The Four Languages

This project aims to advance the understanding of Ajami in sub-Saharan Africa through comparative examination of four major West African languages: Hausa, Mandinka, Fula and Wolof. The Ajami literatures of the Sahel provide a unique window into the history and lived experience of peoples in this region. Despite similar origins in spreading the Islamic faith, each Ajami system studied here followed its own trajectory shaped by cultural, social and political factors.

We find a wide range of topics treated in the Ajami manuscripts in the four languages under investigation. These include astrology, divination, medicines and the treatment of illnesses, commercial record-keeping, personal letters, genealogies, important local events (the founding of villages, births, deaths, weddings and heroes), biographies, customs and social institutions, elegies, materials on jurisprudence, Sufism, and ethics. Our collaborative framework allows us to map and compare the trajectories and understand the importance of such developments as state formation, law, science, Sufi movements, folklore, colonial structures, and educational and language policies before and after independence. Our language pages present an overview of the state of knowledge of each Ajami literature, and provide digital versions of the selected texts in each of the four African languages, appearing in Ajami and Latin scripts, with English and French translations.