Wolof // is a language of Senegal, the Gambia and Mauritania, and the native language of the Wolof people. Like the neighbouring languages Serer and Fula, it belongs to the Senegambian branch of the Niger–Congo language family. Unlike most other languages of the Niger-Congo family, Wolof is not a tonal language.
|Native to||Senegal, Gambia, Mauritania|
L2 speakers: ?
|Latin (Wolof alphabet)|
|Regulated by||CLAD (Centre de linguistique appliquee de Dakar)|
Areas where Wolof is spoken
Contrary to popular belief, Wolof did not originate as the language of the Lebu people because the Lebu people are Wolof and speak a Wolof regional dialect. It is the most widely spoken language in Senegal, spoken natively by the Wolof people (40% of the population) but also by most other Senegalese as a second language.
"Wolof" is the standard spelling and may refer to the Wolof people or to Wolof culture. Variants include the older French Ouolof and the principally Gambian Wollof, Jolof, jollof, etc., which now typically refers either to the Jolof Empire or to jollof rice, a common West African rice dish. Now-archaic forms include Volof and Olof.
The English language is believed to have adopted some Wolof words, such as banana, via Spanish or Portuguese, and nyam in several Caribbean English Creoles meaning "to eat" (compare Seychellois Creole nyanmnyanm, also meaning "to eat").
Wolof is spoken by more than 10 million people and about 40 percent (approximately 5 million people) of Senegal's population speak Wolof as their native language. Increased mobility, and especially the growth of the capital Dakar, created the need for a common language: today, an additional 40 percent of the population speak Wolof as a second or acquired language. In the whole region from Dakar to Saint-Louis, and also west and southwest of Kaolack, Wolof is spoken by the vast majority of people. Typically when various ethnic groups in Senegal come together in cities and towns, they speak Wolof. It is therefore spoken in almost every regional and departmental capital in Senegal. Nevertheless, the official language of Senegal is French.
In The Gambia, although about 20–25 percent of the population speak Wolof as a first language, it has a disproportionate influence because of its prevalence in Banjul, the Gambian capital, where 75 percent of the population use it as a first language. Furthermore, in Serekunda, The Gambia's largest town, although only a tiny minority are ethnic Wolofs, approximately 70 percent of the population speaks or understands Wolof.
In Mauritania, about seven percent of the population (approximately 185000 people) speak Wolof. Most live near or along the Senegal River that Mauritania shares with Senegal.
Wolof is one of the Senegambian languages, which are characterized by consonant mutation. It is often said to be closely related to the Fula language because of a misreading by Wilson (1989) of the data in Sapir (1971) that have long been used to classify the Atlantic languages.
Senegalese/Mauritanian Wolof and Gambian Wolof are distinct national standards: they use different orthographies and use different languages (French vs. English) as their source for technical loanwords. However, both the spoken and written languages are mutually intelligible. Lebu Wolof, on the other hand, is incomprehensible with standard Wolof, a distinction that has been obscured because all Lebu speakers are bilingual in standard Wolof.
The Latin orthography of Wolof in Senegal was set by government decrees between 1971 and 1985. The language institute "Centre de linguistique appliquee de Dakar" (CLAD) is widely acknowledged as an authority when it comes to spelling rules for Wolof. The complete alphabet is A, À, B, C, D, E, É, Ë, F, G, I, J, K, L, M, N, Ñ, Ŋ, O, Ó, P, Q, R, S, T, U, W, X, Y.
Wolof is most often written in this orthography, in which phonemes have a clear one-to-one correspondence to graphemes.
Additionally, two other scripts exist: a traditional Arabic-based transcription of Wolof called Wolofal, which dates back to the pre-colonial period and is still used by many people, and Garay, an alphabetic script invented by Assane Faye 1961, which has been adopted by a small number of Wolof-speakers.
The first syllable of words is stressed; long vowels are pronounced with more time but are not automatically stressed, as they are in English.
