The lost script

From The Boston Globe:

Script__1262971863_2274 One day while he was living near Seattle, the Senegal-born linguistics professor Fallou Ngom forgot to close a window before a rainstorm passed through, and the next morning discovered the wind had blown some of his papers to the floor. On one of them, a sheet several years old, his late father had recorded a debt. Ngom’s father was considered illiterate because he couldn’t read and write in the country’s official language, French. But like many Senegalese had for centuries, he wrote daily information in his native tongue using a modified form of Arabic script known as Ajami. Ngom was struck by the irony: Here was his “illiterate” father communicating with him years after his death, in writing. Ngom realized that this was more than just a touching personal moment. It also represented an immense opportunity. Ajami script had been widely used across Africa for day-to-day writing in a dozen languages, and Ngom knew those writings had been largely overlooked in the official story of the continent – in part because so few historians could read them. How many other documents like this existed across the continent? How many had simply been missed, or ignored?

Within a year, Ngom shifted his research from French linguistics, his specialty at Western Washington University, to the handwritten script of his father. Today Ngom is director of the African Languages Program at Boston University, and is training the first generation of American scholars capable of reading Ajami. What Ngom hopes is nothing less than to lay the groundwork for a reinterpretation of much of African history, using this widespread but little understood writing system to unearth new information about the daily life of Africans, the spread of Islam, the continent’s literary traditions, the Atlantic slave trade, and who knows what else.

Could one writing system have that much influence?

More here.