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April 22, 2019


Jørgen Zoëga by the Danish sculptor Ludvig Brandstrup (erected in 1911)

Jørgen Zoëga (1755 – 1809) was a Danish archaeologist and numismatist. It is his interest in numismatics, the collection and study of coins, which led him to become interested in Egyptology and Coptology.  After his death, his work, Catalogus codicum copticorum manuscriptorum, qui in museo Borgiano Velitris adservantu, was published in Rome, 1810.

Zoëga has an opinion on Coptic. He writes that Coptic is:

… vielleicht unter allen alphabetischen Sprachen die schwerste.

… perhaps the hardest among all alphabetical languages.

I find this strange; and I certainly don’t agree. Zoëga’s contemporary Jean-François Champollion (1790 – 1832) had the opinion that Coptic was the most perfect and rational known language. A rational and perfect language cannot be difficult to learn. It is certainly the experience of many that a one year serious study of Coptic will put one on a good level of grasping the language, reading, writing and speaking. Surely, Arabic, Mandarin, Hungarian and many other languages are more difficult to learn.



April 22, 2019

The Coptic Bishop of Hermopolis Magna (al-Ashmunein), also known as Saweris ibn al-Muqaffa’, is a famous bishop in the Coptic Church from the tenth century (d. 987). This illustrious bishop, who wrote many books in Arabic, talked about various subjects, including slavery, in his writings. Here, I would like to talk about what he thinks of slavery.

Egypt had been awash with slaves since the Arab occupation of Egypt in 640 AD. The source of slaves was mainly Dar al-Harb, those lands not ruled by Islam, in Byzantium, Armenia, Nubia, Ethiopia, etc. – lands that Muslims were ordered by their religion to attack at any time and any point, either to kill or to enslave. Those who were captured of the non-Muslims, mainly Christians, supplied the Muslims with constant flow of slaves of all sorts, and these were either distributed to the rulers and the army or sold in the many slave bazars across the Islamic word.  And Cairo was one of the main cities where slaves were sold and bought.

Slavery had been known in Egypt before Islam, but there is no doubt that its magnitude was made enormous by the wars of Jihad. Slavery was prevalent in the Roman Empire into which Jesus was born; and it was interwoven into social and economic fabric. Early Christianity, as one can read in the Epistles of St. Paul and St. Peter,[1] regarded slaves and masters as equal in God’s eyes. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus,”[2] declared St. Paul. And while slaves were told to obey their masters, the masters were told to treat their slaves. In fact, masters are encouraged, and pleaded with, to free their slaves;[3] and slaves were to seek or purchase their freedom whenever possible.[4] Slave trading was considered as a sin.[5]

There is no doubt that the Copts’ mind was shaped by the Christian viewpoint on slavery. They abhorred the trade in humans as if they were cattle. The Coptic Church was involved in buying captured Christian slaves, freeing them, and sending them with provisions back to their homes and countries. The History of the Patriarchs of the Coptic Church provides us with such an occasion. In the Live of the Coptic Patriarch, Mark II (799-819), who was contemporary with the Abbasid caliphs Harun al-Rashid (786 – 809), al-Amin (809 – 813) and al-Ma’mun (813 – 833), we read the following:

Now there was in those days to the west of Alexandria a monastery, known as the Monastery of Az-Zajâj, at which there was an aged hermit, endowed with grace to see through the Holy Ghost signs and visions; and his name was John. And he said to the Alexandrians prophetically: “I see that you are distressed by this people [Muslims who were ruling Egypt then]. In the same way, believe me, a nation will come from the west, and will destroy without mercy this people and this city, and plunder all that it contains.” And after he had said this, Alexandria was invaded by a host of those who are called Andalusians,[6] laden with much booty from the islands of the Byzantines[7]. And they continued to make raids from Egypt, as they had done elsewhere, upon the islands of the Romans, plundering them, and bringing the captives to Alexandria, and selling them as slaves. Therefore when our father Mark saw these captives, he was grieved because human beings were sold, as if they were cattle; moreover many of them became Muslims. And because his heart was compassionate he redeemed many of them, such as monks and priests and deacons and virgins and mothers of children, until he had bought as many as six thousand souls. When he purchased one of these prisoners, he wrote a deed of emancipation for him on the spot, and gave into his hand a letter which set him free. And Abba Mark said to those whom he liberated: “If any of you wish to settle with me, he shall be as my son. But to him that desires to return to his native country I will give the means of bringing him to his own people.” And many of them, when they saw his deeds, settled with him. And he placed them with teachers, who taught them the Psalms and the doctrine of the Church. But to those that preferred to go back to their people he gave provisions for the journey and all that they required. Then the report of him and what he did was spread abroad in the kingdoms and among the officials of the various states, and he gained a fair fame among them. Therefore Satan was filled with envy against him on account of his deeds, and brought trials upon him and showed the sting of his wickedness.[8]


In Chapter 18 of his book, The Lamb of Intelligence, Bishop Severus starts be explaining the general position of the Church on the duties of both slave and master:

As for slaves, they should serve their masters with a cheerful soul, and obey them as much as they are able to do. As for the masters, they should not do harm to their slaves, or put burdens on them beyond what they could possibly carry, for it is a sin to do so. We are all God’s slaves as the Apostle has said.[9]

Bishop Severus then gives his personal opinion on the matter of buying slaves and obtaining them by Christians, and it is here that we discover his compassion and humanity. It seems to me that some Copts bought Christian slaves in the bazars (they were not allowed to obtain Muslim slaves) and retained them as slaves in their homes, probably thinking that by doing so they would save them from being bought by Muslims, with the possible enforcing of Islam on them. Severus was against slavery:

I would like the believer to abstain from enslaving those who have been captured by the Muslims from amongst the peoples of the Christian nations. If he buys one of them, let him offer them freedom, and the return to their homes and countries. For they may have sons and daughters that they may be supporting; and their children may be in sadness and anxiety after their absence. Or a  man may have had a wife, from whom he has had sons and daughters, and is captured, and there is no one else to look after his children, and he cannot marry again as with the clergy, etc. and some of the captives may be of the clergy, who should not be allowed to be slaves. This is what I see on slaves.[10]


[1] Ephesians 6:5-8; Colossians 3:22-25; 1 Timothy 6:1; Titus 2:9-10; 1 Peter 2:18.

[2] Galatians 3:28.

[3] Philemon 1:1-25.

[4] 1 Corinthians 7:21.

[5] 1 Timothy 1:9-11.

[6] Evetts in his translation uses the word ‘Spaniards’. In fact the Coptic writer talks about the Andalusians. These were Muslim rebels who fought against the Umayyad ruler of Andalusia, were defeat, and exiled. They moved to Alexandria, exploiting the chaos that prevailed in Egypt as the competing forces of the two sons of Harun al-Rashid l-Amin and al-Ma’mun fought for mastery in Egypt.

[7] Evetts translates the word Rüm to Romans. In fact it is a word which meant the Byzantines or Greeks then.

[8] Severus of Al’Ashmunein (Hermopolis), History of the Patriarchs of the Coptic Church of Alexandria IV, Mennas I to Joseph (849); Arabic text edited, translated, and annotated by B. Evetts. Patrologia Orientalis (1910), Tome X, pp. 428-9.

[9] كتاب مصباح العقل لساويرس بن المقفع، تقديم وتحقيق الأب سمير خليل، القاهرة، ١٩٧٨، ص ١٠٠.

[10] Ibid, p. 101.


April 22, 2019

The Coptic grounds for divorce now are several, and some still demand more. This relaxation in the canons concerning divorce, in opposition to Christ’s clear command,[1] is not original – the historian can detect its introduction to our Church in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, brought about by the influence of the dominant culture of the Muslims and Arabs on the mind of Copts and the consequent relaxation in Coptic morality, in this case on matters of marriage and divorce. But it was not so before that.

In the tenth century, the learned Coptic Bishop of Hermopolis Magna (al-Ashmunein), Severus ibn al-Muqaffa’ (c. 915 – 987), wrote “مصباح العقل (Lamp of the Intellect)”, one of his many books that he wrote in Arabic. In its Chapter 17, “Our Speech on Divorce”, he says:

Divorce is impermissible in [our Church], after the tying of the knot through prayer, supplications and blessings, and in the presence of the fathers, except in the case of adultery alone, and after it has been clearly proven.[2]

Ibn al-Muqaffa’ is clear that adultery was the only ground for divorce in the Coptic Church and other churches. He, however, mentions two who have deviated from Christ’s command: Timothaw’es al-Jathlique (طيموثاوس الجاثليق) and Ibrahim the Patriarch (ابراهيم البطريرك). The latter remains a mystery, but the first is Timothy I, the notorious Nestorian Patriarch of the Church of the East (780 – 823), who resided in Baghdad, the capital of the Abbasid Caliphate. What does ibn al-Muqaffa’ says about Timothy I on divorce:

Timothy relaxed for his followers many things by which he permitted divorce, things that have not come in the Gospel. And these are: bed-wetting, drunkenness, madness, and leprosy.[3]

The Nestorian Church was Arabised and exposed to Islamic aculturalisation at an earlier date; and Timothy’s lax law on divorce must be seen in this sense. When the Copts later were exposed to the same influence, and their morality on the family started to deteriorate, they adopted the same attitude of relaxing the canons on divorce, an attitude that was first taken by Timothy I.

The objective of this article is to show that the relaxation in the grounds for divorce in the Coptic Church was not original and that “from the beginning it was not so.”[4]


[1] Matthew 5:32.

[2] See: كتاب مصباح العقل لساويرس بن المقفع، تقديم وتحقيق الأب سمير خليل، القاهرة، ١٩٧٨، ص٩٨.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Matthew 19:8.


April 21, 2019

Bernard Lewis (1916 – 2018), the celebrated British American historian and Orientalist, who has written on Arabic and Islamic history and culture better than almost all specialists, wrote in 1950 his book, ‘The Arabs in History’.[1] He was then Professor of the History of the Near and Middle East, University of London.

In Introduction to the book, Lewis discusses “What is an Arab?” he shows how the definition of ‘Arab’ has changed through history since the term Arab is first encountered in the ninth century BC until the first half of the twentieth century, when Arab nationalism emerged and spread throughout the Middle-East.

