Coptic pronunciation

The never ending debate of whether the Coptic word for prayer is pronounced "evki" or "evshi" audio sources for the main cantors seem to all agree on "evshi" but that doesn't mean they cannot be wrong.

Which in FACT is the correct pronounciation and why?


  • FACT: There is no such thing as a "correct pronunciation"

    Why: Linguistic categories of "correct" and "wrong" are proscriptive, not descriptive. Linguistics is a descriptive science. It only describes and methodologically analyzes the characteristics of languages and dialects. Linguistics describes the push to accept or resist changes in pronunciation. It is not proscriptive. It does not prohibit one type of pronunciation. Based on linguistics, one can never say what is a correct pronunciation. 

    The question implies you (and others) are looking to linguistic for a scientific reason to use one pronunciation and prohibit the other. Linguistics cannot offer a solution.

    Politics can and often does this. Politics attempts to shift the ideology and define right and wrong, what is preferred and what is avoided, what is worth changing and what is worth resisting along political lines. Thus, those who argue for or against a pronunciation scheme are simply pushing a political agenda they feel their opponent must subscribe to. 

    Evki and Evshi are two separate snapshot pronunciation in the development of Coptic. (By the way, these are not the only two snapshots available for this word. Alternative pronunciations include euke and eushee, auke and aushee, avki and avshee, Funny how no one seems to think these are equally worth fighting for.)  Evki and the alternative pronunciations illustrate a resistance to strict GB rules, while Evshi illustrates an unconditional insistence on GB rules. It is foolish to think evshi is correct because it is more inline with GB rules. If such were the case, GB rules themselves would not change. There is an inherent resistance to GB itself, as demonstrated in this never ending debate of pronunciation.

  • Thank you Remnkemi.

    I appreciate that there are different pronunciations but unity in hymns is difficult enough when there is no unity in language as well. If we are not arguing about hezaat we are arguing about pronunciation and I, like many others, wish there was a "quick fix".
  • We all wish there was a quick fix. There is only one fix and it's very slow if never achieved: Stop fighting about hezaat. Stop fighting about language. Stop fighting period. Fighting is not the spirit of hymnology nor the mind of Christ to begin with. 

    The problem is us, not the language, not the hymns, not the Church, not Coptic anything. It's us and it has always been us. 

  • What are GB rules? I am completely ignorant about the politics of this if any.
  • Graeco-Bohairic I think
  • Thanks but what is the background of the discussion? Why is that important to worship?
  • In old Bohairic pronunciation it was pronounced as awka.
  • edited October 2017
    In practice: ευχη evŝi is pronounce as efŝi same like ευλογεμενος evolgemenos -> eflogemenos, ευχαριστια evĥaristia-> efĥaristia. As there's a tendency to swap a voiced dento-labial phoneme with its unvoiced counterpart if followed by a consonant. This applies to modern Greek as well.

    In Greek Chi words Chi is pronounced either as ĥ or ŝ: if we are to follow strict GB rules it would be ευχη evŝi; however, if one follows copticisation - if the term applies - it will be evki

    In Old Bohairic pronunciation it was pronounced as ευχη awka

    As for unity of music or pronunciation, I agree with @Remnkemi the way forward is to stop fighting and arguing about it. It might be helpful to look back into the history of Coptic hymns. Alexandria had its own hymns, The White Monastry in Sohag had its own masses, regional variabilities in the order of the mass, and in hymns, let alone how they were sung were noted, dialectical variations were present, and the concept of variability was not generally perceived as a threat to the unity.

    If one is to consider Coptic hymns as a form of an indigenous folklore, then we can appreciate that there is no right/wrong version of a hymn in the broader context because this is not sheet music that was written. Even with classical music, the performance vary from a conductor to the other depending on their interpretation.

    As for the pronunciation, the issue is slighlty more complex. There is a traditional pronunciation of the language (OB) which is in itself a spectrum of pronunciation rather than a point.

