RE: Coptic queries

From: Mansour, Kamal (
Date: Mon Nov 24 1997 - 20:42:05 EST

I would like to reply to some of the comments specifically about Coptic. Please
note that I am familiar with Coptic but make no claim to being an expert on it.
Also being a Copt, I've had a chance to see a good range of sample Coptic writing
in churches over many years.

John Cowan wrote:
* From: on Fri 21 Nov 1997 16:53
* Subject: Coptic queries (was: Etruscan/Gothic/etc.)
* Marc Wilhelm Kuester wrote:
* > Michael Everson wrote:
* > >Greek and Coptic should never have been unified.
* >
* > I could not agree more.
* Then perhaps they should be de-unified. This is already in
* progress for {S, T} with comma below and for yogh/ezh.

Practically speaking, I don't think 'de-unifying' Greek and Coptic would make
any difference. The Coptic alphabet is a true extension of the Greek alphabet.
Would we de-unify the Polish and Extended Latin? How about Cyrillic-written
Azeri and Basic Cyrillic?

While it is true that once the Greek letters & their extensions were established
as the indigenous alphabet for Coptic (replacing Demotic), the styling of the
letters developed independently of Greek. Nonetheless, they have always remained
recognizably Greek in origin. I believe even the most fanatic of Coptologists
would agree with this assessment. To draw a parallel using the Latin alphabet,
one could find examples of more extreme divergence by comparing, for instance,
Gaelic or Lombardic Uncials to letterforms from the Roman period. Shall we
de-unify uncial from standard Latin?

* BTW, how is COPTIC LETTER SO/SOOU (the 6th letter, between EI and
* ZETA) represented in Unicode? The glyph looks vaguely like
* a (Greek, not Coptic) lower-case epsilon with a descending flourish.
* See or
* .
* Context suggests that this is used for the number 6 when
* writing numbers using letters (the ancient Greek method as well),
* and therefore the "correct" unification is GREEK LETTER DIGAMMA.
* The visual resemblance is, shall we say, not striking.

The Coptic range can be improved. Yes, the missing 'sou' is a uniquely Coptic
character. It, among others, should be added.

* Also, is Coptic caseless? The Coptic-unique letters in Unicode
* are given in two cases, but the difference appears to be one of
* size only. I don't find any bicameral Coptic fonts or texts
* anywhere on the Web.

Coptic is not strict about capitalization; to be more specific, capitalization
does not affect meaning in Coptic text. Many capital letters are merely enlargements
of the lower-case form. However, that is not universally true. It is best to
have two cases (sorry, I find it difficult use the term 'bicameral' in relation
to alphabets).

* The TrueType font at
* has some additional characters which may have Coptic uses:
* what I would describe as RHO WITH STROKE, FEI WITH STROKE,
* STIGMA, and something that looks like a stylized THORN.
* These appear in the font at glyph codes 0x37, 0x35, 0x36, and 0x34
* respectively. Can anyone pin them down?

Let us keep in mind that what is presented oversimplistically as Coptic script
is really an amalgam of the writing tradition of several Coptic dialects over a
period of almost two millenia. If one were to study a large number of Coptic
manuscripts, one could find many unusual forms, abbreviations, and special
marks. But the same would hold true for manuscripts of Old English. We need to
extract meaningful glyphs which can sufficiently represent mainstream writing in
a particular script. Many unusual combinations can be readily represented as
combinations of base characters with diacritic marks; many have no place in a
standard such as Unicode.

I have been wanting to collect amendments to Unicode from Coptic scholars. Maybe
this exchange will help in getting started.

Kamal Mansour
Manager Non-Latin Products
Monotype Typography

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