Lewis gives a modern definition of an Arab made by a gathering of Arab leaders some years ago defined an Arab in these words:

“Whoever lives in our country, speaks our language, is brought up in our culture and takes pride in our glory is one of us.”[2]

He then gives a scholar’s definition, by Professor H. A. R. Gibb (1895 – 1971), another prominent historian and Orientalist:

“All those are Arabs for whom the central fact of history is the mission of Muhammad and the memory of the Arab Empire and who in addition cherish the Arabic tongue and its cultural heritage as their common possession.”[3]

Here we have two definitions, one by Arab politicians[4] and the other by a Western scholar. As Lewis has observed, neither definition is purely linguistic: both add a cultural, one at least a religious, qualification. In the above two definitions, Lewis seems to have answered his own earlier questions: “Is an Arab one who speaks Arabic as his mother tongue? … Is the Arabic-speaking Jew of Iraq or the Yemen or the Arabic-speaking Christian of Egypt or Lebanon an Arab?” Both definitions above exclude the Arabic-speaking Copt, Maronite and Jew from the definition of an Arab. Even Sati’ al-Husri (1880 – 1968), the Arab nationalist who tries hard to follow Western lines of thoughts on nationalism and its association with language alone, defines Arabdom on the basis of Arab history and Arabic language together.  In a previous article, “The Suffocating Tyranny of Arab Nationalism”, I have spoken, as the titles reveals, about al-Husri’s despotic position on minorities in Arab dominated countries: to him no one, a Copt or a Maronite, for instance, should be allowed to claim a designation other than Arab. As he says:

“Every Arab-speaking people is an Arab people. Every individual belonging to one of these Arabic-speaking peoples is an Arab. And if he does not recognize this, and if he is not proud of his Arabism, then we must look for the reasons that have made him take this stand. It may be an expression of ignorance; in that case we must teach him the truth. It may spring from an indifference or false consciousness; in that case we must enlighten him and lead him to the right path. It may result from extreme egoism; in that case we must limit his egoism. But under no circumstances, should we say: ‘As long as he does not wish to be an Arab, and as long as he is disdainful of his Arabdom, then he is not an Arab.’ He is an Arab regardless of his own wishes. Whether ignorant, indifferent, undutiful, or disloyal, he is an Arab, but an Arab without consciousness or feeling, and perhaps even without conscience.[5]

In other words, a Copt or Maronite who refuse to be designated as Arab must be treated as diseased person until he recants his ignorance, indifference, disobedience and disloyalty; he is devoid of a conscious and sensitivity. The Copts and Maronites under Arab nationalism have no choice: they are Arabs, whether they like it or not; and they should not be allowed to claim any other national designation. Such is the suffocating definition of Arab nationalism.

Al-Husri role in the creation of the Arab League and his influence on its philosophy can be detected in the Arab leaders’ definition which is cited by Lewis above: they speak of “our”, that is “their”, country, language, culture, and glory. Others who live in their country, speak their language, brought up in their culture, and take pride in their glory, are to be taken as Arabs. But no one can see in this any degree of generosity: all we can see is despotism and denial of our own unique identity which is different from that of the Arabs.

If only these Arab nationalists can understand we don’t live in ‘their’ country; that we speak their language against our will; that we are not brought up in their culture (and if we are, it is again against our will); that we don’t take pride in their glory.

NOTE. I have ignored Gibb’s definition, which is more accurate, as it reflects what Arabs actually think of what constitutes an Arab, and is not influenced by propaganda as that of the Arab leaders (even though a lame one), because it is an outsider’s definition. I am interested in what Arabs leaders say about Arabdom.


[1] Professor Bernard Lewis, The Arabs in History (Grey Arrow Edition, 1958).

[2] Ibid, p. 9.

[3] Ibid, pp. 9-10.

[4] Lewis does not explain the occasion on which such leaders expressed their opinion on the definition of the term Arab. However, I suspect he refers to the first summit of the League of Arab States in Cairo in 1945. The Arab League was formed by Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Transjordan, and Saudi Arabia.

[5] Adeed Dawisha, Arab Nationalism in the Twentieth Century: From Triumph to Despair (Princeton and Oxford, 2003); p. 72.


April 20, 2019

Obey me

Obey me, acrylic cartoon by Rauky Painter, France, 2007.

What is called a ‘parliament’ in Egypt is a joke. Egypt is ruled by a dictatorship, and such has been the case since 1952; and its parliament is but the handmaid of the tyrant at the top of the dictatorial regime. And the current so-called parliament is not an exception – it does what President Abdul Fatah al-Sisi wants it to do, and this is basically what ‘parliaments’ are there for under all dictatorships: it had no respect or dignity that we can say it has lost. And so, this week, we have seen it approving constitutional amendments that would allow al-Sisi to stay in power until 2030. He has come to power in 2013 on the top of the tanks. He exploited the popular uprising on 30 June 2013 to oust the Muslim Brotherhood rule, not to hand the power to non-Islamist civilians, but to reinstate the military dictatorship that was established in the Nasser’s coup d’état in 1952 to power – a dictatorial rule by the army that is responsible for ending the liberal and democratic experiment of Egypt prior to it, and that is responsible for much of Egypt’s current political, economic and social ills. And today, in a three-day referendum, the al-Sisi regime is asking Egyptian ‘voters’ to back the proposed constitutional changes.[1]

The Coptic Nationalists do not support that, and their position is principled and based on two reasons:

  1. They believe that Egypt’s political, economic and social multiple ills cannot be managed except in a democracy.
  2. They believe that the Coptic Question cannot be solved except in a democracy.

The silly question is often raised: “But what substitute do you have?” It is silly because the substitute we ask for is not a substitute of individuals but of a regime – we want democracy to replace dictatorship, be it civilian or military.

The Copts have recently fallen into the trap of believing that they could not be protected from the Islamists except through a military dictatorship. And hence, many Copts have resorted to backing al-Sisi’s dictatorship. They are of course mistaken, for the military dictatorship since 1952 has never been secular but sectarian, using Islam to bolster its rule, and resorting to Islamists of some sort to justify its regime: even Nasser, who is the least in using Islam in politics, did use the Islam of al-Azhar to strengthen its grip on power. Military dictatorships of Sadat used the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafists, and Mubarak, too, used them. They both led to the dominance of the Islamists in Egyptian politics: for as long as the Islamists don’t attack them, the Islamists are given a free hand on the Copts. And President al-Sisi is not an exception: the Salafists underpin his true; and despite his rhetoric directed at the Western powers, he allows the Salafists to roam wild in Upper Egypt to attach the Copts, destroy their properties and churches, and force them to emigrate from the governorates of Minya, Asyut, Sohaj and Qina where they are in large concentration.

We strongly believe this: al-Sisi is not anti-Islamist. He has emerged as anti-Muslim Brotherhood, but this is solely on the base of power struggle. The Salafists, who are not less dangerous and anti-Copts, are his friends.

Again, we repeat: Egypt’s multi-ills cannot be sorted out except in a democracy. The military dictatorship only potentiates them. Further, the Coptic Problem cannot be solved except in a democratic system.


[1] See: BBC, Egypt constitutional changes could mean Sisi rule until 2030, and BBC, Egypt referendum: Voters urged to back extended Sisi term.




April 19, 2019


The Stockholm Syndrome by Ramses Morales Izquierdo

In a previous article, “Our Present Day Lingual Follies” I included this short story, “The Delirious”. By the Delirious I meant those Copts who die to see any influence of Coptic on the Egyptian Arabic in order to see, in a way, that they are winners not losers – that Coptic after all came out victorious and influenced Arabic, creating an Egyptian vernacular that is heavily determined by the Coptic language. This makes them take Egyptian Arabic as somewhat Coptic – a language that should be embraced by Copts as a national language. Our task here has been to bust this myth for it is unscientific, but, more seriously, it confuses the Copts and detracts them from doing the right thing – regarding Egyptian Arabic as a foreign language, as foreign as Quranic Arabic (Classical Arabic) and Modern Standard Arabic, that has been introduced into Egypt by its Arab invaders, and which had been responsible, inter alia, of reducing our national language, Coptic, to the ecclesiastical domain only. Our aim is to call all Copts to abandon this folly, this lingual nincompoopery, and focus on the revival of Coptic – our only and true national language.

How can we explain such nincompoopery by our Copts? I have tried to give the motives above. The psychologists may explain it by the Stockholm Syndrome.

Here is the short story:



A man once had a beautiful wife. He loved her dearly and she served him well. To him she was more precious than jewels and diamonds; and in her was his soul. It was difficult for others to recognise him in isolation from her. And one day, while fast asleep as if in a coma, and while his wife was in the back garden tending to the cows and goats and milking them to feed their children, some robbers, of barbarian nature, broke in; and finding the man deeply asleep, they instantly tied his hands up, and took him captive. As they were going out, they saw his beautiful wife working in the garden. And they desired her; and they raped her; and, true to their nature, they killed her. As they were assaulting her, her embroidered and colourful dress, that distinguished her to all her acquaintances, was torn apart, and was shredded to pieces. And the robbers collected some of the shreds and took them to their women. When they reached their tents, they threw the man into a shed; and subjugating him, they made him feed their camels and goats. And the man could not free himself from captivity, and gave all hope for freedom. All the time he remembered his wife and wept as he recalled her beauty, dedication and service. And there was no end to his misery. He became like a man as if his soul was rented out of his body, and was no more but a walking frame. He dreamed of his olden days, his sweet home that was confiscated by the robbers, his beloved wife and his children who were enslaved and scattered. And there was no solace under the sun for him. One day, as he was shearing the goats in the fields, he saw a woman of the robbers’ coming out of her tent, wrapped in a black robe and her entire face was covered in a veil. Stitched into her robe were a few pieces of the shredded, embroidered dress of his dead wife. And the poor man’s eyes immediately welled up with tears; and his heart was squeezed with indescribable pain. And being feverish and delirious, he imagined that he was seeing the very soul of his wife again; and he fell in love with the robbers’ woman. And that was strange, for neither was the robber’s woman his wife nor would she ever be his. He remained soulless; but, in some odd way, he found solace in self-deception.


NOTE. The writer does not want to insult or upset any of those who believe in the Copticisation of Egyptian Arabic, but simply wants to disperse the myth that he sincerely believes hinders the revival of Coptic.




April 17, 2019

NOTE. This article was researched and written objectively. The writer submits it to contribute to scientific research; however, after coming to his conclusions, he also submits it for the benefit of his Coptic nationals who are sometimes are deceived into thinking Egyptian Arabic is influenced by Coptic, and, therefore, it can be embraced as “somehow Coptic”. For more on that, read “Our Present Day Lingual Follies”.