    Then, modern Greek pronunciation was adopted circa 1858-1860 CE by Iryan Moftah and then it was generalised slowly to the church. This is far from natural development or a variant in the language and it introduced sounds that are alien to the Coptic language as ⲇ⸗dh, ⲡ⸗ p, ⲑ⸗ th & ⲃ,ⲩ⸗v as well as increasing the number of glottal stops by the addition of multitiude of djinkim [`] and by switching the semi-consonant sound of ⲟⲩ OY which was 'W' as ⲟⲩⲟⲛ OYON = won, or ⲟⲩⲁⲓ OYAI = WAI (sounds like why), to Ou-On & Ou-Wai, also the pronunciation of ϭ shima was switched to Chima, and at times adding an extra syllable to accommodate for this as in switching from the ⲡϭⲟⲓⲥ epshois to epechois, the results of adding djinkim, the consonant sound of ⲟⲩ OY & the eCh sound added a lot of syllables to hymns that caused musical jumps and leaks and interrupted the smooth flow of music.
    ⲡⲓⲟⲩⲱⲓⲛⲓ ⲛⲧⲁⲫⲙⲏⲓ ⲫⲏⲉⲧⲉⲣⲟⲩⲱⲓⲛⲓ ⲉⲣⲱⲙⲓ ⲛⲓⲃⲉⲛ ⲉⲑⲛⲏⲟⲩ ⲉⲡⲓⲕⲟⲥⲙⲟⲥ
    OB: biwoni endabamai byadarwoini aromi niwan etnaw abikozmos
    GB: pi-ou-oini enta-efmi fi-et-er-ou-oini eromi niven ethneyou epikozmos

    OB: danwosht 
    GB: ten-ou-osht

    ⲟⲩⲱⲛϩ ⲉⲃⲟⲗ
    OB: wonh awol
    GB: ou-onh evol

    OB: bouro
    GB: ep-ouro

    ⲡⲓⲡⲛⲉⲩⲙⲁ ⲉⲑⲟⲩⲁⲃ
    OB: bibnawma atwab
    GB: pi-epnevma eth-ouwab

    OB: shiwoini
    GB: eChi-ou-oini

    Though it is sad to argue and fight about pronunciation, it's heartbreaking to overlook the natural heritage of pronunciation or equate it with an artificially developed system that was either based on erroneous assumption that Coptic & Greek share the same phonetic values, or was deliberate to help union of two churches.

  • @bashandy just a quick correction: the Chima letter in GB should not have an added e sound to the front... the same with x and '. Mlm. Ibrahim and the Chorus have been pronouncing [ as a CH sound for the past couple years as they try to be more consistent and correct with the hymns. Listen to a recent recording from Palm Sunday and you'll hear it (Osanna khen ni-et-cho-si as opposed to ni-et-e-cho-si)

    Just like we should say carx as sarx not sar-ex, 'almoc as (p)salmos not epsalmos unless it's in a truly Greek phrase ("almoc tou Dauid)
    It's worth noting that Mlm. Ibrahim also did say that unless there's a serious audible difference in the hymn, keep it as it's most comfortable for the chorus. But, when we get to Epiphany and Palm Sunday, it becomes a really awkward moment when some deacons say ak-et-chi-oms or ni-et-e-cho-si and some say ak-chi-oms or ni-et-cho-si and it noticeably makes a difference then.
  • Dear @Daniel_Kyrillos,
    I heard newer recordings where Ibrahim Ayad says /ebetshois/ quite so often. I don't see any kind of consistency in all honesty, and this is not an attack on him seriously. Secondly, does it really make sense to pronounce one word one way, and the same word another way depending on the origin of the phrase? To me that does not make the least sense in any known language except for the Greco-Bohairic rules as we know..
    Oujai khan ebshois
  • @Daniel_Kyrillos thank you for your correction. I'm glad to hear that there are efforts to streamline the pronunciation a bit. As the addition of extra syllables to hymns makes them awkward to sing; putting OB aside and talking about music.  I would always find that ak-chi-oms or ni-et-cho-si closer to how it should have sounded.

