|Native to||Senegal, Gambia, Mauritania|
L2 speakers: ?
|Latin (Wolof alphabet)|
|Regulated by||CLAD (Centre de linguistique appliquée de Dakar)|
Areas where Wolof is spoken
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.
Wolof originated as the language of the Lebu people. 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 the 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 185,000 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 unintelligible 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 appliquée 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, ?, 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⟩||i:||u ⟨u⟩||u:|
|Close-mid||e ⟨é⟩||e:||o ⟨ó⟩||o:|
|Open-mid||? ⟨e⟩||?:||? ⟨o⟩||?:|
All vowels may be long (written double) or short./a:/ is written ⟨à⟩ before a long (prenasalized or geminate) consonant. When é and ó are written double, the accent mark is often only on the first letter.
There are no -ATR analogues of the high vowels i u. They trigger +ATR harmony in suffixes when they occur in a 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) 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,
where harmony would predict *door-u-më-léén-fë. That is, i u behave as if they are their own -ATR analogues.
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⟩||? ⟨ñ⟩||? ⟨?⟩|
|Plosive||prenasalized||mb ⟨mb⟩||nd ⟨nd⟩||⟨nj⟩||⟨ng⟩|
|voiced||b ⟨b⟩||d ⟨d⟩||? ⟨j⟩||? ⟨g⟩|
|voiceless||p ⟨p⟩||t ⟨t⟩||c ⟨c⟩||k ⟨k⟩||q: ⟨q⟩||?|
|Fricative||f ⟨f⟩||s ⟨s⟩||x~? ⟨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 initial position; otherwise geminate consonants and consonant clusters, including nt, nc, nk, nq ([?q]), are restricted to word-medial and -final position. In final position, 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 medial 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.
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)."
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 an action from the speaker's point of view. The most important 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 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 action 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."
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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 jigéen (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, jigéen-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: jigéen-yi, butik-yi, "the girls, the boutiques"
Miscellaneous articles: "si, gi, wi, mi, li".
The Wolof numeral system is based on the numbers "5" and "10". 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 / zéro [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||téeméer ak benn|
|106||téeméer ak juróom-benn|
|110||téeméer ak fukk|
|1000||junni / junne|
|1100||junni ak téeméer|
|1600||junni ak juróom-benni téeméer|
|1945||junni ak juróom-ñeenti téeméer ak ñeent-fukk ak juróom|
|1969||junni ak juróom-ñeenti téeméer ak juróom-benn-fukk ak juróom-ñeent|
|1000000||tamndareet / million|
For example, two is ñaar and second is ñaaréél
The one exception to this system is "first", which is bu njëk (or the adapted French word premier: përëmye)
(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"||yéena ngi||yéena ngiy||ngeen||dingeen||ngeen||ngeen di||dangeen||dangeen di||yéena||yéenay||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 3rd person plural also for the 1st person plural.
It is also important to note that the verb follows certain temporal pronouns and precedes others.
Boubacar Boris Diop published his novel Doomi Golo in Wolof in 2002.