Wilson B. Bishai, who has written several papers on the Coptic substratum in Egyptian Arabic, states that, in morphology and syntax, there are five instances of Coptic influence on the Egyptian Arabic grammar, and that four of these instances are valid and one is doubtful. I shall ignore the doubtful,[1] and enlist the four instances he considers as valid in the following table:

Instance Example
Classical Arabic Egyptian Arabic
1. The delay of the interrogative pronoun when it is governed element[2] أين ذهبت؟ روحت فين؟
2. The use of ‘ما’ as imperative prefix[3] إكتب ماتكتب
3. The use of ‘أ’ plus a personal pronoun as a type of a past tense prefix[4] سمع أهو سمع
4. The special function of the demonstrative pronoun in non-verbal sentences[5] أنا الملك دنا الملك


In all these instances, Bishai says Egyptian Arabic doesn’t agree with Classical Arabic, as the examples above, which he cited, show. He concludes, therefore, that in these instances Egyptian Arabic has been influenced by the Coptic language, which shows these features. But Bishai is not a hasty scientist in his conclusions; he follows a certain process of elimination before he comes to this conclusion:

First, the feature in Egyptian Arabic that appears to be similar to Coptic must not be present in any other Semitic language;

Second, the feature in Egyptian Arabic that appears to be similar to Coptic must not be present in any other Arabic dialect, such as Syrian, Maghrebi and Hijazi;

Thirdly, the feature in Egyptian Arabic that appears to be similar to Coptic must not be present in any of the European languages that have come in contact with Arabic, such as Italian, Portuguese, French and English.

If he could exclude the three possibilities, then he would say that the feature under examination is characteristic of both Coptic and Egyptian Arabic, and has no parallel in other Semitic languages, other Arabic dialects, and European languages that had contact with Egypt in the past. Accordingly, he would say, Coptic remains the only likely source of the particular feature of Egyptian Arabic. It is through this process that Bishai has arrived at his result that the above four features were derived from the lingual contact between Coptic and Arabic in Egypt.

It must be stressed here, that despite the fact that Bishai says that these four instances in the Egyptian Arabic are valid for influence by Coptic, only one of them could be said to be a main feature in Egyptian Arabic, and that is the delay of the governed interrogative pronoun: there is no other form to express the same meaning used in Egyptian Arabic. The remaining three instances are subsidiary, and not main, features; meaning that they are variants of regular forms. Thus, although one finds in Egyptian Arabic the following usages: ماتكتب, أهو سمع, and دنا الملك; one also finds in it the Classical Arabic forms (إكتب, سمع and أنا الملك) used.

Thus, in spite of Bishai’s finding of four valid cases of Coptic influences on Egyptian Arabic’s morphology and syntax, he concludes that “the scope of Coptic influence on the Egyptian Arabic grammar was surprisingly small.”


That the influence of Coptic on Egyptian Arabic’s grammar was small is absolutely accurate. But that should not be a surprising finding. Bishai is aware, as he wrote, that “Languages in contact normally do not influence each other in morphology and syntax as readily as they do in phonology, because the grammatical features of any language are considered to be relatively fixed and hence do not easily allow for as much linguistic interference.”[6] Further, it is known that for lingual interference, a wide-spread and long period of bilingualism between the two languages in contact must exist for the substrate (receding) language to influence the replacing language spoken by those in possession of the state. This was never the case in Egypt. In fact, Bishai comes to this conclusion through his very findings of a limited influence of Coptic on Arabic in Egypt. As he says, “[The] limited influence of Coptic on Egyptian Arabic can be explained only by lack of wide-spread bilingualism in Egypt during the transition from Coptic to Arabic.”[7]


In this article, I intend to argue that the influence of Coptic grammar on Egyptian Arabic grammar is actually smaller in size than what Bishai had thought. As we have seen, Bishai validate four instances in morphology and syntax of Coptic influence on Egyptian Arabic, with only one being a main feature of Egyptian Arabic, and three being subsidiary, meaning that other forms that agree with Classical Arabic do exist in Egyptian Arabic. To validate these grammatical instances in Egyptian Arabic, Bishai filtered each instance through a sieve of three levels: other Semitic languages, other Arabic dialects, and European languages that were in contact with Arabic in Egypt. Only if the instance passed through the three levels of the sieve, would Bishai conclude the validity of the Coptic influence on it.

My contention is that Bishai did not really filter these alleged influences through other Arabic dialects. It is through the other Arabic dialects sieve that I seek to prove that even the limited grammatical influence of Coptic on Egyptian Arabic is actually invalid. The dialect I would use is Sudanese Arabic, and I shall use examples from poetry and novels written in the Sudanese vernacular to prove my point.


First, on the delay of the interrogative pronoun in Egyptian Arabic

Bishai is aware that other researchers disagreed with his position on the delay of the interrogative pronoun in Egyptian Arabic: he notes that Spitta Bey (1880), Galtier (1902) and O’Leary (1934) did not accept any Coptic influence on it. They all observed that the position of the interrogative pronoun in a sentence is inconsistent in all Egyptian Arabic, Classical Arabic and Coptic, in the sense that it is positioned at the beginning of a sentence sometimes and at the end of it in other occasions: this inconsistency made them reject the alleged Coptic influence on Egyptian Arabic in this instance, a claim that predated Bishai, and propagated by both Praetorius (1901, 1902) and Littmann (1902). Bishai, however, argues that the observed positional inconsistency of the interrogative pronoun (that is occurring equally at the beginning and the end of a sentence) occurs in all three languages only when the interrogative pronoun is used to serve as an adjunction/adverb; but when it is used as a subject/predicate or an object in the sentence, its position is fixed in all three languages: thus when it functions as a subject, it is always placed at the beginning of the interrogative sentence (initial position) in all three languages; and when it functions as an object, it is always placed at the end of the sentence (terminal position) in Egyptian Arabic and Coptic but always at the beginning (initial position) in Classical Arabic, as the following table demonstrates:



Interrogative Pronoun
Acting as a subject Acting as an object Acting as an adverb
Classical Arabic





ما العلامة؟


Always initial


ماذا تعملون؟


Always initial


لماذا كسروها؟

كسروها لماذا؟



Egyptian Arabic





أيه العلامة؟


Always initial


عملتوا أيه؟


Always terminal


علشان أيه كسروها؟

كسروها علشان أيه؟









Always initial




Always terminal




* Occurring sometimes at the beginning and others at the end of a sentence.

Thus, when the interrogative pronoun is used as a subject or an adjunction/adverb its position is similar in all three languages; but when it is used as an object, Egyptian Arabic agrees fully with Coptic against Classical Arabic: it is positioned always terminally in Egyptian Arabic and Coptic, and always initially in Classical Arabic. And it is in this pattern when the interrogative pronoun is used as an object (governed interrogative pronoun), coming at the end of a sentence, that Bishai can see no other influence on the Egyptian Arabic other than the Coptic language.

Other main Arabic dialects, Bishai says, agree with Classical Arabic in this respect, and do not show similar divergence like that of Egyptian Arabic; and he uses, as an example, the Syrian Arabic interrogative sentence, “شو عملتوا؟”, where the pronoun takes an initial position. He discards the possibility that the terminal position of the governed interrogative pronoun in Egyptian Arabic could have been taken from European languages, “since in all of them an initial position for the interrogative element dominates.”[8] Consequently, Bishai, following his elimination methodology, concludes: “Egyptian Arabic stands unique in regard to this feature;” and he adds: “[This] strongly indicates that the Egyptian Arabic patterns in this case were influenced by the Coptic substratum.”[9] [10]

It is inaccurate that other main Arabic dialects do not delay the governed interrogative pronoun. The most relevant to Egypt is of course the Sudanese Arabic dialect. The equivalent to Egyptian question word ‘أيه’ and the Syrian ‘شو’ in the Sudanese dialect is ‘شنو’; and when used as a governed interrogative pronoun it is positioned, as in Egyptian dialect and Coptic, terminal, as in the famous poem ‘تقول لِى شنو! (What do you say to me?)’ of Syed Ahmad al-Hardalu:

تقول لِى شنو

وتقولى لِى منو ،

أنحنَا السَّاسْ

ونَحنا الرَّاسْ

ونحن الدّنيا جبناهَا


بِويت ..فى بِويتْ

وأسْعل جدى ترهاقَا

وخلى الفَاقة .. والقَاقا

تقول لِى شنو

وتقول لِى منو ،


One sees the same word order of the governed interrogative pronoun ‘شنو’ in ‘عرس الزين (The Wedding of Zein)’, the famous novella by Tayeb Salih:

“ما تقولنا يا فقر مشيت تسرق شنو؟”

“الولد المطرطش دا يرغي عايز شنو؟”

“خلك من البطاطين والبلاط٠ كرشك الكبيرة دي ملوها ليك بي شنو؟”

“قُت شنو آشيخ علي؟ سَكَن دِهانْ؟ والله عجايب! عشنا وشفنا علي ود الشايب يتكلم الأفرنجي٠”

“قستّ عرس منو؟”

“فتى داير يعرس منو؟”

One can see in the poem of Syed Ahmad al-Hardalu above, the interrogative pronoun, ‘منو’, equivalent to the Egyptian ‘مين’, is also used to serve as an object, and occupies a terminal position.


Second, on the use of ‘ما’ as imperative prefix

The imperative mood in Egyptian Arabic follows the regular rules of Classical Arabic, so a modern Egyptian would say, ‘نَظِّفْ (نَضِّفْ)’, ‘اُكْتُبْ’, ‘كُلْ’, and an Arab from the seventh century in Mecca would understand him, and deem his Arabic perfect.[11] However, as Bishai has observed, Egyptian Arabic additionally uses an irregular method to express the imperative that does not exist in the Classical Arabic of Quran and is not used in Modern Standard Arabic. This latter form is achieved by using a particle, ‘ما’, with the imperfect (المضارع) such as ‘ماتنضف’, ‘ماتكتب’, ‘ماتاكل’.

Bishai thinks that this irregular form of the imperative mood in Egyptian Arabic is derived from Coptic, since in Coptic the particle ma is occasionally used to express the imperative. He came to this conclusion after having ruled out, as he says, the presence of this imperative form in other Semitic languages, other Arabic dialects and European languages that have come in contact with Egyptian Arabic. In his words:

“Other Arabian dialects may differ from classical Arabic regarding certain functions of ‘ma’,[12] but none of them shows anything similar to its function in Egyptian Arabic; in all these dialects, ‘ma’ with the imperfect always functions as a negative element. Thus it is difficult to attribute this special use of ‘ma’ in Egyptian Arabic to internal development since the original function of ‘ma’ with the imperfect was negatival; it is rather inconceivable to think of a negative construction changing into an imperative one through an internal development in the language, especially when no other Semitic language or dialect has exhibited a similar feature. Accordingly, Coptic is the only source that could have influenced Egyptian Arabic with the imperative function of ‘ma’.”[13]

It is true that in Coptic, certain verbs in their infinitive form take ma as a prefix to express the imperative mood. In Egyptian Arabic, the imperative is possible to express using the regular method one finds in Classical Arabic; and, in addition, the imperative can be expressed in all cases using the ما  particle. This is different from the situation in Coptic: in Coptic, ‘ma’ is not used with all verbs in their infinitive form to indicate the imperative but in only a particular group of verbs that do not accept the regular way of expressing the imperative in Coptic[14]: this group of verbs include the nominal construct of the verb ] (] à ma)[15] and those compound verbs which are linked with the verb ], such as matanqo, matamo, mataio.[16] Further, those verbs in Coptic that take the particle ma to express the imperative mood do not have any other way to express that mood.

