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LINGUIST List 16.3391

Mon Nov 28 2005

Review: Lang Description/African Lang: Eberle (2004)

Editor for this issue: Lindsay Butler <lindsaylinguistlist.org>

What follows is a review or discussion note contributed to our Book Discussion Forum. We expect discussions to be informal and interactive; and the author of the book discussed is cordially invited to join in. If you are interested in leading a book discussion, look for books announced on LINGUIST as "available for review." Then contact Sheila Dooley at dooleylinguistlist.org.
        1.    Wolfgang Schulze, Koptisch: Ein Leitfaden durch das Saïdische

Message 1: Koptisch: Ein Leitfaden durch das Saïdische
Date: 14-Nov-2005
From: Wolfgang Schulze <W.SchulzeLRZ.UNI-MUENCHEN.DE>
Subject: Koptisch: Ein Leitfaden durch das Saïdische

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AUTHOR: Eberle, Andrea
EDITOR: Schulz, Regine
TITLE: Koptisch
SUBTITLE: Ein Leitfaden durch das Saïdische
SERIES: Languages of the World/Materials 07
YEAR: 2004
Announced at http://linguistlist.org/issues/15/15-2835.html

Wolfgang M. Schulze (University of Munich)

It is a deplorable fact that the majority of approaches to General 
Linguistics and, more specifically, to Syntax Theory, Language 
Typology, and Cognitive Linguistics tend to neglect data stemming 
from so-called 'old' or 'dead' languages. One reasons seems to be 
that researchers who subscribe for instance to usage based 
approaches reluctantly refer to such data because they cannot be 
evaluated with the help of informants. In addition, 'old' languages are 
usually taught in a seemingly non-linguistic environment, namely 
Philology. The fact that the resulting terminological 'gap' is rarely 
bridged in the sense of Nagel's well-known 'bridging principle' 
conditions that 'old' languages (together with their descriptive 
tradition) do not figure among the hotspots of linguistic documentation. 
Still, it has to be stressed that 'old' languages have a considerable 
value in linguistic argumentation: Many of them such as Ancient 
Greek, Vedic, Akkadian, Sumerian, Hurrian-Urartian, Old Egyptian, or 
Elamic are documented over a rather long span of time, which allows 
the researcher to retrieve for instance a considerable number of 
typologically relevant 'trends' in language diachrony. In addition, 'old' 
languages help to train researchers in what can be called 'philological 
linguistics': Here, the philological interpretation of data is crucial for 
their interpretation, namely to unveil the textual embedding of given 
data, their relation to text tradition, and to the general historical 
setting. Finally, the writing system of 'old' languages may become a 
central argument for instance to discuss issues of phonology and 
morphology. It would in fact be highly desirable that 'modern language' 
linguistics assimilate at least parts of this philological tradition of texts 
critics to interpret their own data. Corpus linguistics surely is one of 
the linguistics methods that comes closer to what should be expected 
in this respect.

Thus, the linguistics of 'old' languages is necessarily related to corpus 
linguistics. This fact has both its advantages and disadvantages: On 
the one hand, the relevant data are included in a usually 'closed' 
corpus: Consequently, a given 'old' language can be described as the 
sum of just all data that are documented in its corpus. In other 
words: 'Old' languages are captured in terms of a corpus-immanent 
perspective, whereas 'productive' language traditions are necessarily 
to be described in terms of a restriction with respect to their corpus 
documentation: They always are 'corpus-transcendent'. 

The claim that 'modern language' linguistics should be more ready to 
take over the methods of 'philological linguistics' as pronounced in the 
linguistics of 'old languages' naturally can be turned around: There 
are many excellent grammatical descriptions of 'old' languages, which, 
however, often neglect the findings of e.g. Language Typology or 
Structural Linguistics (in its broadest sense). Their idiosyncratic 
terminology, their rather interpretative analyses of linguistic data, and 
their often schoolbook-like presentation of grammatical issues 
condition that they are somewhat difficult to read for researchers not 
acquainted with the language at issue. Naturally, there are remarkable 
exceptions: For instance, the rather old grammar of Classical Arabic 
by William Wright (1862) still is the best description of this stage of 
Arabic, easy to be assimilated modern linguistics. The description of 
Sumerian had first been modernized by Thomsen 1984 and Wegner 
2000 is an extremely valuable presentation of Hurrian from a 
typological perspective. 