  • @ophadece I can think of a language- English :))
    In all seriousness, I understand your point. I believe you're referring to the phrase "almoc tou Dauid by saying "origin of the phrase" but really it's not GB Coptic- that phrase is, as I said, entirely Greek. A similar case arises with the phrases Doxa Patri..., Doxaci Vilan`;rope> Proceuexac;e> `Epi `proceu,y> etc where we should pronounce them like Greek, since those phrases are Greek.
    @bashandy it's much easier to remove those extra syllables, but it's going to take time to get everyone on board sadly.
  • Dear @Daniel_Kyrillos,
    So are you telling me that when you read the word "psalmoc" in a Greek sentence you would pronounce it differently to the word "psalmoc" in a Coptic sentence? And of course you realise that the word is exactly the same, derived from the Greek in both cases?
    Oujai khan ebshois
  • @Daniel_Kyrillos thank you for your reply; tackling Greek text in Coptic hymns may require a few things to clarify. The basic thing is how do we pronunce phonemes in the first place

    01. Which pronunciation scheme are we following; is it Ancient Greek (as per Erasmus theory), Koine Greek, or Modern Greek if it's Greek, or is it Old Bohairic or Greco-Bohairic pronunciation.
    02. Which is the most important value, having a smooth hymn, or pronouncing hymns as they should be said, or as our ancestors pronounced them.
    03. Are there phoenems that Egyptians do not / cannot  pronounce easily, so are we to agree on an approximation or leave it aside.
    04. Are there differences in pronunciation between Copts of Egypt & 2nd generation ex-pat Copts.

    if we take Greek loan words in Coptic hymns like: ψαλμος, ευχη, εκκλησια, σαρχ, προσευεχασθε, επι προσευχη σταθητε, Θεος, ευλογεμενος, φιλοθεος, θεοδωρος, θεκλα, βασιλιος, δοξα πατρι, και, χαιρε,

    We would find that in traditional OB pronunciation, and the local heritage has in way copticised the pronunciation depending on how we pronunce phonemes in our culture. In cultures where loan words are borrowed from a different culture, they tend to change a little to adapt to the local culture. e.g. How English people would say crayon, or croissant, as compared to French, first you notice that the Parisian /gh/ for /r/ are is switched to non-rhotic /r/ the /o/ changes and the word start to sound more English. The same happens with Coptic.

    There are phonemes which Copts traditionally did not pronounce as /p/, /v/, /th/, /dh/, and the Greek χ which Copts approximate to ŝ (sh as in shy). In traditional OB and in nouns these were approximated so if we go through lists of names we hear Tawadros (Theodoros), Faltas (Philotheos), Takla, Wassily (Vassilios), Isidoros (Isidhiros), Matta (Mattheos) etc. tadakeya (theotokia), Τhe same goes with /p/ which is approximated to /b/, /th/ which is usually pornounced as /t/, /dh/ as in that which is approximated to /d/, /v/ which is approximated to /w/

    There is also the issue of pronouncing serial strings of 3 consonants as σαρξ, φιλανθροπε, εκκλησια, ψαλμος, traditionally they were pronounced as sarex, philanatroba, akeklisia, epsalmos etc. Traditionally, a djinkim was added to accommodate for the difficulty and eventually it became part of the hymn as in the the start of midnight vespers doxa soi philanthrope δοξα σοι φιλανθροπε etc.

    These pre-date GB changes probably, when GB tried to emphasise Greek pronunciation, what happened is that the traditional approximation of /th/ became /s/ instead of /t/ as in seotokia, orsozox, /dh. became z as in zoxa, orosozox, zefte, etc. v became occasionally f as in eflogimenos, efshi, and because these letters are not part of the colloquial pronunciation they tended to be forced into more alien phonemes to simulate Greek pronunciation. Especially that there are many languages that do no pronounce th or dh due to their difficulty as in French, Italian & Esperanto.

    These approximations do not generally appear if someone's mother tongue is Greek or English. So Copts in the US would have not difficulties pronouncing sarx, philanthrope, patri (not batri), Theos (not seos)

    The question is what is it exaclty are we trying to communicate. Are we trying to emulate Greek pronunciation over local traditional one, are we trying to find a compromise between both, are we aiming to preserve our traditional Copticisation of pronunciation.

    I guess these are the questions that are to be answered prior to devling unto which word should be pronounced in what way

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