When the imperfect mood is used with ما  in Egyptian Arabic to express the imperative mood, it is used with the second person, singular masculine form of the imperfect (تنضف, تكتب, تاكل), unlike the case in the use of the regular imperative mood that is shared with Classical Arabic. Further, when ما  is used, it signifies a special meaning one doesn’t find when the regular way of expressing the imperative (order or request). I suggest that certain defiance is imparted by using the ما  particle when creating the imperative – it is assumed that addressor has already been ordered to do something, and they are either unable or reluctant to carry the order out that they may have even boasted of being able to do. Often, this special form of the imperative takes the following way: “اكتب! ماتكتب! مالك؟” (Write (it)! Dare you to write (it)! What is it with you?” One is tempted to actually consider ما as a contracted form of the interrogative phrase, “مالك؟ (ما لك؟)”. It may also be translated into ‘well then’ as in “ما تبدا” (Well then, make a start!)

This special type of imperative, that portrays an order and a defiance to carry it out, is also found in Sudanese Arabic in the same way it is used in Egyptian Arabic, when the particle ‘ma’ is prefixed to the imperfect. The following two examples from Tayed Salih’s novellas, “Urs al-Zayn عُرْس الزين and “بَنْدَر شاه مَرْيُود” help to demonstrate that:

وجدته يوما في مجموعة من النساء يضاحكهن كعادته، فانتهرته قائلة : “ما تخلي الطرطشه والكلام الفارغ تمشي تشوف أشغالك؟[17]

أصله الزمن دا بقى زمن كلام٠ اذاعات وسنمات وجرانين ومدارس واتحادات وهوسه٠ يومتها أسمع الاذاعة تلعلع، العمال الفلاحين الاشتراكية العدالة الاجتماعية زيادة الإنتاج حماية مكاسب الثورة الانتهازية الرجعية ٠٠٠ أي يا خوانا مصيبة شنو الوقعت علينا دي؟ إذاعة السجم دي تنبح طول اليوم أصله حسها دا ما بيفترش؟ قلت لي حاج سعيد انت يا حاج العمال والفلاحين ديل بلدهم وين؟ قال لي يا مغفل العمال والفلاحين مو ياهن نحن٠ أنا أخوك٠ هسع نحن اسمنا العمال والفلاحين؟ قال لي ايوه٠ أها وزيادة الإنتاج يعني تحت السجم فوق الرماد٠ بعدين حاج سعيد ضحك وقال لي أنت ما تمشي تسأل الطريفي ولد بكري يفسر لك الكلام ده كله، ماك شايفه كل يوم جامع ناس سعيد عشا البايتات يديهم في الدروس والمحاضرات؟[18]

It is clear then that Egyptian Arabic is not the only Arabic dialect that uses ‘ما’ to express the imperative. Its use in Sudanese Arabic is similar to that of Egyptian Arabic. It cannot be concluded, then, as Bishai has, that Coptic is the only source that influenced Egyptian Arabic with the imperative function of ما. The ma particle in Coptic serves different function than that in Egyptian Coptic and is restricted to certain verbs that will admit of no other way of expressing the imperative.


Third, on the use of أ plus personal pronoun as a sign of past tense

When a Copt wants to say, “I walked”, expressing the perfect past, he says, “aimosi”. What he uses as his basic unit of the sentence is the timeless infinitive verb ‘mosi, with the Coptic personal subject pronoun ‘i’, which corresponds to the English ‘I’ prefixed to it, and a special particle, ‘a’, which has the function of converting the infinitive verb to give it its perfect past tense. This ‘a’ particle, also called ‘verbal auxiliary’, is used with all personal subject pronouns, so “She walked” is “acmosi”, and “He heard” is “afcwtem”.  The infinitive is timeless, and does not denote any sense of time; to express times, the infinitive must take verbal prefixes – and the verbal prefix for the perfect past tense is ‘a’. From the infinitive, using the right verbal prefix, all Coptic tenses are derived, following the same pattern of:

[Verbal prefix] + [Subject personal pronoun] + [Infinitive]

(All affixed to each other in this order)


Unlike Coptic, Arabic does not possess infinitives at all. In this, it is similar to other Semitic languages. They all do not possess a basic unit of a verb which is timeless. Arabic has two basic units (stems), one indicating the past stem and the other non-past stem (which, itself, is obtained from the past stem).  From these two stems all tenses are derived: the past tense (الفعل الماضي) from the former stem and other tenses (including the present and future tenses and the imperative mood) from the latter stem.


The past stem of each lexical verb is in fact the third person, masculine singular past tense: so, for instance, in the lexical verb that deals with hearing, the past stem is “سمع”, which translates into the English “He heard” and the Coptic “afcwtem”. For emphasis, an Arab may add the subject pronoun to the past tense, saying “هو سمع”. So, the past tense in its third person, masculine singular form can have the following two patterns:

[Past stem]


[Subject pronoun] + [Past stem]

(Both separate)


What is important to note here is that in Arabic, there is no need for any verbal auxilliary like that in Coptic to express the perfect past tense, since the past-stem already does that. Egyptian Arabic is the same as in Classical Arabic in this matter. Modern Egyptians say, for example, “سمع, مشي, أكل, درس, etc. (or for emphasis, هو سمع, هو مشي, هو أكل, هو درس); and in all this they use the past stem as the perfect past tense in its third person, masculine singular form.

Occasionally, Egyptians would say, أهو سمع, أهو مشي, أهو أكل, أهو درس. Somehow this construction has led Bishai to bizarrely conclude that it is a particular type of the past tense in Egyptian Arabic, and that it is taken from Coptic. On this, he says:

The morphemic pattern ‘a + personal pronoun + verb occurs in Egyptian Arabic to denote a particular type of past tense, such as ‘a-hu-seme’ “he heard.” The same pattern occurs also in Coptic which renders the same sentence afcwtem.[19] Egyptian Arabic ‘a-hu-seme’ is made up of ‘a a prefix, hu third person singular masculine pronoun, and seme’ the simple past tense form of the verb lexeme meaning “to hear.” Coptic ‘a + sõt(ɘ)m is also made up of ‘a the same prefix, f the third person singular masculine pronoun (bound form) and sõt(ɘ)m a lexeme (probably the infinitive) meaning “to hear”. … There is a clear similarity between the morphological patterns of Egyptian Arabic and Coptic in these expressions of past tense which are unparalleled in classic Arabic.[20]

There is a problem with Bishai’s theory.

First, Bishai doesn’t tell us what he means exactly by saying that أهو سمع, for instance, denotes “a particular type of past tense.”

Second, there is nothing as “clear similarity” between the morphological patterns of Egyptian Arabic and Coptic in these expressions: the verb سمع in Egyptian Arabic already expresses the past tense, while the verb cwtem in Coptic is neutral, and does not on its own denote any timing. The Coptic verbal auxiliary ‘a’ converts the Coptic infinitive cwtem (and it is an infinitive and not “probably the infinitive”) to the past tense, but the Arabic letter ‘أ’ in the construction أهو does not have the same function.

Third, Bishai misunderstands the meaning of ‘أهو’, and ignores the frequently applied grammatical device of assimilation (الإدغام) in Arabic.[21] ‘أهو’ is actually a contracted form of ‘ها هو’: while ‘هو’ is the third person, masculine and singular pronoun, ‘ها’ is a word (a preposition), recognised in both Classical Arabic and Egyptian Arabic, which is used, inter alia, to alert a person to something that has happened.[22] The expression, ‘ها هو سمع’ will thus mean ‘Pay attention (take notice or heed), he has heard’ and not simply ‘he heard’. Sometimes, the near demonstrative ‘ذا’ is added, and the construction is ‘ها هو ذا سمع’ (Take notice, he has listened there). Arabs may occasionally use another prepositional word, ‘قد’, for emphasis, and, therefore, say: ‘ها هو قد سمع’ (Pay attention, he has indeed listened). By assimilation, which we said is a common device in Arabic to facilitate a flowing pronunciation of the language, ‘ها هو سمع’, becomes ‘أهو سمع’.[23] And the meaning that the expression ‘أهو سمع’ conveys to the listener is significantly different from what a simple ‘هو سمع’ expresses.

Bishai was evidently unaware of this. But he makes another error by stating:

The morphological pattern ‘a plus a personal pronoun prefixed to the verb in order to indicate a special type of the past tense in Egyptian Arabic has no parallel in any other Arabic dialect. It can hardly be of any European origin, and cannot result from internal development since there is no apparent source in the Semitic morphological structure from which it could have sprung. Accordingly, Coptic furnishes the only possible source for this feature in Egyptian Arabic.[24]

In fact, the combination of [ahu plus the past tense] is often used in other Arab dialects and is not restricted to Egyptian Arabic; and it means just what I have explained above. Here, I use part of the following poem by the Sudanese poet, Azhari Dhia’a al-Din:

قبلك سنين ضاعت
من عمرى مفقودة
صدقني مشتاق ليك
اهو بانت الريدة
والريدة ماشة عليك
تايهة ولقت سيدا
اسقيني بقة حب
واحفظ مواعيدا
داويني بى عنينك
فد نظرة ما تزيدا


Fourth, on the special function of the demonstrative pronoun in non-verbal sentences

Here, Bishai tries hard to prove his point, and the response must be a bit detailed. He states that the use of the demonstrative pronoun as an element to mark the subject in nominal sentences is characteristic of both Coptic and Egyptian Arabic. He claims that this characteristic is not found in Classical Arabic, Arabic dialects (including Maltese), other Semitic languages, and European languages that came into contact with Arabic. Consequently, he declares that Coptic influenced Egyptian Arabic on this:

Pe, te, ne are shortened forms of the demonstrative pronouns, and are used in special syntactic function to indicate the logical subject, which may be compared to French ‘c’est’ in ‘c’est moi qui est venu’ or English ‘It is’ in ‘It is I who came’. An example of this special function is anok pe pouro ‘I am the king’ where pe has a secondary function as the copula, but is primarily an element which marks the subject anok. Perhaps the whole sentence is better translated ‘It is I (who am) the king’.