The philology of Egyptian languages (or: stages of Egyptian) has - for 
a long time - cut itself off against the assimilation of linguistic 
arguments in the narrow sense of the word. Although the latest 
documented stage of Old Egyptian, namely Coptic, has been taught at 
European universities as early as the 18th century, it has hardly ever 
been considered in later linguistic studies. The same holds for the 
other stages of Old Egyptian, by themselves cautiously described after 
the decipherment of the Old Egyptian script. Nevertheless, the last 20 
years witnessed a growing interest at least in Coptic, not only within 
the community of Egyptologists, but also among linguists who look at 
language from a more general perspective, which ever it may be. The 
grammar by Lambdin (1983), Shisha-Halevy (1988), Plisch (1999), 
and Layton (2000) can be regarded as a nevertheless meagre 
evidence for this tendency. To this list of strongly didactically oriented 
grammars, we can now add the book under review, namely Eberle 


Coptic (better: the dialectal cluster of Coptic) represents the latest 
stage of Old Egyptian, an Afroasiatic language documented from 
roughly 3200 BC to 700 AD. Coptic itself had been spoken in Egypt 
until the 16th century AD. Today, the Bohairic dialect of Coptic is 
sporadically used in religious service. The documentation of Coptic 
factually ends soon after the conquest of Egypt by Arab troops in the 
7th century (the latest document seems to be represented by a poem 
called Triadon written in the 14th century). The beginnings of Coptic 
are more difficult to describe: Linguistically, the early Coptic varieties 
represented nothing but a variant of the latest stage of Hieroglyphic 
Egyptian, namely Demotic, which became a written standard in the 8th 
century BC. In fact, Coptic can be regarded as a late variant of 
Demotic written in a Greek-like alphabet from the first century AD 
onwards and marked for a strong Koine-Greek adstrate that became 
even more visible after the conversion of Coptic speaker to 
Christianity. After the consolidation of the Coptic written tradition in the 
4th century AD, the production of Coptic literature exploded: it 
covered religious texts (Christian, Gnostic, Manichean), profane 
literature, as well as administrative and private documents.     

The wealth of Coptic documents necessarily conditions that its original 
character as a corpus language is obscured: Any description of the 
language has to select its data from this corpus, just as it is true for a 
number of other 'old' languages such as Ancient Greek, Sumerian, 
Akkadian, or Old Egyptian in its narrow sense. Still, the corpus can in 
its totality be consulted if a specific grammatical or lexical issue is 
under consideration. In other words: The corpus of Coptic texts 
represents what can be called a semi-open corpus: Just as it is true 
for instance for Latin and Ancient Greek, researchers of the language 
may even construe new phrases for illustrative purpose, simulating its 
character as a (once) spoken language. This type of scientific pseudo-
revitalization, however, has a great disadvantage: In case newly 
construed examples occur in a grammar, users may be at risk to take 
these examples as granted and as documents of the actual use of the 
language and to exploit them for a say typological argumentation. 
Sadly to say that the book under review is an extreme example of this 
type of didactically motivated pseudo-revitalization: In the 'Vorwort' 
(introduction), the author explicitly states: "The given examples are 
predominantly construed (by the author); in parts they are taken from 
standard grammars" (p. III, translation W.S.). Hence, what we have at 
hands is not a reference grammar of Coptic in its original sense, but 
rather a presentation of grammatical strategies, constructions etc. 
illustrated with the help of prevailingly artificial examples. I dwell upon 
this issue because I want from the very beginnings utter the strong 
warning not to use the examples in contexts others than for which 
they are intended. In order to retrieve Coptic examples from the actual 
corpus, one should at any rate consult the relevant grammars (e.g. Till 

Coptic is represented in a number of dialects, the most prominent of 
which is the Saidic or Sahidic dialect in Upper Egypt. Most of the 
Coptic grammars strongly refer to this dialect even though the 
contemporary Coptic variety used in religious service is based on the 
Bohairic dialect (Lower Egypt). The preference for Saidic is grounded 
in the fact that by the time of Christianization the majority of Coptic 
speakers lived in Middle and Upper Egypt. Consequently, the Saidic 
dialect soon developed as some kind of standard Coptic. Once 
Alexandria in Lower Egypt became the religious centre, the 
corresponding dialect (Bohairic) commenced to replace the earlier 
Saidic standard (see Mattar 1990). Hence, the majority of classical 
texts have been written in Saidic, which is reflected accordingly in the 
given grammars of Coptic.

