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COPTIC ALPHABET AND THEIR SOUNDS (PHONOLOGY) BY THE DUTCH ARTIST JAN LUYKEN IN 1690 AD

July 27, 2012

Figure 1: Jan Luyken (1649 – 1712).

Jan Luyken (1649 – 1712) was a Dutch Mennonite artist, engraver and poet.  Due to his skills in the art of engraving and etching, he already managed to achieve great fame in his lifetime, and is now numbered among the most important illustrators of his time.

Some of you may have visited the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, Holland, which is the Dutch national museum dedicated to arts, crafts and history. In its prints collection is an important work from the Coptic point of view by Jan Luyken titled Koptisch, Armeens en Chinees alfabet(Coptic, Armenian and Chinese alphabet) that dates back to AD 1690. It was published in Amsterdam by Wilhelmus Goeree (1635-1711) with other prints made by Luyken on other alphabets. The print is on paper – the plate measures from edge to edge, 18.3 cm x 28.4 cm.

 

Figure 2: Koptisch, Armeens en Chinees alfabet by Jan Luyken (1690).

Figure 3: The upper part of Jan Luyken’s print showing the Koptisch alphabet (Coptic alphabet)

[by clicking on the picture the reader will get a larger image].

The lingual importance of the plate is that it doesn’t only list the 32 Coptic letters, but also their sounds (phonology). This work had almost certainly been influenced by the work of the German Jesuit priest and scientist Athanasius Kircher (1601 – 1680) on Coptic language: Kircher published in Rome, in 1636, his Prodromus coptus sive aegyptiacus.

Copts who debate the right phonology of Coptic between the New (Greco-) Bohairic adopted by the Coptic Church in the 19th century and Old Bohairic will find that this is just one of the many shreds of evidence that support the work of Emile Maher[1] in support of the Old Bohairic pronunciation, which he concluded in his Oxford PhD thesis.[2]


[1] Now, Father Shenouda Maher who serves at the Coptic Orthodox Church of Rochester, New York.

[2] Maher Ishak, Emil. The Phonetics and Phonology of the Bohairic Dialect of Coptic and the Survival of Coptic Words in the Colloquial and Classical Arabic of Egypt and of Coptic Grammatical Constructions in Colloquial Arabic. Volumes 1 – 4. (A D.Phil Thesis submitted to the University of Oxford, September 1975).

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