African Languages, Cultures and Literatures Section

Professor Philip J Jaggar

Key information

African Languages, Cultures and Literatures Section Emeritus Professor Member
MA, PhD (UCLA); BA, MPhil (London)
Email address


After taking African studies as an undergraduate Philip Jaggar took an MPhil in social anthropology (both at SOAS), with a dissertation on the blacksmiths of Kano, northern Nigeria (1978). He then got the “linguistics bug” and took an MA and PhD in linguistics at UCLA, writing a discourse-based dissertation on the coding of referents in Hausa narrative (1985). He has taught mainly Hausa language/linguistics at Bayero University College, Kano, Nigeria (1973-76), Universität Hamburg, Germany (1976-78), UCLA (1978-83), and SOAS (1983-), and has researched and/or published on Hausa, Guruntum (West Chadic) and a number of other West African languages (including PhD dissertations). A theoretically-informed empirical linguist, he is recognised as a world authority on Hausa and a lifelong study of the language culminated in his 754-page magnum opus, Hausa (2001, Benjamins), described in one major review article as “[a] balance between richness of descriptive detail, penetrating analysis, and theoretical erudition” (Green & Reintges, Lingua 114, 2004).

In 2006 Phil Jaggar organised a Tribute to Paul Robeson.

Research interests

Philip Jaggar’s current research interests cover several different areas of descriptive-analytical linguistics. These studies present new discoveries and/or analyses for Hausa (see publications page for relevant articles), and they include: 

  1. a unified account of special focus marking in historical narrative and wh-/focus expressions; 
  2. the syntax and semantics of focus and interrogative constructions in Hausa and related Chadic languages, within a contemporary theoretical framework; 
  3. adverbial quantification and negative-polarity elements; 
  4. performative constructions; 
  5. metaphorical extensions of the verbs ‘eat’ and ‘drink’; 
  6. morphological causative verbs. He is currently working on an analysis which (re)classifies Hausa subordinating conjunctions (e.g., ‘after you return…’) and adverbs (e.g., ‘he’s behind’) as prepositions.
Jointly-funded DFG/AHRC project: “A study of Old Kanembu in Early West African Qur’anic Manuscripts and Islamic Recitations”

Philip Jaggar was principal applicant and researcher on the original related project funded by the AHRC (£287,000, 2005-08). Other members of the research team were Dr Dmitry Bondarev (researcher), and three research assistants—Dr Abba Isa Tijani, Dr Daniel Vazquez-Paluch, and Ahmad Achtar. The database for the initial project consisted of some manuscripts discovered by Professor A. D. H. Bivar (of SOAS) in northern Nigeria in the late 1950’s—manuscript copies of fragments of the Qur’an with Kanuri glosses in Arabic script—Kanuri is a major Nilo-Saharan language spoken around Lake Chad in West Africa. In January 2009, SOAS was awarded £381,730 for the above follow-up project as part of a joint framework of agreement between the (German) Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG) and the AHRC to fund collaboration between German- and UK-based humanities researchers. The German element involves Professor Roland Kiessling (main applicant), Professor Michael Friedrich, and Dr Doris Löhr (all based at the Asien-Afrika Institüt, Hamburg University).


A number of major languages of sub-Saharan Africa have a long and rich history of writing in Arabic script (Ajami). Possibly the oldest known Ajami manuscripts date back more than 300 years and are found in commentaries on the Qur'an, written in a pre-modern variety of Kanuri known as "Old Kanembu". In 2005, during the course of a field trip to the Kanuri-speaking area of northeastern Nigeria, Dmitry Bondarev and Abba Tijani came upon a largely undocumented sacred language—Tarjumo (< Arabic tarjama 'translate, interpret')—used by Borno Muslim scholars to deliver religious recitations and commentaries, mainly on religious texts in Arabic, especially the Qur'an. Tarjumo, together with the manuscripts, represents "Old Kanembu", and the fact that it is unintelligible to speakers of modern Kanuri attests to its antiquity—it is at least 600 years old on linguistic and historical evidence. With the significant discovery of this quasi-diglossic Tarjumo corpus, scholars are now in a position to extract and understand much more of the linguistic evolution of Kanuri.

Early Nigerian Qur'anic manuscripts: an interdisciplinary study of the Kanuri glosses and Arabic commentaries.


Contact Philip