The Contents
Andrea Eberle has written the book under review with the help of 
Regina Schulz, an Egyptologist of high renown. The book is in 
German and has appeared in Lincom's series 'Languages of the 
World/Materials' (LW/M, vol. 07). This series currently comprises 
some 150 books with great differences in quality and size. Normally, 
the LW/M series aims at documenting language systems from a purely 
descriptive perspective. Still, nearly every book also witnesses the 
specific linguistic interest of its author. Eberle's volume is 
called 'Koptisch - Ein Leitfaden durch das Saidische' (Coptic - a guide 
to Saidic). The title already pinpoints the main interest of the author, 
namely to serve as "simple study guide for beginners" (p. III, 
translation W.S.). The book hence is neither an introduction to the 
linguistics of Coptic nor a comprehensive descriptive grammar (in the 
sense of say the Mouton Grammar Library). Rather, it is a 
compendium for students who wish to check the paradigmatics and 
constructional principles of Coptic in an easy-to-read mode. The main 
purpose is to summarize the basics of Coptic morphology and syntax 
for students who are already somehow involved in the study of the 
language. Consequently, the Coptic data are always given in the 
Coptic script (a near-Greek script, augmented by six (Bohairic seven) 
signs taken from Demotic). Basically, one cannot but applaud the 
author for having taken this decision: Rarely enough, grammars keep 
the writing tradition of a speech community in case it is not Latin-
based. Still, researchers who want to use Eberle's book as a 
reference book will probably miss a phonological transcription of the 
Coptic data, in case they are not ready to assimilate the Coptic script. 
In addition, practically none of the examples are glossed in the way 
General Linguists would expect it: There are no interlinear morpheme-
by-morpheme glosses: the examples are simply translated into 
German (occasionally accompanied by morphological comments). In 
fact, users who want to understand for instance the function of the so-
called conjunction 'dzhe' (because) from an example has to fully 
analyze the given examples, and consult the phrase given on p. 35, 
whose analysis could be:
ti-dzho:     mmo-s     na-k     dzhe anok pe-k-shbe:r             pe
1SG-say:PRES REL-3SG:F IO-2SG:M because I ART:M-
'I say it to you, because I am your friend.'
'Ich sage es dir, weil ich dein Freund bin.'

The lack of interlinear glosses has another negative side effect: Within 
longer phrases, it becomes difficult to safely identify lexical units: The 
grammar does not include an index of the words that occur in the 
examples. Hence, the user faces the problem to constantly refer to a 
Coptic dictionary when analyzing the Coptic examples. This fact 
renders the book little helpful for users not trained in Coptic. 

Naturally, these observations do not go against the grammatical 
analyses themselves presented in the book. Once users are ready to 
use it as some kind of 'teach-yourself book' (with all its 
consequences), they will find a rather condensed, nevertheless 
comprehensive illustration of the morphosyntax of Coptic. The author 
constantly refers the readers to more detailed discussions given in 
other grammars (among others Till 1966, Lambdin 1983, Shisha-
Havely 1988, Plisch 1999) and thus carefully guides them through the 
deep waters of Coptic grammar. 

Eberle's book is not of extraordinary size: It comprises 80 pages of 
grammar, a brief text ('Apa Mena') with transliteration and word-by-
word translation (pp. 81-89), a short thematic bibliography, and a brief 
index of grammatical terms (pp. 95-97). It starts with a short chapter 
on 'Language and Script' (pp. 1-5). Here, the user will strongly miss a 
more detailed treatment of Coptic phonology: Instead, the author only 
presents the writing system, informs about the pronunciation of the 
individual signs and some further conventions. Here, I add the 
corresponding phonological chart (Vd = voiced, Vl = voiceless; in 
brackets: Bohairic /x/ and Akhmimic /tsh/):

            Stops             Affricates  Spirants   Nasal
            Vd    Vl     Asp  Vd    Vl    Vd    Vl   Vd
Labial      b     p      ph                     f    m
Dental      d     t      th   z     s                n
Palatal                       dzh   [tsh] sh
Velar       g     k      kh                     [x]
Velar-Pal.        ky
Pharyngeal                                      h
Liquids: /l/, /r/, semi-vowels: /y/, /w/. Pseudo-phonemes are /ps/ 
and /ks/.