The vowels are as follows:
|Close||i ⟨i⟩||iː||u ⟨u⟩||uː|
|Close-mid||e ⟨e⟩||eː||o ⟨ó⟩||oː|
|Open-mid||ɛ ⟨e⟩||ɛː||ɔ ⟨o⟩||ɔː|
There may be an additional low vowel, or this may be confused with orthographic à.
All vowels may be long (written double) or short./aː/ is written ⟨à⟩ before a long (prenasalized or geminate) consonant (example làmbi "arena"). When e and ó are written double, the accent mark is often only on the first letter.
- Lekk-oon-ngeen /lɛkːɔːnŋɡɛːn/
- 'You (plural) ate.'
- Dóór-óón-ngeen /doːroːnŋɡeːn/
- 'You (plural) hit.'
There are no −ATR analogs of the high vowels i u. They trigger +ATR harmony in suffixes when they occur in the root, but in a suffix, they may be transparent to vowel harmony.
The vowels of some suffixes or enclitics do not harmonize with preceding vowels. In most cases following vowels harmonize with them. That is, they reset the harmony, as if they were a separate word. However, when a suffix/clitic contains a high vowel (+ATR) that occurs after a −ATR root, any further suffixes harmonize with the root. That is, the +ATR suffix/clitic is "transparent" to vowel harmony. An example is the negative -u- in,
- Door-u-ma-leen-fa /dɔːrumalɛːnfa/
- 'I did not begin them there.'
where harmony would predict *door-u-më-leen-fë. That is, I or U behave as if they are their own −ATR analogs.
Authors differ in whether they indicate vowel harmony in writing, as well as whether they write clitics as separate words.
Consonants in word-initial position are as follows:
|Nasal||m ⟨m⟩||n ⟨n⟩||ɲ ⟨ñ⟩||ŋ ⟨ŋ⟩|
|Plosive||prenasalized||mb ⟨mb⟩||nd ⟨nd⟩||ɲɟ ⟨nj⟩||ŋɡ ⟨ng⟩|
|voiced||b ⟨b⟩||d ⟨d⟩||ɟ ⟨j⟩||ɡ ⟨g⟩|
|voiceless||p ⟨p⟩||t ⟨t⟩||c ⟨c⟩||k ⟨k⟩||q ⟨q⟩||ʔ|
|Fricative||f ⟨f⟩||s ⟨s⟩||x~χ ⟨x⟩|
|Approximant||w ⟨w⟩||l ⟨l⟩||j ⟨y⟩|
All simple nasals, oral stops apart from q and glottal, and the sonorants l r y w may be geminated (doubled), though geminate r only occurs in ideophones. (Geminate consonants are written double.) Q is inherently geminate and may occur in an initial position; otherwise, geminate consonants and consonant clusters, including nt, nc, nk, nq ([ɴq]), are restricted to word-medial and -final position. In the final place, geminate consonants may be followed by a faint epenthetic schwa vowel.
Of the consonants in the chart above, p d c k do not occur in the intermediate or final position, being replaced by f r s and zero, though geminate pp dd cc kk are common. Phonetic p c k do occur finally, but only as allophones of b j g due to final devoicing.
- bët ("eye") - bëtt ("to find")
- boy ("to catch fire") - boyy ("to be glimmering")
- dag ("a royal servant") - dagg ("to cut")
- dëj ("funeral") - dëjj ("cunt")
- fen ("to (tell a) lie") - fenn ("somewhere, nowhere")
- gal ("white gold") - gall ("to regurgitate")
- goŋ ("baboon") - goŋŋ (a kind of bed)
- gëm ("to believe") - gëmm ("to close one's eyes")
- Jaw (a family name) - jaww ("heaven")
- nëb ("rotten") - nëbb ("to hide")
- woñ ("thread") - woññ ("to count")
Pronoun conjugation instead of verbal conjugationEdit
In Wolof, verbs are unchangeable stems that cannot be conjugated. To express different tenses or aspects of an action, personal pronouns are conjugated – not the verbs. Therefore, the term temporal pronoun has become established for this part of speech. It is also referred to as a focus form.