Egyptian Arabic exhibits the same feature regarding this special use of the demonstrative pronoun. The above sentence is rendered in Egyptian Arabic da-na lmalik, where da is the demonstrative pronoun used to emphasise (‘a)na, which is the logical subject. It is important to note that Egyptian Arabic da’na lmalik is translated in this construction ‘It is I (who am) the king’, and never ‘This is I, the king’. This shows the great similarity between Coptic and Egyptian Arabic.[25]

Bishai’s argument is not new. It was first postulated in 1901 by M. E. Littmann, who wrote:

I believe that the copula and emphatic pronouns that are so characteristic of the Coptic (pe, te, ne) have influenced the usage of Egyptian Arabic on several occasions. In Egyptian Arabic, the equivalent of the question, “What is it (was ist das)?” is: “di ê di, dê di”. This seems to me to be unmistakeably Coptic influence, for even though in Arabic the demonstrative can be repeated to indicate strong emphasis, it is difficult to imagine why this should have become the rule in Egyptian dialect, even when no strengthening is intended.  Pe, te, ne probably were originally demonstrative pronouns; and, so, it should not surprise us that these pronouns find the same grammatical function in Egyptian Arabic.

The use of hûa, hîya, hum for the introduction of affirmative questions probably goes back to the Coptic language, although here in Arabic disguise we have the personal pronouns instead. Especially instructive in this relationship, as it appears to me, is the connection between da, di and the personal pronouns d’ana, d’inte and sentences like d’ana ḫaltik, d’ana ‘lqâḑy. The corresponding construction in Coptic is: anok-pe pshwc etnanouf[26] or inthok pe pashiri pamenrit[27]. It should be noted, however, that the Coptic forms are enclitic while those of the Arabic are proclitic.

So, I do not think that I am wrong if I attribute this remarkable phenomenon in Egyptian Arabic to Coptic influence: Egyptian Arabic is peculiar in using this connection of Demonstrative + Personal Pronoun, while other Arabic dialects and also Hebrew use Adverb + Suffix construction: Hebrew: הִנֵּה; Tunis: hâni; Jerusalem: haęnī; Damascene: lêkoh (this from إِلَيْكَ with suffix). The Egyptians say, “d’ana mâ kaltiš” (Look, I have not eaten yet); the Tunisians, “hâni uşult” (I have arrived); the Jerusalemite, “haęnī î” (I am here).[28]

Galtier (1902) was quick to respond to Littman:

The use of demonstratives with personal pronouns is not peculiar to the Egyptian dialect. We say in Algeria هذا هو الرجل إلي  (Here is the man who) and هذا هو  (Here he is),   هذوا هما (Here they are). In Malta, Dan hu dak ed-discipulu li jišhed daun el huejjeg (This is the disciple who testifies of these things), Ma huš el dan emma el Barabbas (Not him, but Barabbas). Finally I cannot see any difference between the Egyptian دنا القاضي, and the Maltese, Dan hu el-Cristu, and Dak ennifsu jena, li qie’ed nitkellem mi’ak.[29]

Galtier’s examples from the Gospel of St. John can be summarised in the following table, accompanied by their equivalent in English[30] and Arabic[31]:

St. John Gospel Maltese text as in Galtier’s article[32] English translation Arabic Translation
21:24 Dan hu dak ed-discipulu li jišhed daun el huejjeg This is the disciple who testifies of these things

(Galtier translates it into French: “c’est ce disciple qui rend témoignage de ces choses.” The literal English translation from French is: “It is this disciple who bears witness to these things.”)


هَذَا هُوَ التِّلْمِيذُ الَّذِي يَشْهَدُ بِهَذَا
18:40 Ma huš el dan emma el Barabbas Not him, but Barabbas لَيْسَ هَذَا بَلْ بَارَابَاسَ
7:41 Dan hu el-Cristu This is the Christ هَذَا هُوَ الْمَسِيحُ
4:26 Dak ennifsu jena, li qie’ed nitkellem mi’ak I who speak to you am He أَنَا الَّذِي أُكَلِّمُكِ هُوَ


Galier’s rebuttal of Littmann is responded to by Bishai in his article:

Referring to this feature, Galtier quotes an example from Maltese where the demonstrative pronoun is used in a non-verbal sentence with the third person singular pronoun dan hu dak addiscippulu ‘This is the disciple’. He compares this example with Egyptian Arabic da huwwa-rrāgil which can be translated ‘This is the man’. Perhaps Galtier did not realize that this example in Egyptian Arabic can be translated differently depending on the position of the juncture. For example [da huwwarragil] means ‘This is the man’, but [dahuwwarragil]  means ‘He is the man’. In the first utterance huwwa functions as a copula, but in the second utterance it is a main element and subject of the sentence. On the other hand, in the first utterance is a main element functioning as a subject, but in the second utterance it is an element introducing the subject of the sentence huwwa. In the Maltese example dan is a main element functioning as the subject of the sentence and hu is a copula; neither of these elements can have any other function. Since the first and second person pronouns are not used as copulas, it was impossible for Galtier to quote a Maltese example of a demonstrative pronoun with a personal pronoun other than the third person in order to match the Egyptian Arabic usage of the demonstrative pronoun with the first person, such as dā-na lqāḑi (I am the judge) which was quoted by Galtier himself in his article.[33]

To summarise Bishai’s opinion, I use the following table with the sentence in Coptic and then in what Bishai says it is its rendering in Egyptian Arabic:

Language Nominal sentence and its declension according to Bishai Bishai’s translation into English
Coptic          Anok pe pouro

Anok = Logical subject

Pouro = Predicate

Pe =  Shortened form of the demonstrative pronoun with two syntactical functions:

1.       Special and primary function of marking and indicating the logical subject ‘anok’

2.       Secondary function as a copula

It is I (who am) the king
Egyptian Arabic ده أنا (دنا) الملك

أنا = Logical subject

الملك = Predicate

ده = Demonstrative pronoun to emphasise the logical function ‘أنا’


It is I (who am) the king


(Never, “This is I, the king”)


When used in Coptic nominal sentences, pe, te, and ne (pe, te, ne) they always come after the predicate, taking the function of the grammatical subject, as Alexis Mallon tells us.[34] An example is anok pe, where anok is the predicate and pe is the grammatical subject, which describes a position in the sentence. When the nominal sentence contains a real subject (the thing about which something is otherwise predicated; also called logical subject), the declension of pe in the syntax of the sentence changes, as in anok pe p[oic: here pe is not anymore a subject, since we now have the real subject, pouro; and it becomes ‘the noun of the copula’ (or copula), acting as a connection word, linking the predicate with the real subject. Anok remains the predicate in both sentences.[35]

anok pe

[Predicate + Grammatical subject]

anok pe pouro

[Predicate + Copula noun + Real subject]


Three things worthy of observation here:

  1.  Mallon translates the ‘anok pe’ into the French «c’est moi» (‘It is I’ and ‘أنا هو’, in English and Arabic respectively) and ‘annok pe p[oic’ into «je suis le Seigneur» (‘I am the Lord’ and ‘أنا هو الرب’, in English and Arabic respectively). There is no much straining to translate it into «c’est moi qui suis le Seigneur» (‘It is I who am the Lord’, as Bishai suggests the translation should be).
  2. Mallons’ declension of the sentence differs from that by Bishai as the table shows:
anok Pe pouro (or p[oic)
Mallon Predicate Noun of copula Real subject
Bishai Real subject Primarily, an indicator/marker of the real subject.

Its function as a copula is only secondary.


3. As Littmann has observed, the Coptic copula ‘pe’ is enclitic while the Arabic demonstrative pronoun ‘ده’ is proclitic. A clitic is a word that is treated in pronunciation as forming part of a neighbouring word: a word is enclitic, like ‘pe’ in ‘anok pe pouro’ if it is associated with the preceding word (here, ‘anok’); a word is proclitic like ‘ده’ in ‘ده أنا (دنا) الملك’, if it is associated with the following word (here, ‘أنا’). The word order of ‘pe’ and ‘ده’ in the relevant nominal sentences is different.

Bishai says “pe, te, ne are shortened forms of the demonstrative pronouns”, and Littmann says they “probably were originally demonstrative pronouns.” This is true, but that was in Old Egyptian, the language of the Old Kingdom, which was replaced in the Middle Kingdom by Middle Egyptian in c. 2000 BC.[36] As Mallon says, these words are abridged forms of the demonstrative pronouns vi, yi, ni, which mean, “this, this one and these”.[37] This is their original meaning, but since the Middle Kingdom and the emergence of Middle Egyptian, the third stage of the Egyptian language, they assumed the meaning of a presumptive pronoun, and then, through further reinterpretation (reanalysis), the copula meaning.[38] With no sense of the old demonstrative pronoun attached to them, they became simply linking words in a nominal sentence between the subject and its predicate.

The grammarians and linguists may indulge in studying the historical origin of pe, te, ne, but the ordinary Egyptians who spoke Coptic in the Islamic period, when Coptic came into lingual contact with Arabic, did not have their sophistication or historical research results to inform them or influence their mind and speech. For them, ‘anok pe pouro’ was simply about making a statement that one was the king, or in Arabic, ‘ana al malik أنا الملك’, or in English ‘I am the king’. The Arabic sentence, anna al malik contains zero copula, and the construction can be found in Classical Arabic and its various dialects. Sometimes a copula is used, and then one would use the third person, singular and masculine subject pronoun for it, and the sentence will thus be: anna hwwa almalik أنا هو الملك. This construction is again present in Classical Arabic and its various dialects.[39]  The sentences above, whether in Coptic, Arabic or English, are declarative sentences, meaning that they simply make a statement, declaring something about the subject.[40]

The Egyptian Arabic, ‘d’ana al malik دنا الملك’, however, is not a simple declarative sentence, but an exclamatory one.  An exclamatory sentence is a more forceful version of a declarative sentence; and, while it makes a statement just as the declarative sentence does, it conveys emotion. This emotion could be excitement, fear, anger, anxiety, disappointment, etc. Neither the Coptic ‘anok pe pouro’ or the Arabic ‘أنا الملك’ or ‘أنا هو الملك’ can be regarded as exclamatory. The Egyptian Arabic sentence, ‘دنا الملك’, is, however, exclamatory, and its use conveys a very different mood. Here, as in other sentences such as دنا القاضي , دنا المعلم , دنا سيدك , دنا ستك , دنا خالتك , دنا أبوكي , etc., the speaker is overwhelmed with emotion, and tries to emphasise being the king, the judge, the master, the manager, the aunty, the father, etc., all in the face of some suspicion or denial or disbelief or doubt or ignoring or a rude lack of acknowledgement and respect. In such situations it is to be assumed that the interlocutor actually knows of the relationship between him and the speaker, a relationship usually based on authority or power that the interlocutor is not taking account of it. Often the speaker tries to show, and remind, the interlocutor his place in the relationship, and to stress his ability and his rights over him.

