Professor Philip Jaggar: a champion of Hausa at SOAS and beyond

Kano central mosque 2 (1)

To celebrate the 75th year of SOAS professor Philip Jaggar, one of Britain’s most influential scholars of the Hausa language, Roxana Ma Newman (Indiana University) and Graham Furniss (SOAS University of London) present a retrospective of his life and work. In addition, a collection of tributes to Philip Jaggar is available here.

In a career that has spanned more than 40 years, Phil Jaggar (born in Bradford, England, June 14, 1945) has carried on the grand SOAS tradition of linguistic expertise in the languages of Africa, in particular, the Hausa language. He follows in the footsteps of his renowned predecessors G. P. Bargery, R. C.  Abraham, Jack Carnochan, David Arnott, and especially F. W. (“Freddie”) Parsons.

Jaggar’s interest in African studies started at SOAS, where he earned his undergraduate degree in social anthropology and Hausa language (1968). He spent two years (1970-1971) in northern Nigeria conducting ethnographic fieldwork on entrepreneurship and innovation among blacksmiths in Kano’s Central Market, research that later earned him the MPhil in social anthropology (1978).

Kano blacksmith shaping an anvil, circa 1970.
Kano blacksmith shaping an anvil, circa 1970.

Among the Hausa scholars from Nigeria pursuing advanced degrees at SOAS at that time was Muhammad Kabir Galadanci, who later helped arrange for Jaggar—widely known in Kano as Malam Bala—to teach Hausa linguistics in the Department of Nigerian Languages at Abdullahi Bayero College (now Bayero University) in Kano (1973-76), partially overlapping with part-time lecturer Graham Furniss, later to be his lifelong colleague and close friend at SOAS.  

During the period of the 1970s, Bayero University was expanding and focusing its research and training on the nation’s numerous languages. In addition to the Department, it created a new Centre for the Study of Nigerian Languages (CSNL, now Centre for Research in Nigerian Languages and Folklore) to survey, collect, and publish studies on a range of northern Nigerian languages. The Centre, as well as the Department, were staffed over the years with energetic linguists and visiting researchers from the US, Europe, and Nigeria. Among these were Paul Newman, Russell Schuh, John Hutchison, and Roxana Ma Newman from the US; Norbert Cyffer and Zygmunt Frajzyngier who were trained in Europe; and Dandatti Abdulkadir, Dauda Bagari, Dalhatu Muhammad, and Ibrahim Yaro Yahaya in Kano. Jaggar was naturally drawn into this broader intellectual circle and its research activities. Many of these cohorts were to become his lifelong friends and colleagues.

Ibrahim Yaro Yahaya, Phil, Roxana Newman, Hassan Moturba at CSNL’s Makon Hausa (Hausa Week), Kano, 1973.

Scholarly interest in Africa at that time was burgeoning in UK, US, French, German, and Dutch universities. Ekkehard (Ede) Wolff, who was doing independent research in northeastern Nigeria, soon recruited Jaggar, already admired for his fluency in Hausa, to become the Hausa lecturer at the Seminar für Afrikanische Sprachen und Kulturen at the University of Hamburg (1976-78).

Phil and Ede Wolff, Chadic Colloquium, Leiden, 1976.

Hamburg was one of the major centres for the study of African languages and cultures and the seat of pioneering research on Chadic languages under the guidance of pre-eminent professors such as Johannes Lukas. It was in Hamburg that, as Phil himself says, he “got bit by the linguistics bug.” In spite of what Hamburg had to offer him, Jaggar’s trajectory was about to change.

Left to right: Paul Newman, FW Parsons, Phil at 75th birthday celebration of Johannes Lukas, Hamburg, 1977.

In 1977, he attended an African linguistics conference at UCLA. What so attracted him there was that it was a very theoretically oriented linguistics department yet it took special interest in African language structures. In 1978, he entered the post-graduate program at UCLA to teach Hausa and work on his thesis under the supervision of Russ Schuh. There he earned his MA in linguistics (1981) and his PhD (1985), with a discourse-oriented dissertation analyzing coding referents in Hausa narratives. While still putting the final touches on his doctoral thesis, Jaggar was lured back to London (1984) to teach Hausa language and linguistics at SOAS, complementing the work of Furniss, who was already there teachng Hausa and African oral and written literatures.

