Decision from Synod Regarding Coptic Language



  • Remnkemi,

    I am not knowledgable enough about Greek to comment about that aspect of the decision. However, I can tell you that OB/GB praying together is nothing like Upper Egyptian Arabic and Lower Egyptian Arabic praying together. I have significant experience with both scenarios. With the Arabic scenario most of what you will encounter is differences in the pronunciation of the letter ج (Geem) - not a big deal. With OB/GB the syllabification is different with many words (eth-o-wab vs. at-wab, ni-fi-o-wi vs. ni-fa-wi) for example) which requires significant alterations to the hymns. Think of how many times just those two words are used in our hymns. As such, OB/GB users cannot pray together if each is using their own pronunciation.
  • @ophadece wrote:
    "the synod or any kind of organisational body cannot make any form of decrees or mere decisions about a language pronunciation FULL STOP."

    Well if that is true, why do so many natural languages have language regulators. Arabic has 11 regulators. One is specific for Egyptian Arabic established in 1934, known as the Academy of the Arabic Language in Cairo. I don't know if it still exists since their website is not working. Regardless, many languages have organizational political bodies that create standards for language use and language pronunciation. Of course, these are officially recognized government bodies. The Roman Catholic Church has an officially recognized body for ancient and modern Latin. (I didn't know there was such a thing as modern Latin). Unofficially, it also controls ecclesiastical Latin as used in the different Roman liturgies. It is therefore not unreasonable that the Coptic Synod would also officially and unofficially promote and regulate Coptic in ecclesiastical usage. 

    Whether or not one agrees that any government body should control language use is a different matter. The fact is that many government bodies do exist and regulate natural languages.

    "There is no such a thing as old Bohairic and new Bohairic."
    It is up to you if you wish to recognize the titles OB, GB or anything else. The fact remains is that two different phonological inventories exists in Bohairic Coptic. 

    "When these two things clash, it then needs to be left in the hands of people who understand and know what they are saying."
    Not only people who understand what they are saying. Academics do not always have the final say on their respective fields. Sometimes, as in the case of languages, the grassroots, general public shape the development of the field in an organic way. Sometimes, governing bodies do it in an inorganic way. 

    "Ever noticed English speaking second generation youth clashing in tunes and accents when singing with first generation immigrants and vice versa? Synod should need to interfere, no? Exactly my point.."
    Here we partially agree. The Synod should interfere if language becomes an obstacle to ecclesiastical practice. But if the Synod does interfere, it must do so in all languages and adopt a fair and all-encompassing policy, not discriminating one language or one group of users.

  • edited April 2015
    +1 ophadece...I feel the Synod wasted its time on this when they could have made decisions on more vexing issues of Coptic lives, like give NJ a diocese :P

    I think a council of scholars of the Coptic language would be more appropriate for this type of stuff imo
  • @minasoliman....being someone who lives in Jersey, i see that last comment really funny
  • This is like telling the americans to start pronouncing their english like the brits. I certainly wouldn't mind listening to Bishop Angelos pray the liturgy in a church here in America with his British accent. If you understood coptic, despite the choppiness of GB, people with OB fluency would be ok with it. This decision is a manifestation of the severe absence of people with GB fluency, because if they really understood the language with GB fluency, they would be ok with hearing OB. Seems like the addition of another nail to the coffin of the coptic language.... 8-|
  • edited April 2015
    I have heard in the recent past that we have also limited the manner of chanting the liturgy to a standard rather than allowing a diversity that existed among different areas of Egypt as well.  I would have loved to hear the different liturgical traditions of the various lands of the Copts, rather than standardizing the liturgy.
  • edited April 2015
    Dear @Remenkimi,
    why do you have to put a spin on things and act like you don't understand my point when you are the expert in this more than anyone else. Ok, for the last time and only for you dear I am talking about dialects and accents and all the organisations you provided example for don't do this, or do they? Every one of us speaks all their languages subtly different to everyone else in their same dialect group if you will.
    I cannot agree more with what you said.
    Thank you very much as by supporting my argument you actually expressed and described much better than I have.. and regarding your last point, yestermagi comes to mind, Alexandrian daishoria in sad tune, etc..
    oujai khan ebshois
  • Ophadece,
    I am not trying to spin everything you are saying. I just want to make sure that when people present facts, they are accurate. You said no organization can make any form, decree or decision on language pronunciation. In reality, there are lots of organizations that attempt to standardize their respective natural languages. This includes language pronunciation, as well as dialectology. In fact, there is something called language policy, where governments, legislative bodies, court rulings rule in favor of one dialect over another; or officially declare one language over another; or create a new writing system to promote one language over another (like Romanian's use of Latin script over its identical neighbor Moldovon that uses the traditional Cyrillic script); or some other form of linguistic purism. Some governments enforce or follow the opposite by reviving indigenous languages; or allow for linguistic diversity and pluralism in schools; etc. 

