Coptic_Vocalism_One.htm, 1 of 3




by Patrick C. Ryan


1 of 3

I am rejoicing in it and I will be rejoicing again

Sahidic Coptic contains the following vowels:

a, e, e:, i, i:, o, o:, u; and 6

(an unstressed open Grundvokal), which is either not indicated between consonants, or is indicated by a bar over the two consonants between which it is found. For webpurposes, we will indicate it as an underline ( _ ).

The spellings used to indicate the long vowels i: and u:, namely ei and ou, also function as the semi-vowels /j/ and /w/; in fact, this seems to be their major employment.

In order to account for their presence in Coptic, an ancient Egyptian inventory of vowels containing / a, a:, i, i:, u, u: / is often postulated (Vergote 1971:19-37; Loprieno 1995:35), which is patterned after a postulated Semitic model of original a, a:, i, i:, u, u:. Ehret (1995:63) simplifies the model by postulating Egyptian a, i, u --- with no long vowels.

The latest work suggests that "Vowel length is not required at the phonemic level in this PS reconstruction" ( Ehret 1995:61); and Diakonov (1970:453-480; 1975:133-151) demonstrated that Semitic requires only the supposition of two vowels, /a/ and /6/ (schwa), to explain Semitic nominals of the form *CVC(C). I interpret /6/ as the stress-accented allophone of /a/.

On the other hand, Ehret (1995:61;66) still assumes that PNE (Proto-North-Erythraean), which includes Egyptian and Semitic, had, at least, i-ä-a-6-u.

Because Ehret does not take the facts of Nostratic into consideration (Lehmann's [and others'] demonstration of an earliest IE stage of a/6 vocalism {this is my interpretation of Lehmann's e / {sub}e}), he is unable to recognize that Diakonov's Semitic reconstruction of a-6 is parallel to Lehmann's e/{sub}e; and therefore indicates a Nostratic vocalism of (low central) vowel, with an allophonic <6> (high central vowel) in stress-accented syllables.


1) The Nostratic vowel /a/ had one mora;

2) medial syllable finality (-!-) represented one mora (open vowel); and

3) finally, the stress-accent (-'-) created an additional mora; and additionally raised a to 6.

Each monosyllabic open stress-accented syllable had three morae:

"Ca was realized as: "C a a a

-------------------------1 2 3

while "Ca-CaC was realized as: "C a a a - C a C(1)

-------------------------------------1 2 3-----1

since, by 3), stress-accented a becomes 6 ; and as a result of 2), the vowel was prolonged (lengthened), the first syllable of the second word, and the first word, were articulated as:


which was realized in Sahidic Coptic as Co: after this dialect modified 6 by

a) backing it to o (as in pOt not fully open as in nAUght ) and,

b) if prolonged, raising it farther to o: (as in nOte).

Each monosyllabic closed stress-accented syllable had two morae:

"CaC was realized as: "C a a C(2)

---------------------------1 2

while "CaCaCaC was realized as: "C a a CC a C(3)

---------------------------------------1 2-----1

since, by 3), stress-accented a becomes 6 , the first syllable of the second and the first word, were articulated as:


which was realized in Sahidic Coptic as Co after this dialect modified 6 by

a) backing it to o (as in pOt).

The number of consonants in a word, the stress-accent, and whether the final vowel of the word was a simple a ("CaCaCa -> "CaCaC -> "CaaaC_C) or whether a final syllable caused a different syllable division ("CaCaCa-Ca -> "CaCaCaC -> "CaaCC_C) or whether the result of a diphthongal reduction (e <- aj or o <- aw ) meant that the final vowel could not be deleted and occasioned a different syllable division ("CaCaCaj/wa -> "CaCCaj/w -> "CaaCCe/o) --- determined if the root syllable would be open or closed.

2) Stress-unaccented final a became <0> (illustrated above); stress-unaccented a between two consonants remains /a/ but is unindicated or indicated with the bar (illustrated above).

3) Root syllables that ended in a resonant such as m, n, r, or l, lengthened the resonant in lieu of lengthening the vowel, so that "CaraCara -> "CarCar but instead the a being lengthened due to the stress-accent, the r is lengthened (which is unindicated), yielding "C_r:C_r(4) (cf. the Japanese phenomenon of final long consonants);

Medial Semivowels

Very few medial /j/ or /w/ roots are currently reconstructed for Ancient Egyptian though from the IE and AA models, it is hard to understand why this has not been done; particularly in view of the fact that it is recognized by many that Egyptian - i - can be cognate with Arabic /h,H(dot-h), ?, $ ($ain), j /; and roots with these medials constitute a sizable portion of the Semitic (and Afroasian) lexicon.

Instead, Egyptologists have followed a Semitocentric model by assuming Egyptian i and u are reflected in Coptic vocalism as the result of Semitine vowel patterning.

Thus, Egyptologists reconstruct Egyptian *pit to account for Sahidic Coptic pe, "heaven". I will show that this is unlikely.

Egyptian PT, "heaven"

Egyptian <em><strong>pt</strong></em>, heaven

The Egyptian word pt means "heaven". It is written with a determinative (Gardiner N1, "sky") that is often used for the word without syllabic spelling.

Gardiner characterizes this sign as "sky" but everyone who looks at the sign can see that it depicts a canopy, i.e. a tent-like cover.

Arabic baitun is usually translated "house" but it also has the general meaning of "dwelling". The Kaaba in Mecca is called al-baitu; and photographs of it reveal that the stone building is covered by an elaborate canopy or cloth covering.

Proto-Language P[?]A and P[?]FA correspond to:

IE b and bh : AA p[?] (Arabic b; Egyptian p ) : Sumerian b and p;

Proto-Language T[?]O corresponds to:

IE d : AA t[?] ( Arabic t; Egyptian t ) : Sumerian d.

However, IE b rarely occurs per se; it has either been transformed into IE w or bh.

Proto-Language $E corresponds to:

IE y/i : AA $[ y] (Arabic y; Egyptian i ) : Sumerian i/e.

Egyptian pt, owing to the Coptic pe, should represent a reduction of the sequence /aj/, hence we reconstruct Egyptian, derived from Afrasian *p[?]a$[y]at[?]a, corresponding to Arabic *bayt-. This represent PL P[?]A-$E-T[?]O, which would yield IE *b(h)/weid-.

Under IE *bheid-, "split", we find Old Icelandic beit, "boat". Pokorny interprets this to mean a "hollowed out trunk" but it could just as easily refer to a boat constructed of pieced together skins or bark.

There is nothing under *weid- that appears of interest but under "B", we find *baita:, "goatskin, or coat made from it"; and under this listing, we find OHG pfeit, "shirt, shirtlike piece of clothing". By the normal rules of conversion OHG pfeit would represent IE *beid-. Should *baita: be emended to *baida:?


the latest revision of this file is available at


Patrick C. Ryan * 9115 West 34th Street - Little Rock, AR 72204-4441 * (501)227-9947

1. as in Sahidic Coptic so:tm, "hear"

2. as in Sahidic Coptic to, "land, earth" (from Egyptian t3 ; formerly closed by 3 )

3. as in Sahidic Coptic sotm_f, "hear him"

4. as in Sahidic Coptic st_rt_r, "tremble"