Sterling’s “Coptic Paradigms”

On the strength of Bill Arnal’s review in RBL, I ordered a copy of Gregory E Sterling’ s Coptic Paradigms – A Summary of Sahidic Coptic Morphology (2008, Peeters, Leuven). It arrived today and after a quick look, I am impressed. In 95 pages, Sterling has produced a really nice summary of Sahidic Coptic morphology which has a series of tables with some explanatory notes. It begins with the alphabet and numbers then proceeds through articles and pronouns, nouns and adjectives, prepositions and adverbs to the verbal system which forms the largest section of the book. Each section and most sub-sections begin with introductory notes that provide an overview of the construction and alert the reader/student to any peculiarities. The section on adjectives begins with the caution that:

It is debatable whether adjectives exist as a distinct form, or whether genderless nouns in attributive constructions function like adjectives. We will use the category adjective, although we caution students that this is a pedagogical strategy more than a grammatical judgement. (p 23)

It is a more comprehensive coverage than is found in the tables in Ariel Shisha-Halevy’s Coptic Grammatical Chrestomathy (Peeters, 1988) and expects less familiarity with arcane grammatical terms than does the main body of Shisha-Halevy. Sterling assumes, though, that most people who learn Coptic already have a command of several other languages, so he expects a reasonable understanding of grammatical terms.

Sterling teaches Coptic at Notre Dame University (I assume in the US, rather than our Australian branch :-)) and the book was developed in the course of his teaching. It is intended to be either a companion to a good Coptic grammar for the beginner student, or as a refresher for those who do not use Coptic all the time and need to get back up to speed when they begin work on a new Coptic passage. He developed it for use with Lambdin’s Introduction to Sahidic Coptic but suggests that it would also work with Layton’s Coptic in 20 Lessons. I expect that it will be very useful to me because I am working on my PhD part time and the job that pays the bills doesn’t require a knowledge of Coptic. This means that I tend to work on Coptic rather sporadically and I can tell that I will be able to find the errant forms of those obscure Coptic word far more easily in this book than I can in Lambdin, Layton or Shisha-Halevy.

My one quibble so far is that the Coptic font that is used is that the “oo” which Crum calls “he” takes the ornate, loopy form found in Crum and most Coptic Orthodox documents, rather than the Y-like form that is used in the Nag Hammadi texts and in Lambdin, Layton and Shisha-Halevy’s grammars. This is particularly surprising since  Shisha-Halevy is published by the same publishers (albeit 20 years apart). I am not a big fan of the ornate Coptic fonts and am not sure why this one ornate form would be introduced into what is otherwise the plainer and (IMHO, anyway) more easily read form of the characters.

All told, however, I feel that it has been money well spent. I got it for USD18.00 plus USD9.90 postage,which was only AUD31.67 thanks to the very favourable exchange rate at the moment.


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