Let us take a few examples from Egyptian Arabic, as in such sentences the context is essential to understanding:

When King Farouk (1936-1952) abdicated his throne to his son on 26 July 1952, after the military coup against his regime, he issued the following royal edict in Modern Standard Arabic:[41]

نحن فاروق الأول ملك مصر والسودان

لما كنا نتطلب الخير دائماً لأمتنا ونبتغي سعادتها ورقيها

ولما كنا نرغب رغبة أكيدة في تجنيب البلاد المصاعب التي تواجهها في هذه الظروف الدقيقة ونزولا على إرادة الشعب

قررنا النزول عن العرش لولي عهدنا الأمير أحمد فؤاد وأصدرنا أمرنا بهذا إلى حضرة صاحب المقام الرفيع علي ماهر باشا رئيس مجلس الوزراء للعمل بمقتضاه


The edict starts with, “nahnu Farouk al-awwal malk Misr wal-Sudan (We, Farouk I, King of Egypt and Sudan),” and after explaining that he always wished well for his nation, and wanted to avoid the country getting into trouble, and submitting to the will of the people, he announces that he has abdicated the throne to his heir, Prince Ahmad Fou’ad.

In Egyptian Arabic he could have said: “ihna Farouk el-awwal malk Misr wal-Sudan (إحنا فاروق الأول ملك مصر والسودان)”, where ‘ihna (إحْنَا)’ is the equivalent of ‘nahnu (نَحْنُ)’, representing the first person, plural pronoun. Farouk’s edict is declarative, simply announcing his abdication. It does not convey any emotion by way of its syntax. The matter would have been different had Farouk started his edict by the words: “da’ihna Farouk el-awwal malk Misr wal-Sudan (دحنا (ده إحنا) فاروق الأول ملك مصر والسودان).” Such a beginning would have revealed completely different circumstance and meaning, and one would expect after it such utterances, to those who did not recognise his authority, as “I shall show you your right place, you garbage; I shall quake the earth under your feet (followed with so many name-calling, Egyptian style).” This illustrates how the two constructions are different in meaning and are used in different circumstances and power relationship. Here is another example that illustrates the emotive context in which the expressions, ‘d’na’ and ‘da’ihna’ are used, and the defiance against denial and non-recognition they contain. I use the song in Egyptian Arabic by Muhammad Ramadan, ‘d’ana al-malik’:

هما فين ؟! .. اللي قالوا مش هيوصل من زمان؟!

هما فين ؟ .. اللي في بدايتي قفلوا كل الببان!!

قالوا ايه ؟! .. البحر موجه عالي مليان بالحيتان!!

عملت إيه ؟! .. خدت الطريق البري وصلت بأمان!!

أنا فوق ! .. مهما تجري صعب انك تعديني!!

أنا فوق ! .. لامبورجيني و انت يا ابني ماكنة صيني!!

انا فوق ! .. ربك وحده اللي قادر يوديني!!

انا فوق ! .. ربك وحده اللى معليني .. ولا ولا ولا

رايحين لفين دة انا الملك .. نادي الملوك مين فيكوا مشترك!

اثبت مكانك ماسمعش صوتك .. دماغكوا شغالة بزمبلك!!

رايحين لفين دا أنا الملك .. نادى الملوك مين فيكوا مشترك!

إثبت مكانك مسمعش صوتك .. دماغكوا شغاله بزمبلك!!

طب طب هيلا هيلا هوب .. هيلا هيلا هوبا .. انا ملك الغابة شايفك قطة!!

طب طب هيلا هيلا هوب .. هيلا هيلا هوبا .. التاج على راسي يالا يا بروطة!!

Again, the reader can get the nature of such expressions used in Egyptian Arabic by reading part of the lengthy diatribe of insults by Mortada Mansour, President of Zamalik Football Club, against its ex-manager, Ahmad Mido, who dared to criticise Mansour:

أصغر مشجع بالنادى أنضف منك، إنت خربت النادى ودمرته، وعلشان اطردت تعمل كده، وكمان رايح تغلط فيا دلوقتى ده أنا سيدك، ودى غلطتى علشان أنا اللى دخلتك النادى تانى وكنت ناسى اللى عملوه معاك فى أوروبا[42]

Another example, which is a short dialogue between a daughter and her father[43]:

– ازيك يابو نسب!

– ابو نسب ايه ياجزمه ده انا ابوكي!

– يوه مش انت متجوز امي!

Further example from the electronic novel, ‘طفلة حطمت كبريائي’ (A Child who Smashed my Pride) by about the large family of Sioufi: the spoiled granddaughter, Nour, returns from the U.S. and demands the room with the balcony in the house that is currently occupied by Malak, a sister-in-law; and the grandparents (Samia being the grandmother) give her it without prior discussion with Malak, which understandably angers the latter. Malak storms downstairs and the following dialogue occurs between Malak on one hand and Nour and Wateen (Nour’s cousin) on the other hand:

ملك :ممكن افهم ايه ده هو انا ماليش لأزمة فالبيت ولا ايه

وتين :ولا ليكى حتى جزمة

ملك :يعنى تطردونى من اوضتى عشان خاطر السفيرة عزيزة

نور بغضب وعصبيه: متكلمى كويس يابتاع انتى

ملك وهى تقترب منها :بتاع ايه ياروح امك ده انا ستك يابت

نور وهى تبعد سامية :ست مين ياروح خالتك

سامية وهى تمسك نور :خلاص يانور

نور :لا استنى يادادة دى فاكرنى جايه من امريكا قطه مغمضة مش هرد عليها

Now, let us turn to Bishai’s claim that the use of the demonstrative pronoun + first/second person pronoun in nominal sentences is a feature displayed by Egyptian Arabic only and is non-existent in Classical Arabic or other Arabic dialects, including the Maltese dialect that Galtier had used. Here, again, I use Sudanese Arabic: in the famous Sudanese ‘Hanbatta’ (brigandage) dobait (دوبيت),[44] one reads:

شـــايفة الكـــلام زايد وعسـولة ساكتــة خلاص
لا قالـت رضيـــت لا هجست وســواس
لا قالـــت أبيت لا صــدت الحُراس

والعالم تجقلــب ناسية المنام ونعاس
شيـتاً هنبتــــة وشيتًاُ شٍعـر وجناس
وشيـتاُ بالغبي وشـيتا قـدام النـــاس
جيلانــي جًود وزاد فوق الشعــر مقياس
وفات أهل الشـــعرالبدرســو الكراس
وقال ما مهـــم شيـــب الشــعرفي الراس
في شان الشــباب حســاً ملان احســاس
وإن الهنبتة عزة وما إفـــــــــلاس
شــقاقين الدروب والليــل سوادو دمــاس
عداليــن العيــوب عٍرفة وشــدة وباس
يعني شنو الصُداع ما نحن وجع الــــراس

ويعني شــنو الخداع والفلهمــة واقناع
نحن الهنبتة ديل نحــن طول البــــاع
فرســان هوايد الليل والحق بناخدو ضُراع
أهــل الكرم بالحيــل شايليــن للوجع مقلاع

The modern Sudanese poet, Mahjoub Sharif, has a poem called Ghanni ya Khartoum (Sing, oh Khartoum), in which he celebrates the return of the Left into Sudan’s political arena:

غني يا خرطوم و غني و شدي أوتار المغني
و ضوي من جبهة شهيدك أمسياتك و اطمئني

نحن منك ريح و هبت
نار و شبت في وجوه الخانوا إسمك يا جميلة
و نحن يا ست الحبايب من ثمارك
في دروب الليل نهارك
و قبل ما يطول إنتظارك
نحن جينا

ديل أنحنا القالوا متنا
و قالوا فتنا
و قالوا للناس إنتهينا
جينا زي ما كنا حضنك يحتوينا

Of this, one finds many examples in the Sudanese vernacular, with all first, second and third persons. When using the first person pronoun, the Sudanese frequently use the plural form, while the Egyptians use the singular form more often. This is perhaps because of the strong tribal affiliation of the Sudanese which still exists while that of Egypt’s Arabs has weakened.


It is clear from the above that the use of the demonstrative pronoun with the personal pronoun in Egyptian Arabic differs significantly from the Coptic use of the Copula in nominal sentences:

  1. In Coptic, the copula is used with all personal pronouns, while in Egyptian Arabic the demonstrative pronoun in the combination mentioned by Bishai is used only with the first and second personal pronoun, and not with the third pronoun.
  2. While in Coptic the copula takes an enclitic position relative to the personal pronoun, in Egyptian Arabic the demonstrative pronoun takes a proclitic position.
  3. In Coptic the copula is used in declarative nominal sentences, but in Egyptian Arabic the demonstrative pronoun is used in the exclamatory mood.
  4. As Bishai admits, the feature he discusses in Egyptian Arabic is subsidiary and not the main, regular form; the use of the copula in Coptic is, however, the main and only form. Actually, as we have seen above, the feature mentioned by Bishai in this section (using ‘دنا’ or ‘دحنا’, as in ‘دنا الملك’ and ‘دحنا فاروق الأول ملك مصر’) is not another form at all of declarative sentences such as ‘أنا الملك’ and ‘إحنا فاروق الأول ملك مصر والسودان’, since it assumes in the former sentences an exclamatory mood, and is used in a different context than that of the latter declarative sentences, conferring an altogether different meaning.

Further, contrary to what Bishai says, other Arabic dialects, at least the Sudanese dialect, do use the same structure combining the demonstrative pronoun and the personal pronoun in nominal sentences; and in this combination, they give the same exclamatory mood as in Egyptian Arabic – a mood that is not given when the same sentence minus the demonstrative pronoun is uttered.

From what we have seen, it is evident that Bishai’s theory that Coptic influenced Egyptian Arabic on this instance is wrong.


The writer’s use of the Sudanese dialect to undermine Bishai’s claims is intentional. Sudanese dialect is considered pure and archaic Arabic, and still has its equivalent in the Hijaz in Saudi Arabia: it is considered to be, more or less, the same in grammar, much of the lexicon and dialectical features as the Arabic spoken by Arab tribes at the time they burst out Arabia in the seventh century into Egypt and other areas.[45] Most Arab tribes in Sudan, particularly those that influenced what is now called Khartoum Arabic, emigrated from Egypt to Sudan. Those who immigrated to Sudan were comprised mainly of nomadic Arabs, not those who have settled in Egypt as peasants. Such nomadic Arabs, who lived in the desert mainly, could not have had much lingual contact with the Copts and their language. Sudanese Arabic is, therefore, very relevant to our topic: if it can be said that Sudanese Arabic shares Egyptian Arabic in features claimed by Bishai to be due to Coptic influence, it can undermine the claim completely. It is, therefore, important to survey here the history of the spread of Arabic tribes, and Arabic, to Egypt and then to Sudan from Egypt.

