25 Jan 2023

A friend of mine pointed me to reporting by Futurity on the discovery of Ajami, a form of Arabic script modified to capture local spoken languages in Africa. It has apparently been in use for quite some time, and undermines claims by colonial operatives that natives were illiterate. Far from it, as it turns out! Across West Africa people had taken the Arabic script that came with the spread of Islam and used it to capture the sounds of the languages they spoke, thus making it possible to record a variety of information. Even better: it appears that the effort to document Ajami has been institutionalized. (My training in linguistics is largely autodidact, so I don’t know what the technical term is for this. A kind of creole perhaps? At the very least a hybrid written language?

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