Example: The verb dem means "to go" and cannot be changed; the temporal pronoun maa ngi means "I/me, here and now"; the temporal pronoun dinaa means "I am soon / I will soon / I will be soon". With that, the following sentences can be built now: Maa ngi dem. "I am going (here and now)." – Dinaa dem. "I will go (soon)."
Conjugation with respect to aspect instead of tenseEdit
In Wolof, tenses like present tense, past tense, and future tense are just of secondary importance, they play almost no role. Of crucial importance is the aspect of action from the speaker's point of view. The most vital distinction is whether an action is perfective, i.e., finished, or imperfective, i.e., still going on, from the speaker's point of view, regardless of whether the action itself takes place in the past, present, or future. Other aspects indicate whether an action takes place regularly, whether an action will take place for sure, and whether an actor wants to emphasize the role of the subject, predicate, or object of the sentence.[clarification needed] As a result, conjugation is not done by tenses, but by aspects. Nevertheless, the term temporal pronoun became usual for these conjugated pronouns, although aspect pronoun might be a better term.
Example: The verb dem means "to go"; the temporal pronoun naa means "I already/definitely", the temporal pronoun dinaa means "I am soon / I will soon / I will be soon"; the temporal pronoun damay means "I (am) regularly/usually". Now the following sentences can be constructed: Dem naa. "I go already / I have already gone." – Dinaa dem. "I will go soon / I am just going to go." – Damay dem. "I usually/regularly/normally/am about to go."
A speaker may absolutely express that an action took place in the past by adding the suffix -(w)oon to the verb (in a sentence, the temporal pronoun is still used in a conjugated form along with the past marker).
Example: Demoon naa Ndakaaru. "I already went to Dakar."
Action verbs versus static verbs and adjectivesEdit
This section is empty. You can help by adding to it. (February 2011)
Wolof does not mark sexual gender as grammatical gender: there is one pronoun encompassing the English 'he', 'she', and 'it'. The descriptors bu góor (male / masculine) or bu jigeen (female / feminine) are often added to words like xarit, 'friend', and rakk, 'younger sibling' to indicate the person's sex.
Markers of noun definiteness (usually called "definite articles") agree with the noun they modify. There are at least ten articles in Wolof, some of them indicating a singular noun, others a plural noun. In Urban Wolof, spoken in large cities like Dakar, the article -bi is often used as a generic article when the actual article is not known.
Any loan noun from French or English uses -bi: butik-bi, xarit-bi "the boutique, the friend."
Most Arabic or religious terms use -Ji: Jumma-Ji, jigeen-ji, "the mosque, the girl."
Four nouns referring to persons use -ki/-ñi:' nit-ki, nit-ñi, 'the person, the people"
Plural nouns use -yi: jigeen-yi, butik-yi, "the girls, the boutiques"
Miscellaneous articles: "si, gi, wi, mi, li."
The Wolof numeral system is based on the numbers "5 inches and "10 inches. It is extremely regular in formation, comparable to Chinese. Example: benn "one", juróom "five", juróom-benn "six" (literally, "five-one"), fukk "ten", fukk ak juróom benn "sixteen" (literally, "ten and five one"), ñent-fukk "forty" (literally, "four-ten"). Alternatively, "thirty" is fanweer, which is roughly the number of days in a lunar month (literally "fan" is day and "weer" is moon.)
