The Transition from Coptic to Arabic

The Transition from Coptic to Arabic

By Samuel Rubenson

Égypte/Monde arabe, Première série, No.27-28 (1996)

Introduction: The process in which the last stage of the Egyptian language, Coptic, was replaced by Arabic, has not yet received much attention from scholars. When the Arabs conquered Egypt in the middle of the seventh century, Coptic was the vernacular language of the bulk of the population, as well as the major literary language. In addition to Coptic, Greek was still used for administrative purposesaswell as by those sections of the population that remained close to the Byzantine religious and secular centers, mainly in Alexandria and some of the Greek cities. This situation was, however, only the recent result of a gradual language shift occurring during the two centuries before the Arab conquest. Under Ptolemaic rule, Greek had gradually gained a privileged position in Egypt as compared to the Egyptian language, and from the beginning of Roman rule until the early fourth century, Greek had with very few exceptions, been the sole written language of Egypt, and also to a large extent the spoken language, not only of the cities and the administration but also of commerce and religion.

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