Transliterating Ajami into the Latin script

The conventions we use to transliterate African languages from Arabic to Latin script.

One of the hardest things about working on Ajami manuscripts is interpreting the African language that is written in the Arabic script. This is because oftentimes certain contrastive sounds (phonemes, nasalization, tone) are not marked.

To get from the original Arabic to a proper interpretation of the African language, we start by typesetting the Arabic orthographic representation; that is, we type out what is written by hand. Next, we transliterate that Arabic representation into the Latin script.

Of course, we aren’t done then — we still need to attempt to interpret the transliteration into a practical (for us) Latin-based orthography appropriate for the language in question and offer a translation — but for now we’ll stop there because we wanted to announce that we’ve written and posted online the transliteration scheme that we are currently using. We’ve added it to our general Tools & Resources page which basically outlines our whole workflow at this point.

Hope it’s helpful for others working on Ajami manuscripts. Any questions, feedback or issues that you see, please let us know!


Cite this blog post
Coleman Donaldson (2019, March 4). Transliterating Ajami into the Latin script. A-label: African Languages Between the Lines. Retrieved April 12, 2024, from

Author: Coleman Donaldson

Postdoc at the University of Hamburg interested in speech and literacy practices in Francophone and Manding-speaking West Africa.

2 thoughts on “Transliterating Ajami into the Latin script”

  1. There are two odd choices of IPA signs: ɣ for خ and ʕ for غ. This is contra to what is commonly used in various transliteration schemes and as such misleading. I would recommend using the following: x for خ, and ɣ for غ. We will discuss some other minor points at our next Ajami meeting.


    1. Thanks, Dmitry! Look forward to discussing and seeing if/how we should update the sheet and Djibril’s data accordingly. In the meantime, we’ll leave the scheme live since it is what Djibril has been using in his own work on Soninke.

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