|0||tus / neen / zero [French] / sero / dara ["nothing"]|
|2||ñaar / yaar|
|3||ñett / ñatt / yett / yatt|
|4||ñeent / ñenent|
|11||fukk ak benn|
|12||fukk ak ñaar|
|13||fukk ak ñett|
|14||fukk ak ñeent|
|15||fukk ak juróom|
|16||fukk ak juróom-benn|
|17||fukk ak juróom-ñaar|
|18||fukk ak juróom-ñett|
|19||fukk ak juróom-ñeent|
|26||ñaar-fukk ak juróom-benn|
|30||ñett-fukk / fanweer|
|66||juróom-benn-fukk ak juróom-benn|
|101||teemeer ak benn|
|106||teemeer ak juróom-benn|
|110||teemeer ak fukk|
|1000||junni / junne|
|1100||junni ak teemeer|
|1600||junni ak juróom-benni teemeer|
|1945||junni ak juróom-ñeenti teemeer ak ñeent-fukk ak juróom|
|1969||junni ak juróom-ñeenti teemeer ak juróom-benn-fukk ak juróom-ñeent|
|1000000||tamndareet / million|
For example, two is ñaar and second is ñaareel
The one exception to this system is "first", which is bu njëk (or the adapted French word premier: përëmye)
Conjugation of the temporal pronounsEdit
(Past tense for action verbs or present tense for static verbs)
(Emphasis on Object)
|Processive (Explicative and/or Descriptive)
(Emphasis on Verb)
(Emphasis on Subject)
|1st Person singular "I"||maa ngi
(I am+ Verb+ -ing)
(I + past tense action verbs or present tense static verbs)
(I will ... / future)
(Puts the emphasis on the Object of the sentence)
(Indicates a habitual or future action)
(Puts the emphasis on the Verb or the state 'condition' of the sentence)
(Indicates a habitual or future action)
(Puts the emphasis on the Subject of the sentence)
(Indicates a habitual or future action)
|2nd Person singular "you"||yaa ngi||yaa ngiy||nga||dinga||nga||ngay||danga||dangay||yaa||yaay||nga||ngay|
|3rd Person singular "he/she/it"||mu ngi||mu ngiy||na||dina||la||lay||dafa||dafay||moo||mooy||mu||muy|
|1st Person plural "we"||nu ngi||nu ngiy||nanu||dinanu||lanu||lanuy||danu||danuy||noo||nooy||nu||nuy|
|2nd Person plural "you"||yeena ngi||yeena ngiy||ngeen||dingeen||ngeen||ngeen di||dangeen||dangeen di||yeena||yeenay||ngeen||ngeen di|
|3rd Person plural "they"||ñu ngi||ñu ngiy||nañu||dinañu||lañu||lañuy||dañu||dañuy||ñoo||ñooy||ñu||ñuy|
In urban Wolof, it is common to use the forms of the third person plural also for the first person plural.
It is also important to note that the verb follows specific temporal pronouns and precedes others.
Boubacar Boris Diop published his novel Doomi Golo in Wolof in 2002.
- "Wolof, Gambian". Ethnologue. Retrieved 2018-12-06.
- "Wolof". Ethnologue. Retrieved 2018-12-06.
- "Wolof". Oxford English Dictionary (Online ed.). Oxford University Press. (Subscription or participating institution membership required.)
- Falola, Toyin; Salm, Steven J. Urbanization and African cultures. Carolina Academic Press, 2005. ISBN 0-89089-558-9. p 280
- Ngom, Fallou. Wolof. Lincom, 2003. ISBN 3-89586-845-0. p 2
- "Wolof Brochure" (PDF). Indiana.edu. Retrieved 10 June 2018.
- Harper, Douglas. "banana". Online Etymology Dictionary. Retrieved 6 March 2016.
- Danielle D'Offay & Guy Lionet, Diksyonner Kreol-Franse / Dictionnaire Creole Seychellois – Français, Helmut Buske Verlag, Hamburg, 1982. In all fairness, the word might as easily be from Fula nyaamde, "to eat".
- Torrence, Harold The Clause Structure of Wolof: Insights Into the Left Periphery, John Benjamins Publishing, 2013, p. 20, ISBN 9789027255815 
- Hammarström (2015) Ethnologue 16/17/18th editions: a comprehensive review: online appendices
- "Orthographe et prononciation du wolof | Jangileen". jangileen.kalam-alami.net (in French). Retrieved 2017-05-30.
- Leopold., Diouf, Jean (2003). Dictionnaire wolof-français et français-wolof. Karthala. p. 35. ISBN 284586454X. OCLC 937136481.