    You are correct when you say everyone speaks their respective languages differently from others in that group. This is individual competency or variation. These organizations allow for individual variations but try to limit or promote variation at a global spectrum. 

    I understand what you are saying. This holds true when one person praying in their respective Bohairic variation is unable to comprehend or understand the other Bohairic pronunciation. There have been many times where I have prayed OB while everyone else prays in GB. I simply know WHEN to say etwab, while others say ethowab. I transition into words with nifawi later then those who say nifiowi. It is doable. In fact, I have prayed tasbeha with Sahidic pronunciation, which is 1000 times harder than synchronizing GB/OB. I have not yet mastered Fayyumic and Akhmimic pronunciation. 

    As a side note, about 99% of GB pronunciation used in tasbeha is technically wrong. People have no idea that words with the omega is a long o, and words with the omicron is the short o. They mix and match in every way possible. People also don't know that there is a hierarchy of pronunciation rules that reflect stress in the penultimate and ultimate syllable. What's my point? It really doesn't matter if one claims that people cannot pray GB with OB, since GB is not prayed in proper GB anyway. (And my theory is neither is OB). 

    What is abundantly clear is that HICS recording do not reflect GB rules either. So I agree with everyone else that this decision was a big waste of time. 

    The Synod should spend time contemplating a diocese for NJ. But that is a different committee. This committee has plenty of things to clarify on hymns and rites that have nothing to do with pronunciation. Just look at the Palm Sunday psalm thread. 

    Regarding the various traditions of the liturgy. This too requires some standardization and some pluralism. The balance has always leaned to full standardization (otherwise we would be saying a lot of foreign liturgies and having very foreign customs done in the liturgies). But Alexandria has in the past maintained a good deal of diversity in their hymns. This is partially due to Muallem Habib who was popular enough to maintain different versions of hymns that were not found in Cairo. The same is true for Muallem Tawfik in Upper Egypt. Recently, as minasafwat has shown, hymns in Asyut are being revived. HCOC's recordings also include hymns not found traditionally found in Cairo, like Demas hymn and Kyrie eleson for Pashca, as well as Aven piarshierefs in tasbeha. The process of revival is slowly starting. It'll probably take 50 years to show significant progress.

  • I know there's a hymns committee, and I agree that the rites and theology should be clarified in the Synod, but a phonetics committee seems to be a bit too much.  Why not just have a group of scholars of Coptic phonetics?  Why should the synod be involved?
  • In essence, this is what happened. The group of scholars of the Coptic language were listed in the beginning and given the authority by the Rites Committee of the Synod. They felt phonetics is part of the Coptic language and they presented their findings. And HH Pope Tawadros signed the decision. Whether it is a synodal decision in itself or a recommendation to the Coptic faithful teaching Coptic phonetics or a recommendation to the Rites Committee is unclear. It is also unclear on how much the Synod is involved. We all assume the whole Synod is involved. Maybe it was just Pope Tawadros who endorsed this Coptic language committee's findings and nothing more. 
  • Dear @Remenkimi,
    you try your best to back up your arguments and I did say before you were the expert in this. Thank you for increasing my general knowledge but that's not the point of the thread.
    oujai khan ebshois
  • Remnkemi,

    The reason you are able to pray in OB with others praying in GB is that you are courteous. Unfortunately, courtesy is the exception and not the rule. In fact in 100% of the cases (which are numerous) when I have prayed in mixed OB/GB groups there is no courtesy and the prayer is a mess. Also, keep in mind that not everyone has that much dexterity with hymns as you do. Some have grown up exposed only to OB and are not able to make modifications to hymns like you are. There are other very significant consequences which have happened as a result of a strong desire to propagate OB.

