AJAMI.

In this thread, frequent commenter (and infrequent blogger) MMcM linked to an interesting Bostonia article by Art Jahnke called “Lost Language,” about the Arabic-based orthographies called “Ajami” (Arabic for ‘non-Arabic, foreign’) used to write various African languages. I had been aware of the phenomenon but hadn’t known much about it, so it was good to get some additional background; it was irritating to see the script referred to as a “language” (“it became, in the twentieth century, the chosen language of anticolonial nationalist resistance”; “the language used to disseminate the teachings of the Koran and other texts was Ajami”), but as journalistic sins go, that’s fairly minor. I did wonder what was meant by “Without Ajami … Africa would be very different; you would probably have a lot more ani­mism and more religions similar to those of Native Americans”; if Ajami is a vehicle for “black African culture,” surely it helped preserve animism against the incursions of Islam and Christianity? Anyway, it’s well worth a read, and if you want more, PanAfriL10n (“African localisation wiki”) has a page on it, from which I gleaned the most surprising thing I’ve learned today: Afrikaans was written in Ajami! “‘From about 1815 Afrikaans started to replace Malay as the language of instruction in Muslim schools in South Africa. At that time it was written with the Arabic alphabet.’ (Omniglot).”

Comments

  1. Fascinating. I wonder: since Afrikaans replaced Malay as the language of instruction in the Muslim schools in SA, did the Ajami script used for Afrikaans emulate Jawi with regards to non-Arabic characters? I suppose there would have to be a few extras as well, notably for the letter V.

  2. Presumably the idea is that without Ajami effective Islamic missionary work would not have been possible, thus allowing animism to persist. (That is, the villages that use Ajami retain their allegiance to their culture within the general framework of the ummah, but if Ajami had not existed they would never have joined the ummah to begin with.)

  3. There’s a Wikipedia article on Arabic Afrikaans with an example.

  4. From about 1815 Afrikaans started to replace Malay as the language of instruction in Muslim schools in South Africa. At that time it was written with the Arabic alphabet.
    My first reaction was no, that’s impossible, the “it” must refer to Malay, which was written in Arabic script well into modern times (maybe still today for some purposes). Afterwards I thought that probably the Muslims were the first to want Afrikaans in written form. Until well into the 20th century the Afrikaners considered that the language they spoke was Dutch, and probably when they wrote it they wrote it as Dutch. If I remember correctly from my stamp-collecting days it was only around 1910 that they started writing the name of the country as Suid Afrika rather than Zuid Afrika.
    Anyway, there is no doubt that that is also the most surprising thing I’ve learned today. Next time I write to one of my Afrikaner friends I must ask them if they knew.

  5. Athel,
    which only goes to show how strongly religions are connected not with language, as one might think, but with scripts.
    Also, Malay or Swahili in Arabic script is fine, and so is (to most) Bosnian/Croatian/Montenegrin/Serbian*. But one of our very own Western languages – eeeeeeew 🙂
    *I would link to the respective page in the catalogue of Bašagić’s Collection, but alas, it appears to be offline.

  6. Trond Engen says

    And then there’s Polish and Byelorussian (and, I would think, Lithuanian) in Arabic script, used by the descendants of Tatars. I’m sure I learned about it here.

  7. I was always under the impression that “ajami” meant “foreign” ie. it referred to anything written in a language other than Arabic, but using the Arabic alphabet.
    Off topic: Bosnian literature written during the Ottoman era is referred to as ajami (adzamijska also called ahamijado – pronounced alhamiado). The Arabic alphabet was later regularised to fit the phonology of the Bosnian language during the Austro-Hungarian rule. This reformed alphabet was taught in Bosnian schools during the Austrian rule. Omniglot has a link of what this looked like at: http://www.omniglot.com/writing/serbo-croat.htm

  8. I have a two volume collection of Hausa folklore, a bilingual text with Hausa facing English. And the Hausa is all facsimile of a manuscript that was solicited from some wise old Hausa Shaykh, written in purest Ajami from one end to the other. Well, it starts out with a pious bismillahi-rrahmani-rrahimi in Arabic, but then it drops into Hausa for the remainder of the text.