- 1944-, Yaguello, Marina (January 1991). J'apprends le wolof Damay jàng wolof. Karthala. p. 11. ISBN 2865372871. OCLC 938108174.CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
- Everson, Michael (26 April 2012). "Preliminary proposal for encoding the Garay script in the SMP of the UCS" (PDF). UC Berkeley Script Encoding Initiative (Universal Scripts Project)/International Organization for Standardization. Retrieved 5 July 2015.
- Ager, Simon. "Wolof". Omniglot. Retrieved 19 December 2019.
- Unseth, 2009.
- Long ëë is rare (Torrence 2013:10).
- Torrence 2013:11
- Omar Ka, 1994, Wolof Phonology and Morphology
- Or ⟨n̈⟩ in some texts.
- Pape Amadou Gaye, Practical Cours in / Cours Practique en Wolof: An Audio–Aural Approach.
- Some are restricted or rare, and sources disagree about this. Torrence (2013) claims that all consonants but prenasalized stops may be geminate, while Diouf (2009) does not list the fricatives, q, or r y w, and does not recognize glottal stop in the inventor. The differences may be dialectical or because some sounds are rare.
- Diouf (2009)
- "Wollof - English Dictionary" (PDF). Peace Corps The Gambia. 1995. Retrieved October 23, 2018.
- Ngom, Fallou (2003-01-01). Wolof. Lincom. ISBN 9783895868450.
- Campbell, George; King, Gareth (2011). The Concise Compendium of the World's Languages (2 ed.).
- "Biblewolof.com". Biblewolof.com. Retrieved 2013-04-15.
- Encyclopedia of African Literature, p 801
- Harold Torrence: The Clause Structure of Wolof: Insights into the Left Periphery. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: Benjamins, 2013.
- Omar Ka: Wolof Phonology and Morphology. University Press of America, Lanham, Maryland, 1994, ISBN 0-8191-9288-0.
- Mamadou Cisse: "Graphical borrowing and African realities" in Revue du Musee National d'Ethnologie d'Osaka, Japan, June 2000.
- Mamadou Cisse: "Revisiter 'La grammaire de la langue wolof' d'A. Kobes (1869), ou etude critique d'un pan de l'histoire de la grammaire du wolof.", in Sudlangues Sudlangues.sn, February 2005
- Leigh Swigart: Two codes or one? The insiders' view and the description of codeswitching in Dakar, in Carol M. Eastman, Codeswitching. Clevedon/Philadelphia: Multilingual Matters, ISBN 1-85359-167-X.
- Carla Unseth: "Vowel Harmony in Wolof" in Occasional Papers in Applied Linguistics. No. 7, 2009.
- Fiona McLaughlin: "Dakar Wolof and the configuration of an urban identity", Journal of African Cultural Studies 14/2, 2001, p. 153–172
- Gabriele Aïscha Bichler: "Bejo, Curay und Bin-bim? Die Sprache und Kultur der Wolof im Senegal (mit angeschlossenem Lehrbuch Wolof)", Europäische Hochschulschriften Band 90, Peter Lang Verlagsgruppe, Frankfurt am Main, Germany 2003, ISBN 3-631-39815-8.
- This list was truncated from 8 items.
- Pathe Diagne: Grammaire de Wolof Moderne. Presence Africaine, Paris, France, 1971.
- Pape Amadou Gaye: Wolof: An Audio-Aural Approach. United States Peace Corps, 1980.
- Amar Samb: Initiation a la Grammaire Wolof. Institut Fondamental d'Afrique Noire, Universite de Dakar, Ifan-Dakar, Senegal, 1983.
- Michael Franke: Kauderwelsch, Wolof für den Senegal – Wort für Wort. Reise Know-How Verlag, Bielefeld, Germany 2002, ISBN 3-89416-280-5.
- Michael Franke, Jean Leopold Diouf, Konstantin Pozdniakov: Le wolof de poche – Kit de conversation (Phrasebook/grammar with 1 CD). Assimil, Chennevières-sur-Marne, France, 2004 ISBN 978-2-7005-4020-8.
