Soninke Ajami Manuscripts

An interview with Darya Ogorodnikova about West African manuscripts written in Arabic Script

Editor’s Note: One of the most promising, but understudied traditions of African manuscripts that include sub-Saharan African languages written in Arabic script is that of Soninke. To learn more about this, I recently addressed a number of questions to Darya Ogorodnikova who has been researching Soninke Ajami manuscripts as an Ajami Lab member since 2013. She will defend her PhD at the University of Hamburg in 2020. – CD

What are Soninke Ajami manuscripts?

By Ajami manuscripts, I mean manuscripts containing Ajami elements; that is, words and phrases in local West African languages written in Arabic script. Such writing may make up an entire text. Soninke Ajami elements in manuscripts, however, are mainly represented by annotations, written between the lines or in the margins. They typically serve to explain the phrases of primarily Arabic language texts.

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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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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 open-access publication in the African Studies Review.

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). []

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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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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