    Also, the impact is also significant with melisma tic hymns. Consider Pekethronos for example. You have Sha eneh vs. Sha anah. We spend quite a bit of time on that particular vowel. Somebody has to compromise for the hymn not to sound bad. In my experiences that does not happen. When one group compromises just on that vowel you are no longer using GB or OB but a third pronunciation which is a combination of both.

    The consequences of insisting on spreading OB in church services are more dire than people would think, especially those with limited experience who have not seen those consequences first hand (I'm not saying that you have limited experience). The consequences go beyond just the usage of a certain pronunciation or chanting in harmony. I believe the Synod is aware of what those consequences are and have been and that prompted them to move forward with this decision.

  • edited April 2015

    I understand what you are saying. Maybe those who do not have experience with praying both OB/GB should not complain what someone else does since they don't have experience or the ability to pray out of their comfort zone. If one is only exposed to OB, one does not have the right to claim everything outside their bubble is wrong, when in reality the world of GB is much bigger than one's OB bubble or vice versa. It is like a fat guy sitting on his coach watching Olympic swimming and complaining that only people who can swim 5 minutes in shallow water like himself are allowed to be on the Olympic swimming team. He has no credibility and no logical ground to stand on. 

    We are talking about liturgical and ecclesiastical prayer. If I as a GB proponent can't pray Pekethronos by saying "sha anah", then I shouldn't be saying at all, since technically I am not praying at all. If pride enters prayer, then there is a bigger problem than pronunciation. 

    In reality, as you describe it, the problem is not linguistic compatibility between GB and OB. The problem is having everyone's ego submit to opposing view, whether that person is OB proponents, GB proponents, anti-Coptic everything proponents, English-only proponents, clergy, bishops, general population or anyone else. The problem is not the language. It never has been. It is pride.

    Can you explain what those consequences are? I have a hard time believing that there is such a problem in pronunciation that required synodal condemnation for OB. Looking at similar issues, the Synod in the past has gone out of its way to accommodate other people and ethnicities, converts, entire communities seeking affiliation without becoming culturally Coptic. They have started so-called missionary churches for those who don't want an Arabic/Coptic culturally driven church. Why couldn't they just set up a OB only church, like we have Arabic only churches and English only churches in the diaspora? Unless there is a theological or ecclesiological problem here, the synod should have at least sought other solutions. And if none made sense, the worse thing they can do is make up some crazy justification against OB while never actually talking about OB and in turn muddy the waters for every language.

    Then again, maybe we are all missing something here. We are not privy to all the information presented to the synod (if it was even presented to the synod). Maybe it was a language committee that presented to the Pope and then disseminated their findings. No one really has confirmed if it is a synodal decision or a committee decision or a papal recommendation gone viral and extremely wrong (like the General funeral recommendation of the late Pope Shenouda III treated as a synodal decision).
  • After speaking with Muallem Ibrahim, it seems that this decision is missing a few points. Turns out that all the cantors and linguists are meeting and they will go through the hymns and set how everything should be pronounced. That opens up for even more interesting dialogue. 
  • dg920 said:

    After speaking with Muallem Ibrahim, it seems that this decision is missing a few points. Turns out that all the cantors and linguists are meeting and they will go through the hymns and set how everything should be pronounced. That opens up for even more interesting dialogue. 

    that sounds much much better than blindly following HICS incomplete recordings. 
  • I don't think that's any better. Unless they set a fair policy to formulate "how everything should be pronounced", it's still a big waste of time. It's going to come down to preference and not any actual thought. 

    In addition, it doesn't change the fact that what we use today is closest to modern Greek. So unless they are going to radically change GB pronunciation, it will still violate the decree. 

