Welcome to the Arabic Language Discussion Forum

Being a retired professor of Arabic and Linguistics, I have elected to publish an archive on how the Arabic language is used in America and across cultures.

I hope to establish a dialogue with people interested in the language, the teaching of the language, the learning of the language, and the interaction of Arabic and English while learning the language.

I am also interested in having a discussion as to the use of Arabic within the contexts of globalization.

Arabic is very much a language that binds a culture and defines a people. This blog is dedicated to understanding how American use, learn, and teach the Arabic language, and how Arabic, in Arab countries has been impacted crossculturally.

Oct 23, 2009

Spoken Languages - Foreign Scripts



Kenneth J. Cooper’s article in the Bay State Banner entitled “Arabic” (10/21/09) attracted my attention, especially when I read the word ‘Ajami’ in the article.

Cooper stated that Fallou Ngom a Senegalese professor at Boston University disputes the idea that the slaves abducted from Africa could not read and write. They were writing in their own languages according to professor Ngom.

What made me add this to my blog, is the fact that Cooper in his article stated that professor Ngom “is training generation of scholars to understand that writing system, known as Ajami. It developed as a modified form of Arabic as early as the 10th century to spread Islam to Africans. The little-known script remains in use today from Senegal in the west to Zanzibar in the east.”

According to Cooper, Ngom’s aim in teaching Ajami is to view African history differently and that it “ would force people to rewrite many things.”

Alex Zito commented on the article (10/22/09) by saying that Ajami “is the term for using an adapted form of Arabic script to write an African language. Ajami, then, is not a language but a writing system. With the spread of Islam, says Zito, Arabic script was used to write the local languages: “thus Swahili Ajami in Tanzania, Hausa Ajami in Nigeria, Fulfulde Ajami in Guinea, Wolof Ajani in Senegal.”

Europeans missionaries developed writing systems for African languages using Latin alphabet. According to Zito, who is writing his dissertation on Wolof Ajami in Senegal, Ajami predates the Latin systems.

Hence, Arabic alphabet was used to write the local African languages. This reminds me of the Nubian language in Egypt written also in Arabic. However, in the case of Nubian the contact with Arabic has affected the Nubian language and led to a tip to the dominant language, Arabic. Interference has affected the phonology, morphology and syntax of Nubian in general.

What is of interest to me is Zito’s statement that it would be significant to find out “the extend to which people took their Quranic education and familiarity with the Arabic alphabet and used it to write their own languages, at the same time translating ideas and texts from the Arabi-Islamic world into their local cultural environments.” This is again similar to what happened to Nubian. Nubians are Muslims, and by learning the Quran they also learned Arabic, and the Arabic script.

Some missionaries did write Nubian using the Latin alphabet, however, Nubians themselves wrote their language in Arabic. Among them is the late Nubian, Youssef Sumbagh, who wrote a Nubian grammar and Nubian dictionary using Arabic alphabet.

I think that professor Fallou Ngom, as well as Alex Zito’s work on Ajami can lead to many linguistic discussions on spoken languages maintained by using foreign scripts.

Kenneth J.Cooper by writing the article on professor Ngom teaching “an adapted form of Arabic script to write an African language” has opened the door for a dialogue among linguists interested in discussing spoken languages maintained by using foreign scripts.

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