Monday, January 11, 2010
Ajami in Boston
The Boston Globe has an article today about Ajami, the tradition of transcribing African languages in the Arabic script. It focuses particularly on the efforts of Fallou Ngom, whose work has been mainly on Wolof Ajami in Senegal, the subject of one of my first posts here. In the article he emphasises the potential historical significance of such work in opening up neglected sources on African history. While most African manuscripts are in Arabic, some historically rather interesting Ajami sources are known; for Mandinka, published historical manuscripts include the Pakao Book and the Bijini manuscript, the latter outlining regional history over the past 500 years. There are undoubtedly more out there that have gone uninvestigated simply for lack of enough historians who can read them. My work on Ajami has focused more on issues of orthography, however: most African languages have rather different sound systems to Arabic, and it's quite interesting to see what kind of devices they developed to make the alphabet fit better.