Layton’s Coptic Grammar – some comments

As I said in my previous post, I’ve just received my copy of Bentley Layton’s A Coptic Grammar.  This is the revised, 2004 edition, which he says has been kept affordable by a grant from they Yale Endowment for Egyptology. If that’s the case, I am very grateful to Yale, because it is not a cheap book. I can see why, though, because, unlike many paperback books, it is perfect bound, ie the pages are divided into a number of sections which are folded and stitched before being glued into the binding. Cheap paperbacks have their pages cut to size and are then glued to the binding, making it much more likely that they will fall to pieces in your hands with frequent use.

It’s a grammar, so I am not actually planning on reading it from cover to cover, but I am reading the introduction and first few of chapters and am finding them enlightening. As I commented here in 2007, Layton uses a different terminology for describing Coptic to the one used by Lambdin (who, incidentally, taught Layton Coptic). It is the same as the terminology used by Ariel Shisha-Halevy (Coptic Grammatical Chrestomathy – A Course for Academic and Private Study. Leuven: Peeters 1988.) which I had difficulty following, because although he says that the book can be used to teach yourself Coptic, the level of explanatory material provided in it is very limited and I was used to the Lambdin terms.

After outlining the history of twentieth-century Coptic linguistics, Layton says:

Finally, a word about traditional terminology.  Readers accustomed to the traditional terms of Coptic grammar in English, French or German will find many of these included, as cross-references, in the subject index at the end of this book.  But as might be expected in a new full-scale grammar some old terms had to be abandoned or replaced, and some new ones created, when the overall structure of the language more precisely came into view.  For these innovations I ask the readers’ indulgence, hoping they will look beyond the new names and consider, instead, the enduring structural entities that they merely serve to label. (xiii-xiv)

So, happy, happy, joy, joy, I need to get my head around some of this and be able to use both sets of terminology so that anything I say will make sense to those who are used to the older terminology (probably the majority of Coptic scholars at the moment) and those who are used to the new. I expect them to increase in numbers now that Layton’s Coptic in Twenty Lessons is available as a teaching tool and of course I don’t want to be thought out-of-date when I publish. 🙂  Note that Coptic in Twenty Lessons is also a perfect bound paperback.


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