  9. At some point, Bosnian (ultimately, Serbian/Croatian used by converts to Islam) was written in Ajami as well. (I never knew that the script applied to a different language was called that; does it apply to Persian or Urdu?)

  10. I was always under the impression that “ajami” meant “foreign”
    We used to use “ejnabee/ejnabeeya” (m/f) to mean “foreigner” (in colloquial Arabic) when referring to ourselves. If we were looking for a friend’s house we would just say “wen ejnabeeya?” and someone would point to their house.

  11. I was always under the impression that “ajami” meant “foreign”
    It does; see “Arabic for ‘non-Arabic, foreign'” in my post. I believe it originally applied specifically to Persians.

  12. It looks like Afrikaans Ajami is based on Jawi; I think the ڠ (ayn with three dots above) standing for ‘ng’ is telling. Jawi is alive and well in Peninsular Malaysia, especially in the north-eastern states of Kelantan and Terengganu.

  13. For sure Ajami is the same word as Aljamía, as in “español aljamiado” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aljamiado

  14. Yes, the Real Academia dictionary says “Del ár. hisp. al‘aǧamíyya, y este del ár. clás. a‘ǧamiyyah.”

  15. caffeind says

    Haven’t yet seen anything indicating the term “ajami” was used in South Africa, which was distant from the West African tradition.

  16. George Gibbard says

    As to the etymology, I just found in Rubin (2014) The Jibbali (Shahri) language of Oman : grammar and texts the adjective ʕígɛ́m ‘dumb, mute’. So it looks to be parallel to OCS němĭci ‘Germans’ from němŭ ‘mute’.

  17. Fascinating, thanks for that!

  18. It looks like Afrikaans Ajami is based on Jawi

    Is there some sort of tree diagram of the ajamis, showing which is related to which? Some come through Persian, obviously, Urdu, Malayalam etc. Afrikaans through Jawi, and I think there is some sort of Arwi-Jawi connection as well (?). Then the West African ajamis might have some relationship with each other.

  19. That would indeed be a useful thing.

  20. I did already know about the Afrikaans ajami because just this summer I read Archie Dick’s Hidden History, about reading cultures and educational initiatives in South Africa. It is a fascinating book, particularly the early parts about the competition between Christian and Muslim educational efforts to teach slaves and freedmen.

  21. David L. Gold says

    “Until well into the 20th century the Afrikaners considered that the language they spoke was Dutch, and probably when they wrote it they wrote it as Dutch. If I remember correctly from my stamp-collecting days it was only around 1910 that they started writing the name of the country as Suid Afrika rather than Zuid Afrika.”

    Here are some details:

    The Genootskap van Regte Afrikaners (‘Society of True Afrikaners’), founded in 1875, was the first group that fought for the officialization of Afrikaans in what is now the Republic of South Africa (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Genootskap_van_Regte_Afrikaners).

    It published not only dictionaries and grammars of Afrikaans but also Christian religious material in the language because it understood, rightly, that the deeply religious Afrikaans-speakers could more easily be weaned from Dutch, then the language of the Bible and the prayers books used in their churches, if substitutes in Afrikaans were available (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bible_translations_into_Afrikaans).

    In 1925 Afrikaans replaced Dutch as one of the two official languages (English was the other one) of the Union of South Africa.

    Roughly speaking, therefore, it took about fifty years for Afrikaans to replace Dutch in official functions and a few more in religious functions (the first full translation into Afrikaans of the Christian Bible was published in 1933).

    For more on the subject see: Giliomee, Hermann. 2003. “The Rise and Possible Demise of Afrikaans as a Public Language” [= PRAESA Occasional Papers 14] (http://www.praesa.org.za/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/Paper14.pdf).

  22. Lars Mathiesen says

    I think we covered in another thread why the top level domain for Suid Africa is ZA and not SA: It was grandfathered in from car registrations. Wikipedia has the full nerd level scoop — it seems that ZA was first used on cars in 1936, and the article for ,za claims (contra Gold/Gilomee, but without a source) that Dutch was “the” official language until 1963 and considered “the same” as Afrikaans until 1981. (Also Saudi Arabia have SA now, but if South African cars had used that it is likely ISO 3166 would have kept it).

