The term Ajami (Arabic: عجمي ʿajamī), or Ajamiyya (Arabic: عجمية ʿajamiyyah), which comes from the Arabic root for foreign or stranger, has been applied to Arabic alphabets used for writing African languages, especially those of Hausa and Swahili, although many other African languages were written using the script, among them Yoruba. It is considered an Arabic-derived African writing system. Since African languages involve phonetic sounds and systems different from the Arabic language, there have often been adaptations of the Arabic script to transcribe them, a process similar to what has been done with the Arabic script in non-Arab countries of the Middle East and South Asia and with the Latin script in Africa or with the Latin-based Vietnamese alphabet.
The West African Hausa is an example of a language written using Ajami, especially during the pre-colonial period when Qur'anic schools taught Muslim children Arabic, and by extension, Ajami. When Western colonizers adopted a Latin orthography for Hausa, Ajami went into decline and now is employed less frequently than the Latin standard orthography. However, Hausa Ajami is still in widespread use, especially in Islamic circles.
The use of Ajami for other languages in Muslim communities is more common than outsiders may think. Its use is often in a situation of digraphia, with Ajami used for specific purposes, such as for local herbal preparations in the Jula language.
Hausa Ajami Script
Hausa has been written in Ajami, since the early 15th century. There is no standard system of using Ajami, and different writers may use letters with different values. Short vowels are written regularly with the help of vowel marks (which are seldom used in Arabic texts other than the Quran). Many medieval Hausa manuscripts, similar to the Timbuktu Manuscripts written in the Ajami script, have been discovered recently and some of them even describe constellations and calendars.
In the following table, some vowels are shown with the Arabic letter for t as an example.
|ɓ||/ɓ/||ب (same as b), ٻ (not used in Arabic)|
|ɗ||/ɗ/||د (same as d), ط (also used for ts)|
|e||/e/||تٜ (not used in Arabic)|
|e||/eː/||تٰٜ (not used in Arabic)|
|ƙ||/kʼ/||ك (same as k), ق|
|o||/o/||ـُ (same as u)|
|o||/oː/||ـُو (same as u)|
|ts||/(t)sʼ/||ط (also used for ɗ), ڟ (not used in Arabic)|
|u||/u/||ـُ (same as o)|
|u||/uː/||ـُو (same as o)|
- Donaldson, Coleman. 2013. Jula Ajami in Burkina Faso: A grassroots literacy in the former Kong empire. Working Papers in Educational Linguistics 28.2: 19-36.
- Hegyi, O. 1979. Minority and restricted uses of the Arabic alphabet: the aljamiado phenomenon. Journal of the American Oriental Society Vol. 99, No. 2:262-269.
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