If the term “dialect” is confined to idioms whose originality, when compared to others, is strongly characterized (by a large number of phonological and morphosyntactical oppositions of a cogent quality) and if the term “subdialect” is confined to idioms whose originality in relation to others is but weakly characterized (by a small number of oppositions of uncompelling or inconclusive quality) (cf. DIALECTS, GROUPING AND MAJOR GROUPS OF), there would still remain a residue of idioms that one would hesitate to class either with the independent dialects proper (because their originality seems too weak) or with the subdialects (because their originality seems too strongly pronounced).

One could thus (Kasser, 1980, p. 103) call this last group mesodialects—that is, quasi-dialects, situated almost midway, phonologically and perhaps also geographically, between other dialects—and assign them, following due consideration, to the dialect group to which they nevertheless stand closest.

In view of the unidimensional dialectal configuration of the Nile Valley, in which the local dialects are strung out like pearls on a necklace, a mesodialect will be encountered most often between two dialects; however, there are certain regions (such as the Nile Valley near the Fayyum or in the Delta) where dialectal geography admits of a second dimension, and there a mesodialect may consequently lie enclosed between three (or, theoretically, even more than three) dialects, linguistically and geographically speaking.

Should one assign to a given dialect a particular territory in Egypt, one would apparently be attributing the same territory to the whole dialectal group of which the said dialect is part, so that this territory could be subdivided and parceled among the various member dialects or sub- dialects of the group; in such a case, the district of the mesodialect would logically lie near the dialectal frontier, adjoining the territory or territories of the neighboring dialect(s), with which it would share affinities (characteristics that are, however, less important than those it shares with the core dialect of its group).

A typical example of a mesodialectal text is the papyrus Mich. 3521. Kahle (1954, pp. 224-25) considered it “Middle Egyptian with Fayyumic influence” and therefore to be attached to the M dialectal group rather than to the F group, but Husselman published it as belonging to the “Fayumic dialect of Coptic” (1962, pp. vii, 11-18).

This judgment was confirmed on the whole by Polotsky (1964, p. 251): “Although the dialect of the MS does not share in the shibboleth of Fayyumic, viz, its lambdacism, anyone previous to Kahle would have unhesitatingly characterized it as ‘not quite pure’ Fayyumic. Kahle calls it ‘Middle Egyptian with Fayyumic influence.’ The editor, however, maintains (11) that the basis of the dialect appears to be typical Fayyumic nonetheless, in which I must agree with her.

On the other hand, Kahle is certainly right in that the non-Fayyumic infusion is ‘Middle Egyptian.’ . . . One could perhaps compromise on ‘Fayyumic with Middle Egyptian influence.”’ P. Mich. 3521, one sees, illustrates well the properties necessary for defining a mesodialect.

It has been suggested that the same term be applied to DIALECT G (or Basmuric, or Mansuric, partly sporadic, belonging to the dialectal group B, situated between S and a highly dominant B, with a probable third component that is perhaps partly Hellenic but difficult to determine; see DIALECT, SPORADIC) and to K (situated between V or S and a highly dominant B).

When a mesodialect does not contribute any important original element, one not found in its classic neighbor dialects, it may conveniently be neglected in a systematic and general study of Coptic dialects.


  • Browne, G. M. Michigan Coptic Texts. Barcelona, 1979.
  • Chaîne, M. Eléments de grammaire dialectale copte. Paris, 1933. Crum, W. E. “Coptic Documents in Greek Script.” Proceedings of the British Academy 25 (1939):249-71.
  • Funk, W.-P. “Eine frühkoptische Ausgleichsorthographie für Unter- und Mittelägypten? Bulletin de la Société d’égyptologie, Genève 4 (1980):33-38.
  • Husselman, E. M. The Gospel of John in Fayumic Coptic (P. Mich. Inv. 3521). Ann Arbor, Mich., 1962.
  • Kasser, R. “Les Dialectes coptes.” Bulletin de l’Institut français d’archéologie orientale 73 (1973):71-101.
  • Kahle, P. E. Bala’izah: Coptic Texts from Deir el-Bala’izah in Upper Egypt. Oxford and London, 1954.
  • . “L’Idiome de Bachmour.” Bulletin de l’Institut français d’archéologie orientale 75 (1 975):401-427.
  • . “Prolégomènes à un essai de classification systématique des dialectes et subdialectes coptes selon les critères de la phonétique, I, Principes et terminologie.” Muséon 93 (1980):53-112.
  • Polotsky, H. J. Review of E. M. Husselman, The Gospel of John in Fayumic Coptic (P. Mich. Inv. 3521). Orientalistische Literaturzeitung 59 (1964):250-53.
  • Worrell, W. H. Coptic Sounds. Ann Arbor, Mich., 1934.


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