Thus began Jaggar’s very productive career, rising through the ranks from Lecturer and culminating as Professor (now emeritus) of West African linguistics and Senior Teaching Fellow (2004-2010). In addition to his teaching and research activities, Jaggar also held two administrative posts at SOAS, first as Associate Dean for Research, Faculty of Languages and Cultures (2004-2008), and then as Head of Department of Africa (2008-2010). Although he officially retired in 2010, he remained on a teaching contract at SOAS for several years thereafter to ensure that Hausa language instruction continued to be available.

In the 1980s while he was still in the US, Jaggar had a visiting lectureship at the University of Wisconsin in 1981, at the invitation of Neil Skinner, to teach a Hausa course in the summer.

Phil and Neil Skinner, Chadic Colloquium, Leiden, 1976.

Throughout the 1990s and beyond, Jaggar was actively involved in the Erasmus Exchange Programme between SOAS and the Hausa language students particularly those of Sergio Baldi at the Istituto Universitario ‘l’Orientale’ in Naples and of Nina Pawlak at the University of Warsaw, but also students from France, Germany, and the Netherlands. Many chose the option of continuing their Hausa studies for one semester at SOAS.

Izabela Will (second from left), Sergio Baldi (fifth from left), Nina Pawlak, Phil, Isa Yusuf Chamo (second from right), and four students of Hausa in the Erasmus Program, University of Warsaw, 2011.

Early in his tenure at SOAS, Jaggar began working closely with the BBC World Service Hausa Section as a part-time producer. Each year his advanced language students looked forward to “field visits” at the nearby Bush House radio studios. They were able to observe and interact firsthand with Nigerian broadcasters and translators, practice their Hausa oral skills, and be introduced to the art of translation and the real-life challenges of intercultural communication.

Phil with BBC presenters Bilkisu Labaran, Umar Yusuf Karaye, 1980s.

Jaggar’s involvement with the BBC Hausa Section provided the impetus for the publication of one of his early books (1992), a reader designed to overcome the lack of good pedagogical texts at advanced levels that incorporated contemporary Hausa language and society. The reader was a compilation of varied and graded BBC broadcasts—reproduced on cassette tapes—with linguistically accurate transcriptions, grammatical notes, written and oral discussion exercises, and a composite glossary. Jaggar followed this four years later with a second reader (1996) commissioned by the University of Maryland Eastern Shore’s African Language Project in the US. It drew on a wide range of authentic and colloquial texts on everyday urban and rural life—complaints of government corruption, letters to the editor, sports reports, advertisements, etc.—selected from the popular Hausa press.

It is a point of pride for Jaggar that his PhD students from northern Nigeria have made great achievements in their academic careers. These include Muhammad Munkaila, Chair of the Department of Languages and Linguistics, University of Maiduguri; Andrew Haruna, Vice-Chancellor, Federal University of Gashua; and Malami Buba, Professor of African Studies, Hankuk University of Foreign Studies, Seoul, South Korea (formerly Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Sokoto State University, Nigeria).

Malami Buba and Phil, January 2020.

In the late 1980s, Jaggar took time off from Hausa scholarship to work briefly on a small Chadic language distantly related to Hausa named Guruntum, the mother tongue of Andrew Haruna, his PhD student at the time. Much to Jaggar’s delight was the discovery in Guruntum of a class of nouns known as “abstract nouns of sensory quality (ANSQs)” very similar in morphological formation and meaning to what his mentor “Freddie” Parsons had originally described for Hausa many years earlier.

Andrew Haruna and Phil at the Brandenburg Gate, Erasmus Program, Berlin, 2005.

Over several decades, important Nigerian personages have paid visits to SOAS and shown their interest and support for the university’s Hausa language and culture programs. In 1995, SOAS hosted the visit of the Emir of Katsina, shown here taking great interest in Jaggar’s earlier anthropological work among the Kano blacksmiths.

Emir of Katsina Alh. Dr. Kabir Usman Nagogo accepting a copy of Jaggar’s monograph on Kano blacksmiths, SOAS, 1995.

The Sultan of Sokoto Muhammad Sa’ad Abubakar III also paid a major visit to SOAS ca. 2005, as shown below with his retinue and SOAS staff and students.

Visit to SOAS of the Sultan of Sokoto Muhammad Sa’ad Abubakar III. Front row, left to right: Alhaji Isa Bajini Galadanci, Philip Jaggar, Muhammad Abdelhaleem, the Sultan, Graham Furniss, Abba Isa Tijani. Middle row, left to right: unknown, Malami Buba, Alhaji Bello Maccido, Akin Oyetade, Alhaji Mu’azu Abubakar III, Defence Attache at the High Commission. Back row: Dmitry Bondarev, Hamid Bobboyi.