    In addition, it doesn't discuss why should the pronunciation change in the first place. If there is a good reason, then go for it and it apply it to Arabic, English, German, French, Swahili, Dutch, Japenese, Chinese and every other language where Coptic hymns are said liturgically. If they don't plan on doing this, then it is just political/ecclesiastical bullying. Why can't we all just get along!!!
  • dg920, is it an actual synodal decision or is it a papal endorsement of the language committee's findings? 
  • @Remnkemi,
    so you are suggesting opening up new churches for authentic Bohairic? So now gb and authentic Bohairic being two different dialects are being treated by you as two separate languages? That's really interesting..
    oujai khan ebshois
  • Not for me Ophadece. For those who can only pray in OB or refuse to pray in GB. I can pray both and I have already said in the past that I prefer OB. But I refuse to believe OB is better or more authentic than GB. I also refuse to believe that OB should be muzzled because it doesn't conform to an elect group's [haphazard] preference. So it would be a fairly nice compromise to allow those who want to pray in OB to use specifically designated churches. Of course, this is not ideal. I think everyone should learn and appreciate both GB and OB and pray them regularly with "the unity of heart". Until then, we need to find temporary solutions. This decision seems to be a bad solution.
  • All of this disagreement and strife is a result of pride as somebody said above. I think remenkimi has the right attitude to pray but lower his voice in certain areas then raise it back up when possible etc....

    Ill tell you a true story told to me by a priest.  He said there was a liturgy where one priest who prayed in OB and one priest prayed in GB, as well as other priests.  After the liturgy, the priest who favors GB staunchly, told another "neutral" priest, did you hear the way so and so priest prayed in OB?  This neutral priest (who happens to pray in GB himself also) told the priest, "I didn't even notice a difference."

    So we see here true humility from this father.

    Whats the next step, to have a synodal decision (or comment or whatever)?  Will they say, people can't pay attention because this cantors voice is bad, so only people with good voices can sing in church?


    All this while are brothers and sisters are being martyred and suffering.

    Sigh again....
  • Khristos Anesti, Alitos Anesti,

    All i'm gonna say is thank you guys for putting the voice of reason into this.  I agree with what you are all saying.  I personally don't think the decision is attacking OB only at this point, but also anyone who is trying to change GB to try to adhere to more natural rules such as changing the b's to p's and the etchy to ch, and sarex to sarx, and thameyyof to thamiof, etc...
    Anyway, just remember that in the 17th century the heliocentric model was considered a heresy and Galileo was excommunicated for defending it (or for being disrespectful, but was still heretical).  It was then lifted a century later.  Church bodies who take their ego over any kind of factual evidence start to make nonsensical decisions so that no one ever argues with them.  I fear that the synod is starting to go down this rout, especially the rites committee who in the past few years started to impose a bunch of decisions about rites without meaning or explanation.  Please, I'm not trying to bash the Holy Synod after all, and I believe that they are guided by the Holy Spirit, I just don't believe the Holy Spirit guides every single decision they make, especially the committees, and no human organization on earth is infallible.
    Also, I can tell you for a fact that a bishop called Fr. Shenouda on Easter encouraging him to keep teaching and reviving the language.
    Also, what are they gonna do with the entire village of zinnia who only chooses priests from their congregation in order to preserve the OB pronunciation, not ordain priests for them?
    This decision simply does not make any sense for OB or GB and in my opinion it's not binding...after all, the person who doesn't follow it is at risk of facing a committee and not being able to teach at the seminary...If that's all, I don't think teaching at the seminary is anyone's goal in life.

    I don't mind if this post gets deleted at some point because it's probably not respectable, but I just wanted to get it out there.

  • What in the world has this to do with heliocentricism? I don't think this committee ever claimed a certain dialect is heresy!
  • I personally don't think the decision is attacking OB only at this point, but also anyone who is trying to change GB to try to adhere to more natural rules such as changing the b's to p's and the etchy to ch, and sarex to sarx, and thameyyof to thamiof, etc...
    Christ is Risen!

    I'm so glad you mentioned this, because when I read this decision, I actually took it primarily as a criticism of the "new" GB pronunciation "rules" that you mention, as opposed to a criticism of OB, per se.

