Occasional Ajami (Type 4)

The sporadic translation of some Arabic words in a text’s margins

This is the fifth post in a series on types of Ajami. Read the initial introduction here and find all of the posts here.

Type 4 refers to the occasional and random translation of some Arabic words in the margins of the main text. Such “Occasional Ajami” is found in manuscripts that usually reflect a more advanced level of Islamic education; when Arabic is the sole scholarly language and there is no need to use local languages as props as in intermediate phases of learning.

Compared to a systematic nature of Type 3, Occasional Ajami manuscripts are not as dense in linguistic data. Nonetheless, they have a potential to help us understand why local languages were still required even at this latter stage of education.

Type 4 manuscripts are very difficult to identify because the Ajami writing is much less conspicuous than in the other types. This partly explains why these manuscripts have rarely been studied (See Dobronravin 2013 as a good exception).

Our recent findings from the “African voices project” suggest that Type 4 Ajami might constitute the bulk of Ajami material. Unfortunately, to find all Ajami in occasionally annotated manuscripts would mean turning each page of ALL available manuscripts in West African collections – a task beyond any one person’s capacities and life span, let alone academic funding.

To give you a taste of what can be found in these manuscripts, I invite you to have a look at the following page from Tafsīr Al-Jalālayn, a very popular commentary of the Qur’an (I photographed this fragmented manuscript in Sokoto in 2010 – see a zoomable page at Sokoto Caliphate, SOAS Digital Collections).

Tafsīr Al-Jalālayn. Page showing Arabic commentaries written in brown ink on Sūrat Saba’ (Qur’an 34:16) written in red ink. Waziri Junaidu Bureau. Sokoto.

In the upper write hand side corner (I marked it with a red tick), there are two words in Hausa written upside down, demonstrated below on a zoomed in image:

Two Hausa words explaining ‘tamarisk’

The first Hausa word reads <giginiya> which most likely corresponds to gigī́nyādeleb palm’. The second word is written as <tufāfiyā> which is tumfā́fiyā́apple of Sodom’. Both words show an attempt of a scribe to translate the Qur’anic Arabic  ʕaθl (أثل) ‘tamarisk’ Q. 34:16 (written in red ink) which is also explained in Arabic by a synonymous word  ṭarfāʕu (طرفاء) (in black ink) with the same meaning ‘tamarisk’.

Note that the scribe also included a helpful indicator (see the figure below) above the Arabic ʕaθl (أثل) and repeated it in front of the Hausa word gigī́nyā to make sure that the readers like us find the corresponding Arabic words easily. (In this regard, see my earlier post about the earliest attested use of the tag “Ajami” to flag a portion of a manuscript written in an African language.)

An Ajami text indicator symbol

This is the fifth post in a series on types of Ajami. The next and final one will be on Ajami Type 5 –  Healing, talismanic and esoteric Ajami.

Read the initial introduction here and find all of the posts here.

Cite this article as: Dmitry Bondarev, "Occasional Ajami (Type 4)," in A-label: African Languages Between the Lines, 2019-09-17, https://ajami.hypotheses.org/896.


Dobronravin, Nikolay (2013), ‘‘Classical Hausa’ glosses in a nineteenth-century Qur’anic manuscript: A case of ‘translational reading’ in Sudanic Africa?’, in Tal Tamari and Dmitry Bondarev, eds., ‘Qur’anic Exegesis in African Languages’, special issue, Journal of Qur’anic Studies 15, no. 3 (2013), pp. 84-122.

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