In 1994-95, Jaggar spent the academic year on research leave as a visiting scholar at Indiana University, affiliated with Paul Newman’s Institute for the Study of Nigerian Languages. It was a sabbatical year for both of them. Each was separately preparing reference grammars of Hausa and welcomed the opportunity to immerse themselves in a year-long exchange of varying intellectual perspectives and analyses of Hausa. It took another five years for their rather distinctive grammars to appear, within a year of each other. Jaggar and Newman have enjoyed an easy camaraderie and mutual collegial respect that has endured for more than 45 years.

In 2002, to honor Newman’s 65th birthday, Jaggar and Ede Wolff organized a Roundtable on Chadic and Hausa Linguistics at SOAS attended by a core group of Hausaists and Chadicists, at which they presented him with a celebratory volume containing a selection of his major papers, each with an appreciative commentary from colleagues and former students.

Ede Wolff, Paul Newman and Phil at the Chadic Roundtable, SOAS, 2002.

Fifteen years later, Jaggar and Roxana Newman published a biography of Newman on the occasion of his 80th birthday.

Jaggar has been a prolific author with more than 70 scholarly publications to his credit, which include books and monographs, journal articles and book chapters, book reviews, encyclopedic surveys, and biographical sketches and obituaries of colleagues.

 Early in his career, he demonstrated the ability to write up and publish his work in a timely manner. Even before earning his MPhil degree, he had already published a half dozen articles in the 1970s on his ethnographic and linguistic research at that time. In remarks about Jaggar’s analytical ability and clarity of writing, the late Russ Schuh had this to say: “It has been a long time since I’ve read a paper so well-organised and well-written that I didn’t need to wade through muddy argumentation and atrocious prose to get to the point the author was trying to make!”

Russell Schuh at the 7th BICCL, Hamburg, 2013.

Jaggar considers himself an “unrepentant empirical linguist”, eager to illustrate his arguments in meticulous detail, yet well-informed about the larger theoretical and typological significance of his analyses. His impressive output covers a range of linguistic phenomena in Hausa but is focused largely on areas which have interested him from the very beginning, primarily the structural interrelationships between Hausa syntax, semantics, discourse, and how information structure in Hausa is conveyed. He began with an early paper on thematic emphasis, expanded further in his PhD dissertation on referential NP marking within narratives. Among the numerous papers that followed were related studies on topicalisation and focus; in-situ/ex-situ focus; deictic adverbials; interrogative constructions; relative clause constructions; negative adverbial intensifiers; syntactic reflexives; and performatives. In morphology, he has concentrated on the Hausa verbal system, his most ambitious endeavor being his recent (2017) monograph on Hausa causatives.

Jaggar’s decades-long study of the Hausa language culminated in his magnum opus, his comprehensive 750-page reference grammar, Hausa, published in 2001.

Cover of Jaggar’s Hausa reference grammar.

Its 16 chapters cover the traditional subfields of phonology, morphology, and syntax, each one providing detailed, up-to-date descriptions and exemplifications of the major structures of Hausa. Reviewers of the book have welcomed its appearance with broad appreciation:

It requires specific talents not only to know so much about a given language but also to be able to arrive at a synthesis, rather than getting lost in nitty-gritty details. In this sense, Jaggar’s magnum opus, the results of several years of hard work, is indeed a masterpiece. [] the author has set a new hallmark in the tradition of Hausa scholarship at SOAS. – Gerrit J. Dimmendaal, University of Cologne

In covering a broad range of morphological and syntactic phenomena, it represents a major contribution to the field of African language studies in general and Chadic linguistics in particular and will be the standard reference work on Hausa syntax in the foreseeable future. […] It is the balance between richness of descriptive details, penetrating analysis, and theoretical erudition that makes Phil Jaggar’s Hausa book a model for modern reference grammars. – Melanie Green, University of Sussex, and Chris H Reintges, Leiden University

On the one hand, [Jaggar] uses modern linguistic terminology… on the other hand, he avoids a totally formalized method of description…. The wealth of modern Hausa language data, and comprehensive and detailed discussion of grammatical issues…should also attract the attention of those who are teaching or studying Hausa. – Izabela Will, University of Warsaw

More recently, Jaggar worked on Kanuri/Kanembu, a major non-Chadic Nigerian language spoken in Borno, in the context of two multi-year interdisciplinary projects. The first (2005-2008) was funded by the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and the second (2009-2011) partially funded by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG). The team was led by Jaggar, together with Dmitry Bondarev, Abba Isa Tijani, Daniel Vazquez-Paluch, and Ahmed Achtar, along with other scholars as consultants.