The vowel chart has the following form (ë represents schwa): 

i, i:        u
e, e: ë o, o:

Chapter II covers word classes and their 'direct phrase combinations' 
(pp. 5-49). To me, the term 'direct phrase combinations' ('direkte 
Phrasenverbindungen') remains rather obscure. Most likely, Eberle 
here tries to circumscribe the term 'morphosyntax'. The chapter 
addresses the following issues: Determination, nominals, nominal 
constructions, pronouns, numerals, prepositions, particles, adverbs 
and adverbial phrases, verbs. The author subcategorizes 
determination strategies in Coptic according to four classes (standard 
determination (article), underdetermination (indefinite article etc.), 
overdetermination (deictic article), indetermination (zero). Usually, the 
determinating dependent reflects gender (masc., fem. sg.) and 
number (sg., pl.) and occurs as a proclitic, eg. p-som 'the (masc.sg.) 
brother', t-so:me: 'the (fem.) sister', n-ro:me 'the (pl.) people'. Quite 
expectably, the proclitic used for underdetermination results from the 
grammaticalization of the numeral 'one' (owa, mask. > ow-). Note that 
Coptic has a plural 'indefinite' article, too (hen- ~ hën-). 

Nouns are discussed in section 2.1. Accordingly, nouns are either 
masculine or feminine. Some relict forms are still marked for the dual, 
e.g. were:-te 'the two feet'. Usually, number is marked on the 
dependent (n-ro:me 'the people', hen-ro:me 'people'). Most nouns 
show just one general form. The status constructus is preserved witrh 
certain nouns in composition, inalienable body part terms may have a 
distinct status pronominalis, e.g. dzho:dzh 'head' > dzho:-f 'his head'. 

Grammatical relations (cases) are not marked on nouns. The 
possessive construction is analytic (based on the general relational 
clitic n- or the clitic preposition nte-/nta-). The objective (O) is encoded 
by n-/nmo- or e-/ero-; n-/na- is used to mark the indirect objective (IO). 
Most adjectives (section 2.2) are uninflected and follow their head, to 
which they are linked with the help of the relational marker n-, e.g. p-
ro:me n-sabe 'the wise man' (ART:M-man REL-wise). Few adjectives 
can be used without this type of izafet-construction, e.g. t-she:re 
she:m 'the little daughter' (ART:F-daughter little). Here, the noun 
phrase is marked for a single tonal pattern, resulting in the shortening 
of the head, e.g. shër-bo:o:n 'bad son' (she:re 'son'). The izafet 
construction also occurs with possessives (section 3.2), e.g. 
pi:-ni       nte p-yo:t
PROX:M-house REL ART:M-father
'This house of the father'

An example for the use of the izafet construction to mark an objective 
f-ol            n-tshte:n
3SG:M-take:PRES REL-dress
'He takes the dress.'

Chapter 4 discusses the amazing world of pronominality in Coptic. The 
strong analytic typology of Coptic conditions that (especially 
anaphoric) pronouns play a crucial role in the organization of the 
syntax. Here, I cannot but just mention some of the highlights: Coptic 
differentiates adnominal deictic from demonstrative pronouns (both 
subcategorize masculine, feminine, and plurality). Intermediate 
positions are taken by the so-called demonstrative article and the 
identifying demonstrative (> copula), compare:
p-ro:me   'the man'           (adnominal > article)
pi:-ro:me 'this man'          (adnominal > demonstrative article)
pai       'this one'          (demonstrative)
pe        'X (masc.) is...'   (identifying copula)

