Coptic leaf from the Gospel of Mark, Egypt, c. AD 500. (Southern Methodist University)
Nearly half of the world’s 7,000 languages are likely to become extinct over the course of this century, according to an article in the NY Times which discusses a recent study of endangered languages. (See this interactive map for more details of the study.)
One language that is not mentioned in the article or in the study, but which is also on the brink of extinction, is Coptic, the ancient language of Egypt’s indigenous Christian population.
Coptic is a modified Greek script that includes a handful of symbols from Demotic. It came into use in the first century AD, and is grammatically very similar to the Late Egyptian language that was written in hieroglyphics.
Following the Muslim conquest of Egypt in the mid-7th Century, there was persecution of non-Muslims, who were required to pay alms. In consequence, the use of Coptic began to decline.
Today, Coptic is spoken only by small numbers of priests and choristers in Coptic churches in Egypt and elsewhere. As a child, I attended the Coptic church in South Kensington often; back then (in the late 70s and early 80s) the mass was performed in Coptic and Arabic.
Now, as Egyptians marry into English families, and the number of second generation Egyptians who do not speak Arabic gets bigger, the use of both Coptic and Arabic in church services is declining, and that of English increasing.