Workshop on Early Nigerian Qur’anic Manuscripts and Old Kanembu, SOAS, 2006. Seated, left to right: Abba Isa Tijani, Dmitry Bondarev, David Bivar, Philip, Imam Shettima Habib. Standing, left to right: Nikolay Dobronravin, Eva Rothmaler, Doris Löhr, Christopher Ehret, Norbert Cyffer, Lameen Souag.

The project analyzed several 300-year old bilingual Koranic manuscripts with annotations in Old Kanembu written in Ajami (Arabic script), and Arabic commentaries. Some 200 photographs of four manuscripts had been donated to the SOAS Library in 2003 by A. D. H. Bivar and many more manuscripts were discovered and photographed in Nigeria in the course of the projects.

Kanuri manuscript MS.2ShK (black/white): Borno Qur’an page Q. 2:83–6 showing the phases of translation and interpretation of the Qur’anic text. Colour keys: red = phase 1 (Old Kanembu, morpho syntactic parsing); orange = phase 2 (Old Kanembu, phrasal/lexical translation); yellow = phase 3 (Old Kanembu, sentential translation); green = phase 4 (Old Kanembu, interpretation beyond grammatical structures); blue = phase 5 (Arabic, quotations from exegetical authorities). Courtesy of SOAS University of London, SOAS Digital Collections, Old Kanembu Islamic Manuscripts, MS.2ShK.

Significantly, the team discovered a largely undocumented liturgical language based on Old Kanembu used by Borno Muslims scholars to comment on the religious texts.

The widespread interest created by this project resulted in Jaggar and Bondarev being appointed area editors on the Encyclopedia of Manuscript Cultures in Asia and Africa, based at University of Hamburg.

On top of the academic teaching and publishing activities that have kept him busy all these years, Jaggar has managed to find time for non-academic pursuits. It is a little-known fact that when he was a young athletic undergraduate in the mid-1960s, he helped revive cricket at SOAS by recruiting international student players from commonwealth countries such as Nigeria.

So well-known was Jaggar the cricketer that years later in January of 1976 when he was teaching at Abdullahi Bayero College, he was invited to represent his “adopted country” Nigeria against a touring MCC team making its first competition visit to Lagos.

More contemporary is Jaggar the baritone, who has been a regular member of the male voice choir for many years of the Welwyn Garden City Music Society, which recently celebrated its 100th anniversary and performs regularly in the local region.

Of great importance to Jaggar has been his life-long support of organisations fighting for human rights and social justice. A unique opportunity to “instantiate”—to use a linguistics term—both his musical interests and his socio-political views came in the form of a 2006 SOAS Tribute to Paul Robeson, one of Jaggar’s heroes. The world-renowned African-American bass baritone and actor had an impressive record of human rights activism and fighting for black consciousness. One of the school’s most distinguished alumni, Robeson lived in London in the 1930s and enrolled in SOAS classes in phonetics, Swahili, and other African languages as part of his interest in African societies. A major highlight of the celebratory events, organised by Jaggar, was a performance of iconic spirituals made famous by Robeson and sung by the Welwyn Garden City Male Voice Choir, as introduced by Jaggar in the video below.

A special commemorative plaque of Paul Robeson was placed in the first-floor landing of the main building of SOAS. The inscription reads:

Paul Robeson, 1898­–1976; Legendary African-American Singer & Actor; Champion of Human Rights & Racial Equality; All­–American Athlete; Student of Law and African Languages; SOAS Alumnus 1934

Paul Newman and Phil pose before the Paul Robeson commemorative plaque, SOAS, 2013.

In a fitting capstone event that recognises his enormous accomplishments in Hausa and African languages at SOAS, Jaggar was invited to partake in the SOAS graduation ceremony in July 2019. At the presentation of Honorary Doctorates, it was he who introduced, in Hausa, His Highness Alhaji Muhammadu Sanusi II, the former Emir of Kano, one of Nigeria’s most influential modern leaders.

Phil’s speech in Hausa to the Emir (0.45 – 03.35)
Phil Jaggar speaking at the Honorary Doctorates presentation, SOAS Graduation Ceremony, July 2019.

Tributes to Philip Jaggar from friends and colleagues are available here.

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