Linguistics Speaker Series: Amir Zeldes, Georgetown University

Digital Coptic: What, why and how?



Coptic was spoken in Egypt throughout the first millennium and represents the final link in the history of the language of the hieroglyphs. Its history makes it a unique and highly instructive object of study for linguists: Together with previous stages of Ancient Egyptian, it forms the longest continuously recorded documentation of any language on the planet, spanning over 4,000 years. As a language of the Hellenistic or Greco-Roman period in the Eastern Mediterranean, Coptic was profoundly influenced by Greek, assimilating vocabulary, phraseology and grammatical constructions from that language through language contact. Typologically, Coptic attests the last phase of a now extinct branch of Afro-Asiatic, and the nearest neighbor of the largest surviving branch, Semitic.


Despite the potential interest for comparative and historical linguistics, contact linguistics and linguistic typology, as well as its importance for ancient history and history of religion, Coptic remains chronically understudied. In this talk I will present ongoing work resulting from three recent Digital Humanities projects promoting resources for research on this language. I will discuss the main tasks and problems in establishing online databases and natural language processing tools for a low resource language such as Coptic, how these challenges are being met, and why linguists should care about Coptic studies.



Amir Zeldes is a computational linguist specializing in corpus linguistics. He received his BA in Linguistics and Cognitive Science from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, his Magister Artium in German, Computational and Historical Linguistics from Humboldt University in Berlin and Potsdam University, and his doctorate in General Linguistics from Humboldt University in Berlin. He is currently assistant professor of Computational Linguistics at Georgetown University. His main area of interest is the syntax-semantics interface, where meaning and knowledge about the world are mapped onto lexical choice and syntactic structure in language-specific ways. He is also involved in the development of tools for corpus search, annotation and visualization, especially for richly annotated multilayer corpora, and has worked on the development of standards for the representation of textual data in Linguistics and the Digital Humanities.

Friday, September 18, 2015 at 3:30pm to 5:00pm

Poulton Hall, 230
1421 37th St., N.W., Washington

Event Type

Academic Events


Georgetown College, Linguistics

Google Calendar iCal Outlook

Recent Activity