Read and Write Coptic on Your Smartphone: Interview with Mina Makar on Coptic Bible, Dictionary, Keyboard, and Agpeya Apps 

Coptic is the last stage of the Egyptian language and is still used at Coptic Christian churches. Coptic uses the Coptic alphabet, which is the Greek alphabet plus several letters derived from Ancient Egyptian Demotic script. 

The Coptic alphabet is written in Uncial script which was also used for one of the oldest Greek Bible codices, the Codex Sinaiticus. The Coptic alphabet was first introduced to Unicode in the Greek and Coptic Unicode block; however, the Coptic letters taken from the Greek alphabet share the same code points with the Greek Unicode characters. In 2005, the Unicode Consortium implemented the Coptic Unicode block which is different from the Greek and Coptic Unicode block for the letters which Coptic and Greek share. The letters which Coptic imported from the Demotic script were still left in the Greek and Coptic Unicode block. There were several font problems caused by discrepancies separated in the two Unicode blocks, but many Coptic DH projects such as Coptic SCRIPTORIUM (multilayered and linguistically & philologically  tagged Coptic corpus), CoptOT (digital edition of Coptic Old Testament), KELLIA (promoting collaboration among Coptic DH projects), DDGLC (database and dictionary of Greek loanwords in Coptic), Coptic Dictionary Online, etc. have developed, using the Unicode blocks for Coptic.

Today I have invited Mina D. Makar for an interview. He is a mobile app developer from New Jersey contributing to several smartphone apps for Coptic liturgy and daily devotion, using the Coptic Unicode for his “Coptic Bible” app. So far, he developed four mobile apps: “Coptic Bible” (for reading Bible translations in various Coptic dialects), “Coptic Keyboard” (for typing Coptic on iOS), “Coptic-English Dictionary” (for searching Coptic words on iOS), “Coptic Agpeya” (for reading the Agpeya, the book of hourly prayers, in Coptic on both iOS and Android). The “Coptic Bible” and “Coptic Agpeya” apps are available on iOS and Android. The “Coptic Keyboard” and “Coptic-English Dictionary” apps are available only on iOS. All the apps except the dictionary app utilize the Coptic Unicode, and Mina is planning to convert the “Coptic-English Dictionary” app into Unicode.

Thank you for coming, Mina. 

Q1: Could you please introduce yourself?

Thank you for having me, Dr. So. My name is Mina Makar and I currently reside in New Jersey. I am a member of the Coptic Orthodox Church and have spent many years studying the Coptic language. In 2017, I started developing my first app for iOS, the Coptic-English Dictionary, and finished it that same year. This was ground breaking at the time since there was no other comprehensive Coptic dictionary app with search capabilities. Since then I have developed three more Coptic based applications. In 2019, I developed the Coptic Keyboard app for iOS allowing users to type and text using Unicode. I also created a Unicode keyboard that same year for Windows and Mac users. In 2020, I developed the Coptic Agpeya app which is a digital format of the Coptic Book of Hours used by the Coptic Orthodox Church. What made this app unique was that it contained all the prayers and Psalms in Coptic, which no other app had. It is seldom to find printed books with the Coptic texts either.

Home menu of the “Coptic Bible” app

In 2021, in collaboration with St. Shenouda the Archimandrite Coptic Society in California, I developed for them the Coptic Bible app. This ground-breaking app aims to contain all of available biblical texts in all dialects. To date, all of the Bohairic and most of the Sahidic texts have been published. There are some books in other dialects, like the Fayyumic Song of Songs, which I believe has never been published before. I have a real passion for the Coptic language and wish to make it more accessible to others.

“Coptic Bible” app

Q2: What is the purpose and targets of your apps? 

The primary focus of these apps is to spread the Coptic language and Coptic material, making it as accessible as possible for everyone. The Coptic-English dictionary allows the user to search from Coptic to English or from English to Coptic. It makes it easy for a user to quickly look up words while reading without having to open Crum and scrolling through it. The Coptic keyboard for iOS was needed as there was none available. Android devices are able to type using Coptic Unicode using Gboard but the iOS version does not have a Coptic keyboard. Now people can type and text each other in Coptic easily and there isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t use it. The keyboard is designed to look and feel like a native iOS keyboard and also contains a dictionary of words allowing it to perform functions like autocorrect or scan words and add jinkims.

The home menu of the “Coptic Agpeya” app

The Coptic Agpeya app is meant to be used as a prayer app. It has features to be able to log prayers and to be able to hide/collapse sections to make custom prayers. It also aims to include as many languages as possible so that it can be used across the world. To date, it contains Coptic, English, Arabic, French, and German. Hopefully, there will be many more languages added and if anyone wants a specific language added they can reach out to me.

Reading mode of the “Coptic Agpeya” app

The Coptic Bible app is meant to be a reading/study app. Users can read Coptic texts of the Bible parallel to other dialect versions or English or Greek. Users can highlight, bookmark, or take notes on verses and export them as a pdf. However, the best feature of the app is the search ability which ignores diacritic markers, such as the jinkim or supralinear line. It searches the entire Bible and the search results can be filtered by dialect or book. This is a powerful tool that can be used for cross referencing Coptic terms and seeing their usages. It is an invaluable tool for anyone studying Coptic and has aided us many times in better understanding the Coptic language.

Search function on the “Coptic Bible” app

Q3: What is the process of building these apps?

All of these apps were coded natively for their respective platforms. The iOS apps were coded in XCode and the Android apps were coded in Android Studio using native coding languages. The process of building each app is the same. The first step is identifying the app purpose and listing all of the included features. From there, a storyboard of the app is created which is essentially just a simple app flow map. Once the storyboard looks good, front end development begins taking the two dimensional storyboard and transforming it into what the user sees when they use the app. After front-end development is completed, back-end development commences to make sure that everything in the app functions the way it should. Then comes the beta testing phase, my personal favorite phase, where beta testers are tasked with testing and ‘breaking’ the app. This allows us to identify any glitches or issues with the app and fix them prior to launch. Overall, each app from start to finish can take anywhere from four to six months or longer, depending on the complexity.

Storyboard wireframe for the “Coptic Bible” app

Q4: How have the reactions to your apps been?

For the most part, all the apps have been well received, I think. There are people who are supportive and people who aren’t. I would say the Coptic Bible and Coptic Agpeya apps are by far the most successful. Most people are thankful for the apps and find them useful. Some even reach out with suggestions for improvements or ideas for new apps. To me, any criticism, whether positive or negative, is great as it helps to continue growing and improving the apps.

Q5: What future plans do you have for the further development of apps?

Currently, I am working on updating the Coptic dictionary app and releasing it for Android. This is a huge overhaul to the app and is taking much longer than anticipated to finish. There are also collaborative plans in work for creating Coptic language apps geared towards teaching Coptic grammar and Coptic vocab. I think this is very much needed right now. Most people think Coptic is a dead language and it is taught primarily  from an academic perspective as a means to study texts, rather than as a spoken language. But, there are people out there who speak Coptic, and now more than ever people are studying the language. I hope one day Coptic can be a more commonly spoken language rather than primarily used for academic or liturgical usage.

Thank you so much, Mina Makar!

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