- Jean-Leopold Diouf, Marina Yaguello: J'apprends le Wolof – Damay jàng wolof (1 textbook with 4 audio cassettes). Karthala, Paris, France 1991, ISBN 2-86537-287-1.
- Michel Malherbe, Cheikh Sall: Parlons Wolof – Langue et culture. L'Harmattan, Paris, France 1989, ISBN 2-7384-0383-2 (this book uses a simplified orthography which is not compliant with the CLAD standards; a CD is available).
- Jean-Leopold Diouf: Grammaire du wolof contemporain. Karthala, Paris, France 2003, ISBN 2-84586-267-9.
- Fallou Ngom: Wolof. Verlag LINCOM, Munich, Germany 2003, ISBN 3-89586-616-4.
- Sana Camara: Wolof Lexicon and Grammar, NALRC Press, 2006, ISBN 978-1-59703-012-0.
- This list was truncated from 10 items.
- Diouf, Jean-Leopold: Dictionnaire wolof-français et français-wolof, Karthala, 2003
- Mamadou Cisse: Dictionnaire Français-Wolof, L’Asiathèque, Paris, 1998, ISBN 2-911053-43-5
- Arame Fal, Rosine Santos, Jean Leonce Doneux: Dictionnaire wolof-français (suivi d'un index français-wolof). Karthala, Paris, France 1990, ISBN 2-86537-233-2.
- Pamela Munro, Dieynaba Gaye: Ay Baati Wolof – A Wolof Dictionary. UCLA Occasional Papers in Linguistics, No. 19, Los Angeles, California, 1997.
- Peace Corps Gambia: Wollof-English Dictionary, PO Box 582, Banjul, the Gambia, 1995 (no ISBN, available as PDF file via the internet; this book refers solely to the dialect spoken in the Gambia and does not use the standard orthography of CLAD).
- Nyima Kantorek: Wolof Dictionary & Phrasebook, Hippocrene Books, 2005, ISBN 0-7818-1086-8 (this book refers predominantly to the dialect spoken in the Gambia and does not use the standard orthography of CLAD).
- Sana Camara: Wolof Lexicon and Grammar, NALRC Press, 2006, ISBN 978-1-59703-012-0.
- This list was truncated from 7 items.
- Official documents
- Government of Senegal, Decret n degree 71-566 du 21 mai 1971 relatif à la transcription des langues nationales, modifie par decret n degree 72-702 du 16 juin 1972.
- Government of Senegal, Decrets n degree 75-1026 du 10 octobre 1975 et n degree 85-1232 du 20 novembre 1985 relatifs à l'orthographe et à la separation des mots en wolof.
- Government of Senegal, Decret n degree 2005-992 du 21 octobre 2005 relatif à l'orthographe et à la separation des mots en wolof.
|Wolof edition of Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia|
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Wolof language.|
|Scholia has a topic profile for Wolof language.|
|Wikivoyage has a phrasebook for Wolof.|
- Wolof101: Online Wolof Language Lessons Programs: Learn about our Wolof teacher and programs available
- Easy wolof (iPhone application)
- Wolof Language Resources Archived 2008-06-02 at the Wayback Machine
- An Annotated Guide to Learning the Wolof Language
- Yahoo group about Wolof (in English and German)
- Wolof Online
- Wolof English Dictionary (this dictionary mixes Senegalese and Gambian variants without notice, and does not use a standard orthography)
- A French-Wolof-French dictionary partially available at Google Books.
- Firicat.com (an online Wolof to English translator; you can add your own words to this dictionary; it uses almost exclusively the Gambian variants and does not use a standard orthography)
- PanAfrican L10n page on Wolof
- OSAD specialisee dans l’education nonformelle et l’edition des Ouvrages en Langues nationales Archived 2008-05-13 at the Wayback Machine
- English to Wolof / Wolof to English translator
- xLingua – Online-Dictionary German-Wolof/Wolof-German, 2009
- This list was truncated from 13 items.