Personal pronouns (p. 17ff.) are either independent ('nominal'), 
dependent proclitics (with stative verb constructions) or dependent 
enclitics (suffix conjugation, possessor). The following table illustrates 
the different forms (reduced independent forms are omitted):
         Independent     Proclitic      Enclitic
1SG      anok            ti-            -i, -t, -a
2SG:m    nt-ok           k-             -k
2SG:f    nt-o            te-            -te, -e, -ZERO
3SG:m    nt-of           f-             -f
3SG:f    nt-os           s-             -s
1PL      an-on           tn-            -n
2PL      nt-o:tn         tetn-          -tn, -te:wtn
3PL      nt-ou           se-            -ow, -sow, -se

In addition, Eberle informs about the formation of complex 
possessives, reflexives (no specific pronoun, only reflexive 
constructions), interrogatives (often in a copula-like position), 
interrogative particles (of Greek origin), and indefinite pronouns. 

Chapter 5 discusses the system of numerals. The counting system is 
decimal (tens first), e.g.
forty-EUPH-four (EUPH = euphonic)


Numerals usually precede their head, e.g. p-sashf n-oi:k (ART:M-
seven REL-bread') 'the seven breads', shmt-she:re 'three child(ren)'. 
Ordinals are expressed by the lexical element meh- 'filling', e..g. p-
meh-shomnt n-hoow 'the third day' (ART:M-ORD-three REL-day), 
lit. 'the filled three of the day'. 

On pp. 31-33, Eberle lists the great number of Coptic prepositions. 
They normally are proclitics and show up in two types (linked to a 
nominal or a pronoun), compare hm p-ni 'in/with the house' (in ART:M-
house), but nhe:t-f 'in/with him'. Prepositions are either simple or 
composed (PREP + NOUN, PREP + ADVERB). Favorite nouns in 
PREP-constructions include body part terms such as rat- 'foot', toot-
 'hand', towo:- 'bosom, side', zho:- 'head'. Preposition-like forms 
include the above mentioned relator n- and its relatives, listed below:
       FORM             FUNCTION
Nominal   Pronominal
e         -ero-         Indirect Objective, Objective with verba sentiendi
n-                      Izafet / Attributive
n-        na-           Indirect Objective
n-        nmo-          Objective
n-, nte-  nta-          Genitive 

After having presented the great number of conjunctions (both native 
and of Greek origin), the author turns to adverbs and adverb-like 
forms. There are 'true' (basically local) adverbs and derived forms, 
usually based on prepositional constructions. The relevant nouns 
include ese:t 'ground', bol 'outer side', me:ne 'day', hoow 'day', 
owoysh 'time', saf 'yesterday', owshe: 'night', ownow 'hour', he 'type', 
me 'truth', howo 'overflow' etc. Adverbs can modify verbs (e.g. ko: 
ebol 'let out') and prepositions, e.g. ebol hn 'from in/with'. 

The most complex aspect of Coptic grammar is given by the verbal 
system. It is amazing to see that Eberle manages to comprehensively 
illustrate the relevant issues on just a few pages (pp. 41-49). The 
Coptic verb paradigms reflects the already extremely heterogeneous 
system if Demotic which has again resulted from important shifts in 
Egyptian from the beginnings of its documentation onwards. Hence, 
the Coptic verb does not represent a single strategy to encode the 
relational segment in a phrasal unit, but is marked for different layers 
of conservatism and innovation. The inflectional pattern of Coptic 
verbs depends from both the phonological structure of the verb stem 
and the given TAM category. Eberle refers to the seven plus one 
verbal classes that have been proposed by Shisha-Halevy (1988: 199-
201). These classes are (C = Consonant, ' = glottal stop):
I    CCC
IV   CCC[C] or CC[CC]    ([C(C)] = reduplicated syllable)
V    t-Causatives (prefixal t- plus final -o)
VI   Stative verbs
VII  Verbs that have an -e or a -t when followed by a pronominal clitic
VIII Irregular verbs

Coptic verbs have two forms: an infinitive and a stative (p. 42). The 
infinitive occurs with a wide range of TAM forms. It again has three 
forms: A status absolutus or non-composite form: an NP in objective 
function is not linked directly to the verb, but with the help of the 
relator n- / nmo-: a status constructus forming a composite form 
verb+NP(objective); a status pronominalis (with pronominal referents 
in objective function). An example is:
a-f-mowkëh        m-p-yo:t
PERF-3SG:M-molest:INF REL-ART:M-father
'He molested the father.'

