consonants resulting from pronouncing two successive words quickly (though this does not occur in the Cairo dialect),i.e.,

Egyptian Arabic (Sahidic)
/gult-lu/ - I said to him
/katabt-lak/ - I wrote to you
Bohairic Coptic
ϧⲈⲚ ΦⲢⲀⲚ ⲘⲠϬⲤ̄, pronounced in Upper Egypt as /han bran ɛmbšoys/ - in the name of the Lord
ⲈⲂOⲖϧⲈⲚ ⲦΦⲨⲖⲎ in Upper Egypt as /awǒl handfilɛ/ - from the tribe

Sometimes even with elision of a vowel, e.g.,

ⲀⲤⲘⲒⲤⲒ Ⲙ̀ⲘOϤ /asmīsmmof/

Notes[edit | edit source]

The instability of vowel qualities within the Egyptian language may have had two main explanations:

  • Some type of language contact or multilingual borrowings with a Nilo-Saharan language (or more than one as well as any other unrelated Afroasiatic language/s) in Egyptian's pre-history. Nilo-Saharan languages utilize distinct linguistic features such as advanced retracted tongue root (ATR/RTR) as well as vowel harmony and tone/pitch possibly explaining some of the vowel inconsistencies in Egyptian. These linguistic features were lost in Egyptian Pre-history but remnants may have still existed (for example relocation of tone-stress occasionally changes vowel qualities in Coptic- this is not too common in most Afroasiatic languages (other than Hebrew) but is reminiscent of Nilo-Saharan pitch-tone relocation and/or vowel harmony). This also seems to be the case with Cushitic languages which also have Nilo-Saharan/Niger-Congo sub-phylum characteristics.
  • The infamous Canaanite shift contributed to a total reorganization of vowel qualities before the turn of the century.

.... ..... ..... ......