    So I read Gilomee and this is the most explicit statement I could find:

    In 1925 D.F. Malan, Minister for the Interior in the Hertzog-led Pact Alliance, introduced a bill that added Afrikaans to Dutch and English as an official language.

    I assume it was approved and from 1925 there were three official languages. Gilomee is silent on when Dutch was officially removed (since his subject is Afrikaans), and the dates in the .za article may well refer to actual events, just that Dutch wasn’t “the” second official language beside English in 1963 — Gilomee does state that Afrikaners didn’t think Dutch was “their” language in the 20s already, so any official equivalence between Dutch and Afrikaans must have been a dead letter in 1981.

  23. Strange that it’s so hard to find such information about such an important and literate country.

  24. Trond Engen says

    What’s the history of Afrikaans spelling? When did Afrikaans settle on suid rather than zuid as the standard form?

    Thinking of it, how did Standard Dutch end up with z-?

  25. PlasticPaddy says
  26. David Marjanović says

    Thinking of it, how did Standard Dutch end up with z-?

    Gradually imported z for [z] sometime in the 16th century or so.

    Later, the northern half or so of the Dutch-speaking area devoiced all fricatives, like Afrikaans; the page on the four ways to spell [s] doesn’t even mention that the sound [z] exists.

  27. David L. Gold says

    In my comment of 8 August 2021, this sentence should be changed:

    “In 1925 Afrikaans replaced Dutch as one of the two official languages (English was the other one) of the Union of South Africa.”

    Read:

    Part 8, section 137, of The South Africa Act of 1909 made English and Dutch the official languages of the Union of South Africa:

    “Both the English and Dutch languages shall be official languages of the Union, and shall be treated on a footing of equality, and possess and enjoy equal freedom, rights, and privileges; all records, journals, and proceedings of Parliament shall be kept in both languages, and all Bills, Acts, and notices of general public importance or interest issued by the Government of the Union shall be in both languages.”

    The Official Languages of the Union Act, 1925, modified section 137:

    “The word ‘Dutch’ in section one hundred and thirty-seven of the South Africa Act, 1909, and wheresoever else that word occurs in the said Act, is hereby declared to include Afrikaans.”

    Section 108 of The Republic of South Africa Constitution Act, 1961, reads:

    “English and Afrikaans shall be the official languages of the Republic, and shall be treated on a footing of equality, and possess and enjoy equal freedom, rights and privileges.”

    Section 119 of that act reads:

    “In this Act, unless the context otherwise indicates― ‘Afrikaans’ includes Dutch.”

    Later constitutions do not mention Dutch at all. For example, article 89 of the Republic of South Africa Constitution Act 110, 1983 (which replaced the Constitution of 1961) reads:

    “English and Afrikaans shall be the official languages of the Republic, and shall be treated on a footing of equality, and possess and enjoy equal freedom, rights and privileges.”

    The Constitution of 1996 officialized ten languages (here in alphabetical order): Afrikaans, English, isiNdebele, isiXhosa, isiZuli, Sepedi, Sesotho Setswana, siSwati, Tshivenda, and Xitsonga.

    Everything in Giliomee’s article appears to be right.

    With regard to this passage in Lars Mathiesen’s comment:

    “[…] the article for ,za claims (contra Gold/Giliomee, but without a source) that Dutch was ‘the’ official language until 1963 and considered ‘the same’ as Afrikaans until 1981 […]”

    I would agree with him if the comma and the close parenthesis were moved and a second comma were added:

    “the article for ,za claims (contra Gold/Giliomee), but without a source, that Dutch was ‘the’ official language until 1963 and considered ‘the same’ as Afrikaans until 1981 […],”

    The problem is with Wikipedia: (1) Dutch was never the sole official language of the Union of South Africa, (2) The years 1963 and 1981 are not right, and (3) Dutch and Afrikaans considered “the same” is not the right wording (see “Dutch” above for the right ones).

    Trond Engen asks, “What’s the history of Afrikaans spelling? When did Afrikaans settle on suid rather than zuid as the standard form?”