'He molested the father'

'He molested him.' 

'The father molested him.'

The standard infinitive can also be used in terms of a verbal noun, 
e.g. p-rime m-p-she:re 'the weeping of the child' (ART:M-weeping REL-
ART:M-child). In addition, it forms the basis for analytic causatives, 
derived with the help of the form tre-, a t-causative of i:re 'do, make', 
e-tm-tre-p-ro:me           bo:k
so.that-NEG-CAUS-ART:M-man go:INF
'so that (anybody) does not (let) the man go.' (literal)

The stative has only one form. It indicates either a state or a quality. 

Section 9.3 discusses the verbal conjugation or paradigm of 
referential echoes on the verb. A subjective/agentive ('subject') can be 
echoed either by proclitics or enclitics. This opposition is distributed 
lexically. The overwhelming majority of paradigms is marked for 
proclitic strategies, compare: ti-sotm 'I hear' (lit. 'I (am) at hearing', a-f-
sotm 'he heard' (PERF-3SG:M-hear). Enclitic verbs are for instance 
pedzha-f 'he said', hna-f 'he wanted' and a small number of qualifying 
adjectival verbs.

The final chapter (pp. 50-72) turns to constructional patterns of the 
phrasal or clausal level. It starts with a presentation of nominal clauses 
(copula clauses) together with their pragmatic variants (prefield or 
postfield focus). Possessive constructions lack a verbal representation 
of the HAVE concept. Instead, a locative construction is used, e.g. m
[n]-nte p-ro:me 'the man does not have...' (NEG-at ART:M-man). The 
resulting paradigm (p. 54) has acquired verb-like properties, which is 
illustrated by the fact that a possessed noun may be treated as an 
objective, compare:
ow-nta-i        mmaw  n-ow-she:re
one-at-1SG:POSS there REL-ART:INDEF-daughter
'There, I have a daughter.'

With two pronominal referents, the corresponding pronouns follow 
each other, as in:
'she does not have it.'

Adverbial constructions link the TAM paradigm to issues of clausal 
syntax (p. 55f.). The present tense (or imperfective aspect) is 
analytically construed with the help of a local (> adverbial) strategy, 
e.g. p-ro:me so:tm 'the man hears' (ART:M-man hearing). As a result, 
non-pronominal verbs in this tense/aspect form follow their subject. A 
referent in objective function must be linked with the help of the izafet 
construction, e.g.
ti-dzho     mmo-s
'I say it' (lit. 'I am] in/at saying of it.')

A grammaticalized version of the motion verb now 'go' (> stative na-) 
can precede a present tense form to indicate some kind of near future 
(inchoative), e.g. f-na-dzho: 'he will soon say'. The other TAM forms of 
Coptic are marked for an analytic strategy that is based on 
grammaticalized verb forms (> TAM categories) to which the 
pronominal clitics are added (in subject function) plus infinitive. A 
nominal referent replaces the corresponding pronominal slot. 
Consequently, the basic word order of Coptic is V(:TAM) S/A V [O]. 
Coptic has developed a great number of such TAM-proclitics. A table 
at the end of the book (conjugation paradigms) summarizes the 
relevant forms, which are presented on pages 58-68. Examples are:
a-p-ro:me      sotm
PERF-ART:M-man hear
'The man heard...'

ere-p-ro:me   sotm
ADH-ART:M-man hear      [ADH = adhortative, energetic future]
'The man shall hear...'

'Until he hears....'

ntere-tm-p-ro:me   so:tm ero-i
TEMP-NEG-ART:M-man hear  IO-1SG	[TEMP = temporalis]
'When the man did not hear me...'

The last example illustrates that subordinate clauses conform to the 
same constructional patterns as matrix clauses. After discussing 
strategies of interrogation and negation, Eberle turns to what is 
called 'transposition'. This term is used to denote certain types of 
forming subordinated clauses, e.g. adverbial clauses, relative clauses 
and some kind of pragmatically motivated extraposition. Space does 
not allow to go in details here. Nevertheless, it should be stressed that 
the transpositional strategies of Coptic deserve more than just a 
descriptive treatment. In fact, they nicely show how subordination 
patterns may emerge.


