Coptic in unicode when you don’t know the alphabet

I’ve been trying to enter corrections to the Coptic section of my book.  Unfortunately all I got from the translator was *paper* corrections.  I don’t know the Coptic alphabet.  Worse still, I’m working with Bohairic, using the Alphabetum unicode font, rather than the commoner Sahidic unicode fonts.  What am I to do?

Luckily we live in the age of the web.  Here’s what I have done.

Firstly, look at the Wikipedia Coptic alphabet page.  This has a really useful table, which shows and names all the letters with images.  But it also has two columns which actually use a unicode font.  Naturally these appear as squares, invalid characters. 

So what I did then was copy and paste the whole table into a Word document.  The unicode characters remained invalid, mostly — hey, my default font is Times New Roman and it doesn’t contain these.

Then I selected the two columns in Word and changed the font to Alphabetum.  And … magically I got a whole load of Coptic unicode characters, all labelled, displayed at 18pt:


 Now what I can do is use these characters, and just copy and paste them, one by one.  Yes, I still don’t know the alphabet.  But I can compare the letter types against the images, against the word document.  For small amounts of Coptic, it works.

It would work for Sahidic as well, of course — just use a different font than Alphabetum.

But … the translator talks about “supralinear strokes” whatever these may be.  The Wikipedia article is silent on these.

I have found a page on Coptic unicode input that does discuss these things.  You can enter any unicode character using charmap.  So:

Here are the choices made for the punctuation and diacritics used in modern printing of Coptic texts:


  • normal English punctuation (comma, period, question mark, semicolon, colon, hyphen) uses the regular Unicode codepoints for punctuation
  • dicolon: standard colon U+003A
  • middle dot: U+00B7
  • en dash: U+2013
  • em dash: U+2014
  • slanted double hyphen: U+2E17
    Combining diacritics (codepoints applied after that of the character they modify):

  • combining overstroke: U+0305
  • combining character-joining overstroke (from middle of one character to middle of the next): U+035E
  • combining dot under a letter: U+0323
  • combining dot over a letter: U+0307
  • combining overstroke and dot below: U+0305,U+0323
  • combining acute accent: U+0301
  • combining grave accent: U+0300
  • combining circumflex accent (caret shaped): U+0302
  • combining circumflex (curved shape) or inverted breve above: U+0311
  • combining circumflex as wide inverted breve above joining two letters: U+0361
  • combining diaeresis: U+0308

It is easier to enter Coptic Unicode characters if one has a customized keyboard, but it is also possible to enter any four-digit hexadecimal codepoint that you know using particular utilities in Mac OS X or Windows. … In Word for Windows, you can type a four-digit code (or a five-digit code) directly into your document and then type ALT-x, which converts the code to the character.

And there we are.

The same page also gives a Coptic unicode keyboard for Windows XP, but that’s for people who know what they are doing.


4 thoughts on “Coptic in unicode when you don’t know the alphabet

  1. Roger,

    There are way better ways. You will need a keyboard layout, you can find one at or you can use Microsoft Keyboard Layout Creator to create your own. If you are on Windows 7 or perhaps Vista you also need a virtual keyboard in which you can specify the font used to display the keys, I found Hot Virtual Keyboard ( working fantastic but it comes with a $30 price. You might find free alternatives. I use the New Athena ( font but any other Unicode font should work.

    Once you have the Coptic Keyboard layout installed you can switch between English and Coptic by selecting the keyboard from the language bar in your system tray. Launch the virtual keyboard. When you switch to the Coptic Keyboard you will see all your Coptic fonts on the virtual keyboard and you can type away with your regular keyboard to enter the characters.

    This should be far faster than copying and pasting from Wikipedia 🙂



  2. Thank you for these tips. I’m sure they are indeed much faster, once you’re set up. But if all you have to do is a few words, the approach I outlined will do it.

  3. Dear Roger (if I may),
    If you want, you could be add to the very useful list of “interesting links” also the EDB – Epigraphic Database Bari (about the Christian inscriptions of Late Ancient Rome (3rd-8th cent.): (curation by Christian and Medieval Epigraphy Chair in the University of Bari “Aldo Moro”, Italy.
    The EDB project is one of the founders partners of the Europeana network of Ancient Greek and Latin Epigraphy – EAGLE).
    Antonio E. Felle

  4. Hi Antonio (yes do),
    That does look rather interesting! I’ll do that, and do a post on the site soon!

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