    An incomplete answer: The phoneme /z/ is marginal in Afrikaans. It occurs, for example, in Zambezi, Zeus, Zoeloe, and Zouaff. In at least two words, /z/ > /s/ is ongoing (zeboe ~ seboe ‘zebu’ and zero ~ sero ‘zero’). In many, the change has run its course, for instance, suid ‘south’, now universally with /s/ (/ˈsœɪ̯t/).

  28. David Marjanović says

    Oh, I forgot to mention that word-initial [s] is phonemic again in Dutch due to (originally French) loans, making it necessary to spell [z] out and explaining why z was introduced.

  29. Lars Mathiesen says

    I don’t see how David’s rearrangement of my sentence changes its semantics, so I have no objections. And Dutch as an “option” just silently vanished away in 1983, that was my guess without trying to dive into the history.

    So did the Arabic spelling of Afrikaans distinguish /s/ from /z/? — assuming that the devoicing hadn’t happened by then. Had it happened by the time (1936) when ZA was put on cars?

    (I guess the answer to the latter is yes, looking at stamps. There’s a 1924 issue from “UNIE van ZUID AFRICA” and a 1925 one from “SUIDAFRICA”, which accords with the change in laws but makes it strange that ZA was used in ’36. Maybe 1936 is when a pre-1925 practice was formalized, I’m not curious enough to try to find out).

  30. David L. Gold says

    @ Lars Mathiesen. Devoicing occurred before 1875. The front page of Die Afrikaanse Patriot of 11 January 1876 (published by the Genootskap van Regte Afrikaners) has five examples of Afrikaans word-initial /s/ corresponding to Modern Dutch word-initial /z/: Saterdag, so (more than once), seker, sal (more than once), and sê (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Genootskap_van_Regte_Afrikaners#/media/File:Afrikaanse_Patriot.jpg), the Modern Dutch cognates of which are zaterdag, zo, zeker, zou, and zeg.

    Since the Afrikaans of speakers of European origin and their Dutch were in a diglossic relationship before 1875 (and later) – they spoke Afrikaans and wrote or tried to write Dutch — the chief source of information about earlier Afrikaans appears to be the writings of Muslim speakers of the language, who, if taught to read and write, were taught to do so in a variety of the Muslim (“Arabic”) alphabet. For them (the Muslim speakers of Afrikaans), there was no diglossia because they spoke Afrikaans and wrote Afrikaans.

    Athel Cornish-Brown is therefore spot on when writing, “I thought that probably the Muslims were the first to want Afrikaans in written form. Until well into the 20th century the Afrikaners considered that the language they spoke was Dutch, and probably when they wrote it they wrote it as Dutch.”

    Researchers of Afrikaans presumably reached the conclusion some time ago that Muslim-letter Afrikaans is more revealing of earlier Afrikaans than is the Roman-letter Dutch of the Afrikaners, but the latter kind of Dutch also yields some information about earlier Afrikaans, namely, when the writers did not know how to express themselves in Dutch or when they inadvertently slipped into Afrikaans when writing Dutch.

    With respect to “how David’s rearrangement of my sentence changes its semantics,” the phrase “without a source” should apply to the author of the article on .za in Wikipedia, not to what Hermann Giliomee wrote and not to most of what I posted on 8 August 2021 (I did slip up in this sentence “In 1925 Afrikaans replaced Dutch as one of the two official languages [English was the other one] of the Union of South Africa” but have now corrected it).

  31. Lars Mathiesen says

    Ah. I didn’t mean to imply that Giliomee didn’t have a source, and of course he was your source. We clearly have different feelings about how to understand commas inside parentheses, for me both statements in the parens can apply to the matter before them.

    But my new question was exactly if the Ajami spelling of Afrikaans even had a /z/, and what that might have revealed to researchers, The OP has an 1815 date for the start of that, and it would be interesting if early texts started out with a strict distinction that was later relaxed. For Roman alphabet writing it is conceivable that the Dutch norm was followed long after the spoken language lost the distinction — it’s not like Danish or English or French spelling don’t have examples of that kind innit — and people only felt free to write as they spoke in 1875.

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