  1. Carsten Pesut pg 161.
  2. Carsten Peust pg 161.
  3. .. pg 94
  4. .. pg 129
  5. This article gives more insight on some of these sounds:
  7. Carsten Peust pg 116.
  8. Carsten Peust pg 116.
  9. ... pg 668
  10. .. pg 5
  11. t colloquially was not pronounced when ending a syllable, for ex: nāf(i)rat => nāfra, nāfrə or nāfre.... Note: stressed -a ~ u did not occur until the Late Kingdom when stressed -a ~ o.
  14. ... pg 649
  16. Merely a hypothesis based upon Coptic Fayyumic, in which case would be better regarded as a dialectal variation of |r| possibly of < l > in the main Sahidic or Bohairic dialects.
  17. Merely a hypothesis based upon Coptic Fayyumic, in which case would be better regarded as a dialectal variation of Coptic orthographic |r and l|.
  18. ... pg 663
  19. This < r ~ l > phenominon exists in several languages, for example in the Spanish dialect of Puerto Rico:
    Note: Taking into account that it is believed Spanish < r > and Egyptian < r > are articulated identical only showing that a lateral tap < r > can sound like an < l > with no known genetic relationship between the two languages.
    Lateralization of /r/ to [l]
    The /r/ that comes at the end of a syllable (not followed by a vowel) is often changed to an /l/, so that words like "perdón" (forgiveness) and "Puerto Rico" become "peldón" and "Puelto Rico" respectively.
  20. ... pg 95
  21. ... pg 98
  22. This is currently one of the most widespread hypotheses. This is also a sound that is lacking from the Egyptian orthographic inventory and alphabet. The non-existance of this sound in Egyptian tends to be considered highly unusual to experts.
  23. The general belief of this theory is if /d/, /d/ and /t/ were pharyngeal(ized) the original consonant was /d/, /d/ or /t/ possibly emphatic /t/. It appears a dialect (or a variety of different dialects) played a crucial role in the dubious usage of this letter in the Old Kingdom as can be seen in comparison within the hieroglyphs. The same can be said if /t/ was ejective, eventually being assimilated into a glottal stop by the Middle Kingdom.
  24. In the lexicon of the OK, Egn. < ꜥ > is incompatible with dentals/alveolars, in particular with < d > and < z >. There are no roots with ꜥd(...), ꜥCd, dꜥ(...), dCꜥ, Cꜥd, Cdꜥ; ꜥz(...), ꜥCz, zꜥ(...), zCꜥ, *Cꜥz, *Czꜥ. This proves that < ꜥ > it was – originally – a dental/alveolar itself....
    It is compatible with laryngeals ( ḫ, ḥ, h, š [< h]) and with all velars/palatals except k / t, hence g, q, d [< ḳ]. This proves that Egn. < ˁ > was – originally – not a laryngeal itself... pg 7.
  25. Carsten Peust pg 103.
  26. Carsten Peust pg 104.
  27. Peust pg 105.
  28. In my opinion, < Ꜣ > can thus primarily be regarded as some kind of guttural r sound which fell away in pronunciation at an early time period. It appeared that as the language progressed there was a gradual reduction of guttural sounds.
  29. Carsten Peist pg 148, states: ... It was discussed in § 3.13.3 that in the succession stressed vowel - <w> - consonant, <w> was usually written <y> from the 1st Intermediate Period on. This explains why <w> in this position is not usually preserved in Coptic. But <j>, including <j> <Ꜣ>, is not preserved in Coptic either. So the general rule is that by the time of Coptic all glides were lost when directly following the stressed vowel and preceding a consonant. It is difficult to say whether the loss of all glides was contemporaneous or not. Some examples:
    wꜢḥ - to put ~ OⲨⲰϨS., OⲨOϨB.
    bjn - bad ~ ⲂⲰⲰⲚS., ⲂⲰⲚB.
    fꜢ.t - to carry ~ ϤⲒS.B.
  30. Or in other positions sometimes in an unpredictable fashion
  31. Carsten Peust pg 120.
  32. Carsten Peust pg 120.
  33. Carsten Peust pg 168.
  34. An unexplained exception is šꜢs "nomad" > ϢⲰⲤ "herdsman".
  35. There is no assimilation in wsḫ "to be large ~ OⲨⲰϢⲤS.B. (with metathesis)
  36. Carsten Peust pg 169.
  37. That is if /w/ was pronounced as a (semi-)consonant not if in the hierpglyphs /w/ represented a vowel.
  38. It is better to analyze this as a feminine form collapsed and adopted as the masculine form rather than an assimilation due to contact with /w/.
  39. JOURNAL ARTICLE Egyptian: Creole Origin Theory Oceanic Linguistics Special Publications No. 14, A Bibliography of Pidgin and Creole Languages (1975), pp. 53-55
  42. .. pg 21
  44. References taken from: ... ......
  45. A phonetic evolution which probably did not affect the phonological level is /i:/ > [e:] in proximity of /ʔ/ and /j/.
  46. It is possible but less likely that a long stressed u may have turned into a long stressed ʊ (at some point in the Middle Kingdom or Late Kingdom) and not long after that it may have been pronounced as an unrounded near-close near-back vowel (ɯ̽) due to the other vowels being unrounded. Though since a long stressed ʊ is rather rare among North African languages (ɯ̽ is even more rare) this is majorly an unproven hypothesis but just as possible.
  47. ... pg 108
  48. It is believed, in general, that in some phonetic environments, /o/ is a more open [ɔ] no matter what theories are followed.
  51. ... pg 693
  52. Examples of this is given in Carsten Peust's book pg 149.
  53. Osing (1976a: 28-30) assumes that the development is conditioned by the quality of vowels which he assumes to have intervened between both glides. His rules can be summarized as follows: 1) if one of the glides was -w-, then it was preserved if the intervening vowel was -a-, 2) as an exception to this rule, the sequence -āwaw renders -OⲨⲒ(Ⲉ) ~ⲰⲒ if the intervening vowel was -i-, then j was preserved unless the stressed vowel of the word was i; 4) in all remaining cases (including the cases of intervening -it-), none of the consonants was preserved. Schenkel (1979) discusses Osing's rules in detail and proposes some modifications (Schenkel 1979: 389). However, evidence for determining these intermediate vowels is weak; according to our reconstruction there were no such vowels at all... ... Carsten Peust pg 146.
