The student wishing to acquire a knowledge of Coptic, the last stage of the Old Egyptian Language, has had perforce to consult the Grammars of Stern, Steindorff, Mallon, Till and Chane, none of which are available in an English translation, and all of which are difficult to procure. The last Coptic Grammar of importance printed in English was the second edition of Dr Tattern's Grammar, published as long ago as 1863 [online at sourceforge.net/projects/marcion/files/rc3/marcion_rc3-win32.zip/download: unzip, and run marcion.exe]. Since that time our knowledge of the language has been greatly increased by the work of two generations of Coptic scholars. On the other hand, there now exists in English the magnificent Coptic Dictionary compiled by the late Dr W.E. Crum. It is with some trepidation that I have ventured to write a new Grammar. The need for a work in English is pressing, but it must not be thought that this attempt to supply the need is in the nature of an exhaustive study. Such an attempt cannot yet be undertaken until a thorough systematic and statistical examination of the writings of Shenoute, the sole outstanding native writer of Coptic, has been made....
The Sahidic dialect has been chosen, not because of any theory about its age, but for the very practical reason that it is the dialect which holds pride of place in Crum's dictionary. In addition to this fact, there exists a variety of texts in this dialect for the student to read. The examples, all of which are actual quotations from texts, have been drawn for the most part from the Bible. G. Zoega’s great Catalogus Codd. Copticorum &c., 1810 (hereafter Z) has been utilized to a lesser degree. I have purposely limited myself to quoting a few examples in full, rather than giving many references to published texts which few students ever look up. The need for strict economy in space has compelled me to deal sketchily with Dr. H.J. Polotsky's great discovery of the function of the Second Tenses (§186a), but students must not fail to read his study for themselves (Études de Syntaxe Copte, Cairo, 1944)....
The most pleasant part of my task remains. It is to express my thanks to those who have made my work possible. First, I have to thank Prof Jaroslav Cerny, of the University College, London, with whom I began my Coptic Studies. His kindness and help have been unfailing, and my debt to him is immeasurable. To Prof S.R.K. Glanville, of Cambridge, I am equally indebted. It was at his suggestion, and with his encouragement, that I began to compile this Grammar, and I have had the benefit of his advice at all times. Prof Battiscombe Gunn discussed several points of grammar with me on two occasions when I enjoyed his hospitality at Oxford, and I need hardly add that the result of these discussions has been the improvement of the work generally. Finally, I have to thank my wife, who not only read through the whole manuscript and made several valuable suggestions, but also by her thoughtfulness and management of a very busy household, has made the labour of writing this book infinitely easier than I had dared to hope.
St Paul's Vicarage
17 July 1947
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