Since the conquest of Egypt in the seventh century by the Muslim Arabs, there has been continuous stream of Arab immigration to Egypt through Sinai and the Isthmus of Suez. This movement predated Islam but had been minimal compared to what happened since. Later, Arabised Berber or Arabs, who first moved directly to the Maghreb through Egypt, poured back into Egypt through its Libyan border. Arab and Muslim rulers encouraged the emigration to Egypt of their kin tribes or tribes that were politically affiliated with them. While these Arabs lent the ruler political and military support when required, and received in return regular payments from the treasury for life, they largely led nomadic life, living in tents in the border of the deserts of Egypt with the cultivated lands or deep inside, and conducting a life of plunder and robbery as they preyed on the Egyptian natives, and on each other; for one’s loyalty was to the tribe mainly. The Christian Copts, Egypt’s natives, and the Arab immigrants led separate lives, with minimal social contact in between them. Conversion of the Copts to Islam was minimal in the first centuries after the conquest; and despite misleading writings by the Muslim historian al-Maqrizi, large conversion of the Copts did not take place until later in the fourteenth century. The supremacist Arabs hated the Coptic peasants on racial and religious lines, and called them Fellahin, an Arabic word that means “toilers of the land”. Tin their arrogance, they regarded farming as a job unfit for the Arab who should live from spoils of war he gets by the tip of the lance and his sword alone.  The word Fellahin (s. Fellah فَلَّاح) still holds a contemptuous meaning in Egypt, with many social and political implications attached to it. But the Arabs, who constituted in the first centuries after the Islamic conquest the rulers of Egypt and the backbone of its soldiery, were made in time, since the policy of Turkification by the Abbasid Caliph al-Mu’tasim (833-842), to lose their dominance in the state and exclusive privileges. Two significant outcomes resulted from that: first, some Arab nomads were forced to accept farming as a means of living, becoming peasants of some sorts, thereby becoming themselves tillers of the land, with the title of “al-‘Irban al-mostaflihin العربان المستفلحين” (Arabs who have become Fellahin). But they did not forget their arrogance, and continued to look down with contempt upon the Coptic Fellahin, and to prey on them, while themselves being despised by those Arabs who still carried a nomadic lifestyle; and, second, those Arabs who continued their nomadic life found themselves pushed to move away in large numbers from the centre of power in the cities of Misr and Cairo to Upper Egypt. In the ninth and tenth centuries those migrating nomads managed to spread into the country of the pagan Bija tribes, ‘ard al-ma’adan أرض المعدن (Land of the Minerals) in the south eastern part of Egypt and the north eastern part of present Sudan; and, later, to the Christian kingdom of Nabatia (al-Maris المريس) that stretched between Aswan and Korosko (around 60 miles north of Wadi Halfa on the border between Egypt and Sudan). Nobatia was the most northerly Nubian kingdom, with its capital at Bajras (Faras).

Meanwhile, Makuria (al-Maqara المَقَرَة), the Christian kingdom to the south of Nobatia, that had its capital in Old Dongola, and extending along the Nile from Korsoko southwards, acted as a firewall against any significant infiltration of Arabs into the lands of what today represents Sudan. This, however, was not to last: in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, internal strife and power struggle between the various claimants to the throne weakened it, and, worse still, gave the aggressive Bahri Mamluk Dynasty (1250-1382) the opportunity to interfere in its internal affairs and appoint rulers as they wished, which resulted in Makuria becoming a mere vassal state of Egypt’s Muslims. The advent of the Mamluks was received with open hostility and rebellions by the nomadic Arabs of Egypt, who despised the ‘slave race’ as they called the Mamluks, and considered themselves fitter to rule Egypt which they considered theirs by virtue of conquest. While various Arab tribes entered into a league of opposition, the Mamluk responded by force, launching massive campaigns to reduce the rebels, and managed to defeat and massacre thousands them. The nomad Arabs, in the event, found themselves forced to move even further south into the land of what is now known as Sudan, unimpeded by the now weakened Makuria. In 1317, the end of Makuria was marked by the conversion of Old Dongola’s main cathedral to a mosque. From that time on, Arabs flooded Sudan in large numbers; and they were able later in 1504, and in alliance with the Muslim Funj Sultanate of Sennar, to destroy the southernmost Nubian kingdom of Alodia (‘Alwa عَلْوَة), which had its capital at Suba, south of present Khartoum. In this way, Nubia was no more; and Sudan was thus made widely open to Islam, and the Arabisation of the land of the Blacks commenced in earnest.

While the Nubian states of Makuria and Alodia were being invaded and reduced by the Arab nomads who descended from Egypt in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, three significant matters had been taking place in Egypt itself: first, inadequate Nile inundations, famines and epidemics, particularly the plague, became repetitive phenomena, adding pressure on the Arab nomads to migrate further, with their animals, into Sudan; second, several persecution waves by the Mamluks, particularly in 1293, 1301, 1321, and 1354 led many of the Copts, who were already weakened by their abject poverty, oppression and the recurring natural disasters, to convert to Islam in large numbers, and rapidly abandoning Coptic and adopting Arabic to merge entirely with the Muslims; third, while Coptic numbers declined through persecution and natural disasters, and could not bounce back, Muslim numbers were maintained and continued to increase exponentially by the continuing Arab migration from other Muslim countries, particularly by the migration of the Hawwara tribe, a Berber tribe that had been thoroughly Arabised, from the Maghreb to Egypt. This huge tribe eventually settling in Upper Egypt in the fifteenth century and became the dominant tribe there, outnumbering all other tribes. It brought with it to Egypt its particular Arabic dialect, influencing the pre-existent Arabic of Upper Egypt.

Back to Sudan, the invading Arabs from Egypt belonged to two main extensive tribal groups: Juhaina group (originating from the southern parts of the Arabian Peninsula, and called ‘al-‘Arab al-‘Ariba العرب العاربة ’, that is the genuine Arabs) and the Ja’alin group (originating from the northern parts of Arabia, and called ‘al-‘Arab al-Must’ariba العرب المستعربة’, that is those who became Arabs).[46] These two groups, with their so many different tribes and clans, brought with them their particular Arabic dialects that were later blended together in Omdurman during the Mahdist State (1885 – 1898), and which later became known as Khartoum Arabic. While many tribes from the different parts of Sudan contributed to the development of this Khartoum Arabic, two Riverain[47] tribes had mostly influenced it: the Ja’alin and the Shaigiya (both from the larger Ja’alin group), the two tribes that have influenced not the Arabic of Sudan, but also much of its political and social history.[48]

Today, Sudanese Arabic and Egyptian Arabic are regarded as one group in the study of Arabic dialectology.  This is understandable since the Arab tribes that fundamentally determined the dialect of Egypt are the same that determined later Sudan’s. As those who moved to Sudan from Egypt were mainly the nomadic Arabs, and not the Mustaflihin who stayed mostly behind in Egypt, it cannot be said that their Arabic dialect was influenced by the Coptic language since they had no much contact with the Copts while they were in Egypt. Up until the nineteenth century, the Arabs after migration to Sudan had no contact with Copts since the Copts started migrating to Sudan only after the occupation of Sudan by Muhammad Ali Pasha, Egypt’s ruler, in 1821. The similarities between Sudanese Arabic and Egyptian Arabic can be attributed only to the commonality in the Arab tribal composition of the two countries; and the Copts had no influence on either of dialect. On the other hand, whatever differences exist between the two dialects can only be explained by non-Coptic influences.[49] Out of the two dialects, the Sudanese represents a purer Arabic dialect – Egyptian dialect, however, particularly that of Lower Egypt, has been influences to varying degrees by the tongues of Muslims from other races that ruled Egypt at one time or the other, including the Turks, Persians, Kurds, and various Muslims of the Caucus.[50]


What do we conclude from all of this? One result is evident: that when a certain characteristic in Egyptian Arabic exists also in Sudanese Arabic, it will be wrong to attribute this characteristic to the influence of the Coptic language on Arabic.

Bishai has already concluded in his various articles[51] that Coptic had only limited influence on Egyptian Arabic; however, he conceded that it had an influence on it on four morphological and syntactic situations: on the delay of the interrogative pronoun when it is governed element, the use of ‘ما’ as imperative prefix, the use of ‘أ’ plus a personal pronoun as a type of a past tense prefix, and the special function of the demonstrative pronoun in non-verbal sentences. Loaning few words from one language to another (lexical influence) is a common phenomenon in all languages, a superficial matter that does not alter the fabric of the receiving language; however, a grammatical influence is always significant since it alters the very structure of the language, and signifies a major and prolonged contact between the two languages and an important influence by one on the other.


I hope that I have proven Bishai’s claim of any Coptic grammatical substratum on the Arabic of Egypt to be false in this article. I have used Bishai’s old tests to undermine his claim: he takes any characteristic in Egyptian Arabic morphology and syntax that appears to be seemingly similar to Coptic to have been influenced by Coptic if he could not find it in other Arabic dialects outside Egypt. In this matter he was able to cite Shami (Syrian) and Maltese dialects as being different from Egyptian Arabic. He ignores Sudanese Arabic completely, even though it is the most helpful dialect in a study of this sort. To Bishai’s credit, he was not unique in that: Sudanese Arabic, even though it is one of the purest dialects of Arabic, has been poorly studied until recently, and many writers before and after Bishai had no knowledge of it.

By resorting to Sudanese Arabic, I have proven that the four “characteristics” that Bishai thought were particular to Egyptian Arabic and attributed them to Coptic influence are actually existent in Sudanese Arabic. By Bishai’s own test, this undermines his argument, and demonstrates that the Coptic language had no influence at all on the grammar of Egyptian Arabic; and further proves that Coptic had no significant or prolonged contact with Arabic.


[1] The doubtful, he says, is the use of an adjective plus the preposition ‘عَنْ’ in place of the regular Arabic elative form ‘مٍنْ’.

[2] An instance of Coptic influence on the Egyptian Arabic word order.

[3] An instance of Coptic influence on the Egyptian Arabic morphology.

[4] An instance, again, of Coptic influence on the Egyptian Arabic morphology.

[5] An instance of Coptic influence on the Egyptian Arabic syntax.

[6] W. B. Bishai, Coptic Grammatical Influence on Egyptian Arabic, Journal of the American Oriental Society, Vol. 82, No. 3 (Jul.-Sep., 1962), p. 285.