It is out of the question that Eberle's book comprehensively 
characterizes the major issues of Coptic grammar. Above, I have tried 
to extract some kind of morphosyntactic profile of Coptic from the 
book. I hope that it has become evident that Eberle's Coptic grammar 
in fact addresses many issues of the language that are not only 
relevant for specialists in Egyptology (in its broader sense), but also 
for researchers in General Linguistics and Language Typology. 
Nevertheless it must be said that the organization of the book does 
not fully conform to what has developed as a descriptive standard in 
the last years. It mixes up morphological, categorial, and 
constructional issues and hence renders it difficult to systematically 
monitor the grammar of Coptic from a more general perspective. Still, 
it has to be stressed that the size of the book obviously limited the 
descriptive scope. In addition, it nearly completely lacks a diachronic 
perspective: However, in case users are interested not only to 
understand the 'how' of Coptic, but also the 'why', they will necessarily 
ask for the diachronic background in order to explain grammar rather 
than just to describe it. Viewing the fact that the different stages of Old 
Egyptian cover a time span of more than 4000 years it comes clear 
that the data of this language can serve as an important tool to 
retrieve and model aspects of language change. In this respect, an 
urgent task would be to write a historical-comparative grammar of all 
stages of Old Egyptian. In this light, Eberle's book does not offer 
anything really new: It is just another instantiation of the many 
presentations of Coptic, which, however, is well-done, once the 
readers have taken the perspective the author wants them to take: 
namely to use the booklet as a tool in Coptic classes. 

From a formal point of view, there is nothing to complain about. The 
book is easy to read and the examples are well-chosen (better: well-
construed) and serve their purpose. It may well be that once Coptic 
has been made more readily accessible for non-Coptologists, some of 
the descriptive parameters used by Eberle will call for revision (e.g. 
the section on transposition and on prepositions). For the time being, 
typologists will have to translate the book into their own scientific 
format, if ever they are ready to work through the whole book. But this 
is what they should do: Else, a selective browsing through Eberle's 
grammar in order to retrieve certain grammatical features will probably 
end in a disaster. This, however, is not the fault of the book. Instead, it 
is related to those points I have addressed in the first section of this 
review. Once typologists and others have worked through Eberle's 
grammar, they will probably get interested in learning more about this 
fascinating language, to work with real data, and to include it more 
often to their thinking about the diversity and universality of language.


Shisha-Halevy, A. 1988. Coptic Grammatical Chrestomathy, A Course
for Academic and Private Study, Leuven: Peeters.

Lambdin, Thomas O. 1983. Introduction to Sahidic Coptic. Macon:
Mercer UP.

Layton, Bentley. 2000. A Coptic Grammar. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz.

Mattar, Nabil 1990. A study in Bohairic Coptic. Pasadena: Hope
Publishing House.

Plisch, Uwe-Karsten. 1999. Einführung in die koptische Sprache:
Sahidischer Dialekt. Wiesbaden: Reichert.

Thomsen, Marie-Louise 1984. The Sumerian Language.
Copenhagen: Akademisk Forlag.

Till, Walter C. 1961. Koptische Dialektgrammatik. Lepizig: VEB Verlag

Till, Walter C. 1966. Koptische Grammatik (Saidischer Dialekt).
Leipzig: VEB Verlag Enzyklopädie.

Wegner, Ilse 2000. Hurritisch. Eine Einführung. Wiesbaden:

Wright, William 1861 [1896-98]. A Grammar of the Arabic Language:
Translated from the German of Caspari and edited, with numerous
additions and corrections. 3rd ed. revised by W. Robertson Smith and
M. J. de Goeje, 2 vols. Cambridge: Cambridge UP.


Wolfgang Schulze is the Head of the Institute for General Linguistics
and Language Typology at the University of Munich. His main
research topics include Language Typology, Cognitive Typology,
Historical Linguistics, language contact, the languages of the
(Eastern) Caucasus and Inner Asia, and 'Oriental' languages. He
currently works on a Functional Grammar of Udi and on a
comprehensive presentation of the framework of a 'Grammar of
Scenes and Scenarios' in terms of 'Cognitive Typology'.

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