    Regardless, to base the pronunciation of an entire language (well, two languages really) on what amounts to no more than several hours of recordings? It's akin to decreeing that the pronunciation of the English language should be limited to the pronunciations used by the Beatles in their studio recordings. I just don't get it.

    Frankly, in my mind, this is such a non-issue that I find the decision laughable. I wish that we could pray with knowledge, understanding, and unity of heart with the same zeal with which we try to pray with correct pronunciation.

    Truly, He is Risen!
  • minasoliman, please take it easy, i'm just saying that it's the same in the sense that the church is making claims for something that it has nothing to do with and what's even worse, without any scientific basis.

    Minazaki, I totally agree.  Let us pray with understanding.

  • Ekhrestos anesty,
    dear all,
    I am so glad that this website gives us an opportunity to debate things logically and scientifically, so may I ask everyone to stop using the abbreviation OB?
    oujai khan ebshois
  • ophadece said:

    Ekhrestos anesty,
    dear all,
    I am so glad that this website gives us an opportunity to debate things logically and scientifically, so may I ask everyone to stop using the abbreviation OB?
    oujai khan ebshois

    But that is the designation for it:
  • Sifaing,

    I'm with you that the Church shouldn't be involved in Phonetics, but to compare it to condemnation of something that was at the time considered heretical is a bit much. The Church, as Rem said earlier, felt a need to have liturgical accuracy, so it comes with good intentions, even if misguided. But I did not see from the committee (or Synod?) anything about condemning one phonetic use over another. This is where I see your analogy is a bit extreme.
  • Ophadece,

    I actually agree with you on the terminology of OB. Even the terminology for GB is not adequate. But how do we distinguish the two phonetic inventories of Bohairic Coptic? What terminologies do you suggest?

    Of course, we should not revert to the prejorative terminology of the 70's and 80's, where GB was Coptic and OB was Saeedi. Saeedi is NOT Sahidic. These anti-OB people didn't know that a Sahidic dialect existed. They called OB saeedi because they thought only uneducated country folk would speak Coptic that way. 

    The article on Wiki is so inaccurate, it doesn't even deserve a response. Given it's poor understanding of Coptic, I wouldn't use it as a reference or source to identify OB in this manner.

    Personally, I think the only accurate, descriptive, non-judgemental terminology we should use is follows:

    What we often call GB should be called Reformed Coptic Phonology (RCP). What we call OB, should be called Pre-reformed Coptic Phonology (PRCP). Notice, I don't call either of them a language or dialect in themselves. They are only phonological inventories. The only deficiency in this terminology is that neither phonological inventory is  homogeneous in themselves. Thus, we can have GB as Moftah taught which would be different from the GB taught today (it is slightly re-reformed). Similarly, we have OB as described by Fr Shenouda, and we have pre-Fr Shenouda OB idiosyncracies from an undetermined time period that differ. Thus we will need to subdivide PRCP and RCP, but I don't know how. Maybe RCP-1860 can be understood as Moftah's version, while RCP-21 can be understood as Reformed Coptic Phonology, 21th century. In the same manner, PRCP-1975 can be understood as Fr Shenouda's schema, while PRCP-19 can be understood as Pre-reformed Coptic Phonology, Prior to 19th century.

    It should be noted that accent is different than phonology. Two people can have different English accents, but they are still pronouncing English correctly. For example, one says TO mato, the other says to MAto. Accents deal with intonation and stress. Phonology deals with articulation. For example, if one pronounces the word "the" as ZA, he has misarticulated the "th" phenome. If you violate phonology, you are not speaking English correctly. Thus, when someone speaks GB incorrectly, they are violating phonology (and this may be why this decision was made). 

    What do you all think of us using RCP and PRCP instead of OB and GB on

  • Dear @minatasgeel,
    how much does one take Wikipedia to be scientific evidence for anything? I guess @Remnkemi already replied..
    Dear @Remnkemi,
    what reform did the authentic Coptic need? That was only the view of one person who was supported by higher authorities and therefore propagated his teaching. I have no terminology except authentic Bohairic and flawed Bohairic.. gb.. whatever..
    oujai khan ebshois
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