  54. Carsten Peust pg 150.
  55. Carsten Peust pg 146.
  57. The following rules are taken from Carsten Peust's book pgs 143 and on....
  58. We can observe that morphophonological alternation is found only in late words which are first attested in the New Kingdom. The explanation seems to be that morphophonological alternation in more ancient words was eliminated early by analogical levelling... Carsten Peust's book pg 143.
  59. Proto-Afro-Asiatic: ʔir - eye...
  60. The importance of the morphological category suggests that analogical levelling has taken place here. Fecht (1960: XIVf.) provides a plausible explanation that many verbal forms of the suffix conjugation, which was very familiar to the older language before it became almost extinct in Coptic, had suffixal stress. /j/ would thus have been lost regularly here in pretonic position, whence the /j/-less variety was extended by analogy to forms bearing initial stress such as the infinitive.
  61. However, there are several cases of loss which remain unexplained... -OCopt [ꜥǎꜢMEg] - to be great ... ect. Peust pg 145.
  62. Exception: If in late compounds a stressed syllable loses stress secondarily, /j/ can move into an atonic syllable: jtrw-ꜥꜢ - big river > ⲈⲒⲈⲢOS., ⲈⲒⲀⲢO - Nile, a compound of 1) jtrw "river, Nile" > ⲈⲒOOⲢS., ⲒOⲢB. "canal" and 2) ꜥꜢ - big, great > -OS.B.
  63. Mainly using Bohairic Old Pronunciation as the source with periodic deviations.
  64. The Coptic pronunciation reform used this pronunciation for all Coptic Ⲏ
  65. ... according to Gignac, eta had /i/ as allophone within the group of long stressed vowels and within the short stressed vowels, however, the allophone of eta was /a/...
  66. Eta and epsilon were also frequently confused with one another so they were clearly very close in value (when pronounced like an /e/). In other words, even though the bivalency of Coptic eta strictly speaking concerns the realisation of eta /ē/ as /i/ or /a/ following Coptic phonological processes, it can be applied in the analysis of Narmouthis Greek nonstandard variants as /ē/ and /e/ were phonetically found so similar in quality to each other that they were nonstandardly replaced by one another, in Narmouthis Greek ostraca as well as in Coptic native language usage... .. pg 112
  67. Variation between η <ē> and ε <e> ... Variation between η <ē> and ε <e> occurs in the same environments as do the previous vowel changes, i.e. again near bilabials/nasals (/m/ classifies as both), /s/, liquids and interestingly, word-finally, which is probably indicative of a phonetic-level schwa. This consonantal articulation is especially clear in the cases where eta is what seems to be retracted to epsilon. Again, variation occurs both in Greek stressed and unstressed syllables... .. pg 105
  68. Ⲏ <ē> has been used to indicate schwa in an unstressed syllable before sonorants in Fayyumic, which is probably indicative of coarticulation again as sonorants tend to raise the vowel value – so before sonorants, the value of schwa resembled more a close vowel than an open one... ... pg 37
  69. ... pg 123
  70. .. pg 61
  71. ... pg 60
  72. There is also a ⲖⲒⲂⲈⲚOⲨ(Ⲥ) <libanos> attested as well.
  73. .. pg 130
  74. .. pg 42
  77. 146
  78. The second syllable uvular /q/ should cause the original vowel value of /a/ to be retained but it seems to have raised to /e/. <a> was one of the vowel graphemes with which schwa was orthographically marked in Coptic but <e> was even more frequent for the purpose. Therefore it seems that whatever the unstressed vowel’s value in Arabic original, the final unstressed syllables were treated within the rules of Coptic phonological system, and marked accordingly using Coptic orthographic practices, exactly as second language Greek and Greek loanwords in Coptic were treated.
  79. ([q], voiceless uvular stop [ɢ], voiced uvular stop [ɴ], uvular nasal [qʼ], uvular ejective [ʛ ], voiced uvular implosive (very rare) [ʛ̊ ] or [qʼ↓] voiceless uvular implosive (claimed to exist in Kaqchikel)
  80. Arabic loanwords, standard <ou> being replaced with <o> in a stressed syllable.
  81. [k], voiceless velar stop [ɡ], voiced velar stop [ŋ], voiced velar nasal [ŋ̊], voiceless velar nasal [kʼ], velar ejective [ɠ ], voiced velar implosive (rare) [ɠ̊ ] or [kʼ↓], voiceless velar implosive (unattested in normal words; some English speakers use it to imitate the "glug-glug" sound of liquid being poured from a bottle)
  82. which means either a tower (from its size or height), an elevated stage (a rostrum or pulpit), or a raised bed (within a river).
  83.,+watch&source=bl&ots=U1WVQxywPs&sig=5qn4hX9vdgp7dFf3lj8_442MC_8&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwibxbHA7ZbWAhVKQyYKHcN_AM4Q6AEIOjAF#v=onepage&q=egyptian%20ancient%20pronunciation%20mAA%20-%20see%2C%20watch&f=false ... pg 113
  84. Some scholars, for example Helmut Satzinger believe accent was in "free variation" in the earlier phases of the Egyptian language: FOLIA ORIENTALIA vol 49 2012, On Egyptian Participles and Nomina Agentis by Helmut Satzinger pg 473.
  87. pg 19
  88. pgs 50-51
  89. pgs 167-168 James P. Allen, Middle Egyptian: An Introduction to the Language and Culture of Hieroglyphs 2nd Edition
  90. Loprieno, Antonio. A Linguistic Introduction pg 89
  91. Loprieno, Antonio. A Linguistic Introduction pg 79
  92. A majority of the examples are taken from: ... pg 703.
  93. Anaptyxis is used here to cover initial vocalisation which is elsewhere styled prothesis and prosthesis.
  94. Examples cited from here:
  95. ... pg 9
  96. Coleman (1996 et seq.) has argued that, for the Berber data, syllables with alleged consonantal nuclei actually contain a very reduced schwa, it is uncertain if this also existed in Coptic ... 400