[7] W. B. Bishai, The Transition from Coptic to Arabic, The Muslim World 53(2), 1963, p. 149.

[8] See: W. B. Bishai, Coptic Grammatical Influence on Egyptian Arabic, p. 286. This is, of course, not entirely accurate.

[9] Bishai has already ruled out any influence of European languages on the Egyptian Arabic in this respect; a matter which I would not touch.

[10] W. B. Bishai, Coptic Grammatical Influence on Egyptian Arabic, p. 286.

[11] How this is achieved is as follows: one has to convert the past tense of a verb to the present tense it its third person, masculine singular form. The imperative is constituted from that through complicated rules. In all cases, the ي of the present tense is dropped first. What remains of the verb becomes the imperative (نَظَّف à يُنَظِّف àنَظِّف) except in certain cases, when other rules apply: if the first letter of the remainder of the present verb has sukun as a diacritic mark, أ (alif wasla) is added as a prefix to create the imperative (كَتَب à يَكْتِب à أكْتب); if the first letter of the remainder of the present verb is ء (Hamza), the hamza is dropped, and what results becomes the imperative (أكَل à يأكُل à كُل). There are other rules for other sets of verbs but I shall not discuss them here.

[12] Bishai mentions eight functions in Classical Arabic for ‘ما’, and he says only two functions are used in Egyptian Arabic: as negative particle as in ‘ما كتب الولد الدرس’ and as conjunction of duration meaning ‘as long as’ such as in ‘ما شاء الله’. In the first use, he says, the negative ‘ما’ is always associated with a suffixed element ‘ش’: الولد ماكتبش الدرس .See: W. B. Bishai, Coptic Grammatical Influence on Egyptian Arabic, pp. 287-8.

[13] Bishai, ibid, p. 288.

[14] Alexis Mallon, Grammaire copte : avec bibliographie, chrestomathie et vocabulaire (Paris, 1907), p. 122-3.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Rarely, other verbs not compounder with the verb ] are prefixed with ma to create the imperative mood, such as se n\\ and masyam.

[17] عُرْس الزين

[18] بَنْدَر شاه مَرْيُود

[19] Bishai uses the Sahidic word; I use the Bohairic.

[20] W. B. Bishai, Coptic Grammatical Influence on Egyptian Arabic, p. 289.

[21] In Arabic, assimilation is a phonological process by which two sounds are overlapped forming only one sound. The first is quiescent sound and the second is movent, as it is difficult to pronounce the two sounds together, and to make their pronunciation easier, they tend to be assimilated to become one stressed sound. See: Sound Assimilation in English and Arabic : a Contrastive Study االدغام الصوتي في اللغتين االنجليزية والعربية: دراسة مقارنة  by Abeer Hadi Salih (Journal of the College of Languages مجلة كلية اللغات (2012), Issue 25, pp. 173-184.

[22] See, for example, مختار الصحاح لمحمد بن أبي بكر بن عبد القادر الرازي (d. 1268) and مجمل اللغة لأحمد بن فارس بن زكرياء القزويني الرازي (d. 1005).

[23] The letter ‘ه’ (ha) is considered a very weak letter that comes from the same articulators as those producing ‘ا’ (alif) and ‘ء’ (hamza) that form the glottal letters in Arabic; and, therefore, the ‘ه’ is frequently changed into ‘ا’ or ‘ء’, and if any of the latter follows the ‘ه’, the two are then reduced to one, a process called in Arabic, idgham (assimilation).

[24] W. B. Bishai, Coptic Grammatical Influence on Egyptian Arabic, p. 289.

[25] W. B. Bishai, Coptic Grammatical Influence on Egyptian Arabic, p. 287.

[26] John 10:11: “I am the good shepherd.”

[27] Mark 1:11: “You are My beloved Son.”

[28] The translation into English from German is mine. See: Enno Littmann, Koptischer Einfluss im Ägyptisch-Arabischen

Zeitschrift der Deutschen Morgenländischen Gesellschaft, Vol. 56, No. 4 (1902), pp. 683-684.

[29] The translation from French to English is mine. See: m. Émile Galtier, De l’influence du copte sur l’arabe d’Égypte, Bulletin de llnstitut francais d’archeologie orientale, 2 (1902), p. 215.

[30] KJV.

[31] دار الكتاب المقدس في الشرق الأوسط.

[32] Taken from Il vangelo di N. S. Gesù Cristo secondo S. Giovanni, 1 v. in-8°, 1822, London.

[33] W. B. Bishai, Coptic Grammatical Influence on Egyptian Arabic, p. 287.

[34] Alexis Mallon, Grammaire copte : avec bibliographie, chrestomathie et vocabulaire (Paris, 1907), p. 179.


[35] Ibid., p. 179.

[36] Egyptian language has passed through at least six different phases of development: Archaic Egyptian in Early Dynastic Period (before 2600 BC), Old Egyptian in the Old Kingdom (c. 2600-2000 BC), Middle Egyptian in the Middle Kingdom and early New Kingdom (c. 2000-1350 BC, but it continued as a literary language until the 4th century AD), Late Egyptian of the Amarna Period to the Third Intermediate Period (c. 1350-700 BC), Demotic, spanning the Late Period, Ptolemaic Period and Early Roman Period (c. 700 BC-400 AD), and Coptic (after c. 200 AD).

[37] Alexis Mallon, Alexis Mallon, Grammaire copte, p. 179.

[38] Gary Gregoricka, A Synchronic and Diachronic Analysis of Aspects of Middle Egyptian and Coptic Syntax (Senior Essay, 2006; supervised by Prof. Dianne Jonas).

[39] See: Malcolm Edwards, Pronouns, agreements and focus in Egyptian Arabic, SOAS Working Papers in Linguistics, Vol. 14 (2006), pp. 51-62; Faruk Akkus, The Development of the Present Copula in Arabic (LINK 612 – Linguistic Change, Yale University).

[40] Sentences, in general, are classified into declarative (conveying a simple statement), imperative (give command or make request), interrogative (ask questions), and exclamatory (express emotions).

[41] أمر ملكي رقم 65 لسنة 1952.

[42] جريدة اليوم السابع (١٣ فبراير ٢٠١٦).


[43] In Facebook: (retrieved on 15 4 2019).

[44] Dobait is a special type of stanzas that rhyme, consisting of four lines but that is not strict. The unsettled Arabs of Sudan were famous for it, and they produced a special type of dobait named, ‘hanbatta’, that’s the stanzas of brigandage. In it they boasted of their life style that centred on robbery of camels from other Arab tribes. A person who practices that sort of life is called ‘hanbati’ (plural, hanbatta).

[45] C.S. Wilson, On the Tribes of the Nile Valley, North of Khartoum, The Journal of the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, Vol. XVII, Lindon, 1888, p. 11.


[46] A minority of the Arabs crossed the Red Sea direct to the eastern lands of Sudan, such as the Rashaida tribe. Another group descended from the Maghreb and the Libyan Desert down the western side of the line, such as the Baggara tribe who are now found in south Darfur and Kordofan. But the Arabs of Sudan mostly arrived from Egypt.

[47] Pertaining to the River Nile.

[48] Arab nomads who invaded Sudan followed the same path in the process of assimilation as in Egypt but to a much lesser extent, with some settling in agricultural land, and thereby being called Ahl saqiyya (أهل الساقية, People of the Waterwheel),[48] and others continued their nomadic lives as Ahl ibil (أهل الإبل , Camel Herders) and Baggara (البقارة , Cattle Herders).

[49] The Egyptian got influenced more by the Turkish and Berber, or Barbarised Arabic dialect of the Hawwara.

[50] For a fuller understanding of the issues the author has discussed in this section, please consult the following references:

A.J. Arkell, History of the Sudan: From the Earliest Times to 1821 (London, 1961).

H.A. Macmichael, A History of the Arabs in the Sudan (Cambridge, 1922).

C.S. Wilson, On the Tribes of the Nile Valley, North of Khartoum, The Journal of the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, Vol. XVII, Lindon, 1888, pp. 3-25.

Mohamed Awad, The Assimilation of Nomads in Egypt, Geographical Review, Vol. 44, No. 2 (Apr. 1954), pp. 250-252.

Yosuf Fadl Hasan, Main Aspects of the Arab Migration to the Sudan, Arabia, T. 14, Fasc. 1, Feb., 1967, pp. 14-31.

De Lacy O’Leary, Notes on the Coptic Language, Orientalis, Nova Series, Vol.3 (1934), pp. 243-258.

Tamer el-Leithy, Coptic Culture and Conversion in Medieval Cairo, 1293-1524 AD. PhD Thesis (Princeton University, Department of Near Eastern Studies, 2005).

Shaun O’ Sullivan, Coptic Conversion and the Islamization of Egypt, Mamluk Studies Review, Vol.10, No.2, 2006, pp. 65-79.

Donald P. Little, Coptic Conversion to Islam under the Bahri Mamluks, Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, Vol.39, No.3 (1976), pp. 552-569.

مصطفى أحمد علي, اللهجات العربية في الحزام السوداني الأوسط والشرقي, دراسات إفريقية, العدد السابع والعشرون, السنة السابعة عشر, يونيو 2002, صفحات 145-181.
مجدي عبد الرشيد بحر, القرية المصرية في عصر سلاطين المماليك 1250-1517 (القاهرة, 1999(


إيمان محمد عبد المنعم, العربان ودورهم في المجتمع المصري في النصف الأول من القرن التاسع عشر (القاهرة, 1997)


ممدوح عبد الرحمن الوسطي, دور القبائل العربية في صعيد مصر منذ الفتح الإسلامي حتى قيام الدولة الفاطمية, وأثرها في النواحي السياسية والإقتصادية والإجتماعية والثقافية, 641-969 (القاهرة, لا تاريخ(


محمد عوض محمد, السودان الشمالي, سكانه وقبائله (القاهرة, 1951)


[51] See:

Notes on the Coptic Substratum in Egyptian Arabic, Journal of the American Oriental Society, Vol. 80, No. 3 (Jul. – Sep., 1960), pp. 225-229.

Nature and Extent of Coptic Phonological Influence on Egyptian Arabic, Journal of Semitic Studies, Vol. 6, Issue 2, 1 October 1961, pp. 175-182.

Coptic Grammatical Influence on Egyptian Arabic, Journal of the American Oriental Society, Vol. 82, No. 3 (Jul.-Sep., 1962), pp. 285-289.

Coptic Lexical Influence on Egyptian Arabic, Journal of Near Eastern Studies, Vol. 23, No. 1 (Jan., 1964), pp. 39-47.


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