Healing and Esoteric Ajami (Type 5)

Manuscripts rich in ethnobotanical and ethnomedical data

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

Unlike the previous three types of Ajami (Type 2 – Type 4), the Ajami in such manuscripts is not used for translation of Arabic, but rather has its distinctive function of providing metadata about the uses and benefits of the texts written in Arabic. The predominant subject matter in this type is esoteric protection and healing.

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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.

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Systematic Interlinear Ajami Glosses (Type 3)

Ajami phrases written above or below corresponding Arabic phrases in the space between the lines.

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

In “interlinear” Ajami manuscripts, annotations in Ajami are systematically applied to the source Arabic text in order to explicate its grammatical structures and render accurate translations.1

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  1. Here I use the notion of annotations as a cover term for “glosses” and “commentaries”. The distinction between the two in the context of West African Islamic manuscripts is discussed in Bondarev 2017: 121. []

Intralinear Ajami (Type 2)

Manuscripts where Ajami phrases follow Arabic phrases on the same line.

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

“Intralinear Ajami”, in the strictest sense, refers to African language phrases following Arabic ones written on the same line. Similarly to Type 1 (which I reviewed in my previous post), such Ajami, which I call Type 2, is written in a continuous act of writing.

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Ajami primary manuscripts (Type 1)

Ajami documents that are exclusively or predominantly in an African language.

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

“Ajami primary” refers to manuscripts that are predominantly or exclusively written in an African language. They are the best studied and until 2010s they were the only focus of Ajami research.

Single Ajami texts can roughly be subdivided into three subtypes: poetry, history and correspondence.

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Types of African Ajami

Welcome to a series of posts, exploring types of African Ajami manuscripts

This is the first post in a mini-series on types of Ajami manuscripts. See all the posts here.

What forms do “Ajami manuscripts” actually take?

This post, the first of a mini-series, seeks to answer this question by giving a general description of Ajami types along with some hints as to how they change across time. Subsequent posts will be more in-depth looks at each individual type with specific examples and discussions of their relevance for research.

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Manding’s Islamic Scholarly Register: An Initial Look

A “way of speaking” particular to learned Muslims of West Africa.

As part of my work in the Ajami Lab, I am currently working to analyze and contextualize the existence and emergence of Manding’s scholarly Islamic register.

Manding is a West African trade language spoken by tens of millions of people. From one perspective, it is well documented. There are a range of linguistic grammars and dictionaries that describe both the four major varieties–Bambara, Jula, Maninka and Mandinka–as well as smaller local dialects.

While such studies are essential, they reduce variation in pronunciation, vocabulary and grammar to a question of dialectology. Differences in the ways that we speak with one another, however, are never just a question of dialect.

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Online Ajami Sources and Resources

Where can one find African languages written in Arabic script on the internet?

One need not go to West African or anywhere else to contribute to research of manuscripts that contain instances of African languages written in Ajami (that is, Arabic characters).

What follows is a list of the most prominent collection of Ajami texts and or resources available on the internet that I could find.

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Connections between N’ko and Ajami

Today, one is more likely to come across Manding written in N’ko than in Arabic (or even Latin) script. But did N’ko stifle Ajami or emerge from it?

This post is related to this publication which was accepted in the African Studies Review in September 2019.

Robust traditions of Ajami exist and have been relatively well documented and studied for major West African languages such as Wolof, Hausa, and Fulani. It surprising then that thus far there have been few Ajami texts found for major Manding varieties such as Bamanan, Maninka and Jula1.

Today, in many Manding-speaking areas, one is more likely to come across the language written in N’ko than in Arabic (or even Latin) script.

Map of the Manding language continuum.png
By Coleman DonaldsonOwn work, CC BY-SA 4.0, Link

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  1. The exception is Mandinka, spoken at the western edge of the language-dialect continuum. In this case, there are at least two major scholarly works investigating local history through Ajami texts (Giesing & Vydrin 2007; Schaffer 2003). []

The Revelation: The earliest known use of ʿajamī as a label

The interlinear glosses written in African languages of West Africa often have a descriptive metalinguistic marker, asserting the presence of an Ajami segment.

Our blog has the acronym A-LABEL: we deal a lot with the African languages between the lines. But why “label”? This is because the interlinear glosses written in African languages of West Africa often have a descriptive metalinguistic marker, asserting the presence of an Ajami segment. This marker is typically a graphic variation of the word ʿajamī (عجمي – the form written on our logo) or ʿajam. Another way of the metalinguistic labelling of the Ajami glosses found in the manuscripts is the Arabic phrase fī kalāminā ‘in our language’ (في كلامنا) and its variations (for the use of ʿajamī and fī kalāminā in Soninke and other Mande manuscripts see Ogorodnikova 2017: 122-125).[1]

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Fur Ajami: an invisible tradition

More on “invisible” Ajami from our colleague Nikolay Dobronravin who already wrote for our Ajami Lab a piece on invisibility of Ajami writing in Nigeria, Chad and Sudan. This time he takes us to Darfur (‘the land of the Fur’) to explore a history of Ajami writing in Fur, a Nilo-Sahran language spoken in the west of the Republic of the Sudan.   

Read his fascinating account of Fur Ajami: The Fur (For, Fūranq bilī, Poor’íŋ belé) variety of Ajami: an invisible tradition.

Following Nikolay’s lead outlined in the above paper, I am heading to London next week to consult Kītāb Dālī , the mysterious Fur law book. Who knows, maybe we are just a short flight from another Ajami discovery.  

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.

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How to use Tropy to analyze Ajami manuscripts

Working through Ajami manuscripts can be slow-going. Here is a standard workflow using Tropy that can make it a little easier.

Working through Ajami manuscripts can be slow-going. One important tool in our workflow is the open-source software Tropy from the same people behind everyone’s favorite reference management software Zotero.

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Updated abstracts and presentations from Ajami Lab Workshop, 31 Oct-1 Nov, 2018

Presentations and slides from the Ajami Lab’s Nov 2018 workshop

While preparing some new material on types of Ajami manuscripts and specific approaches to study them (based on this talk),  I post here an updated programme of the last year’s workshop. A big thank you to all participants and presenters! Here are the links to slide presentations (following the order of the talks in the programme):

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