Senegambian
North Atlantic
(controversial)
Geographic
distribution
Mauritania to Guinea
Linguistic classificationNiger–Congo
Subdivisions
  • Fulani–Wolof (controversial)
  • Bak
Glottolognort3146

The Senegambian languages, traditionally known as the Northern West Atlantic, or in more recent literature sometimes confusingly as the Atlantic languages, are a branch of Niger–Congo languages centered on Senegal (and Senegambia), with most languages spoken there and in neighboring southern Mauritania, Guinea-Bissau, and Guinea. The transhumant Fula, however, have spread with their languages from Senegal across the western and central Sahel. The most populous unitary language is Wolof, the national language of Senegal, with four million native speakers and millions more second-language users. There are perhaps 13 million speakers of the various varieties of Fula, and over a million speakers of Serer. The most prominent feature of the Senegambian languages is that they are devoid of tone, unlike the vast majority of Niger-Congo languages.

Classification

David Sapir (1971) proposed a West Atlantic branch of the Niger–Congo languages that included a Northern branch largely synonymous with Senegambian. However, Sapir's West Atlantic and its branches turned out to be geographic and typological rather than genealogical groups. The only investigation since then, Segerer & Pozdniakov (2010, 2017), removed the Southern Atlantic languages. The remaining (Northern or Senegambian) languages are characterized by a lack of tone. The Serer–Fulani–Wolof branch is characterized by consonant mutation.

Senegambian 

Bak languages

Fula–Wolof 
 Fula–Serer 

Fula (Fulani)

Serer

 Tenda–Jaad 
 Tenda 

BassariBedik

Wamey, Bapeng

Jaad (Biafada, Pajade (Badjara))

Cangin languages

Wolof (incl. Lebu)

 Nyun 

Kasanga, Kobiana (Buy)

Banyum (Nyun), Baïnounk Gubëeher

? Nalu (Baga Mboteni, Mbulungish, Nalu)

Serer and Fula share noun-class suffixes.

The inclusion of the poorly attested Nalu languages is uncertain.

Several classifications, including the one used by Ethnologue 20, show Fula as being more closely related to Wolof than it is to Serer, due to a copy error in the literature.

Consonant mutation

The Senegambian languages are well known for their consonant mutation, a phenomenon in which the initial consonant of a word changes depending on its morphological and/or syntactic environment. In Fula, for example, the initial consonant of many nouns changes depending on whether it is singular or plural:

pul-lo "Fulani person" ful-ɓe "Fulani people"
guj-jo "thief" wuy-ɓe "thieves"

Noun classes

The West Atlantic languages are defined by their noun-class systems, which are similar to those found in other Niger–Congo languages, most famously the Bantu languages. Most West Atlantic, and indeed Niger–Congo, noun-class systems are marked with prefixes, and linguists generally believe that this reflects the proto-Niger–Congo system. The languages of the Fula–Serer branch of Senegambian, however, have noun-class suffixes or combinations of prefixes and suffixes. Joseph Greenberg argued that the suffixed forms arose from independent postposed determiners that agreed with the noun class:

CL-Noun CL-Det → CL-Noun-CL → Noun-CL

Comparative vocabulary

Comparison of basic vocabulary words of the Senegambian languages:[1]

Language eye ear nose tooth tongue mouth blood bone tree water name; surname
Wolof bət / gət nɔɔp bakkan bəny / gəny lämminy gemminy dɛrɛt yax garab ndɔx tur; sant
Sereer áŋgît nɔ̂f ɔ́nyîs ányíìny (PL) ɗélém ɔdôn fo ʔɔl ɔla o hij ola / a kij aka i ndaxar na / taxar ka fɔ̂ːfî
Sine ṇgid nɔ̣f ɲis ɲiɲ ɗelɛm dɔ̣n foʔyeʔ kiʔy ndaxar fof gɔ̣̀n
Fula / Pular yiit-ere / git-e now-ru / noppi kin-al / kin-e nyii-re / nyi’-e ɗen-gal / -ɗe hundu-ko / kundu-le; kara-ho ʔyii ʔy-an ʔyi-ʔ-al / ʔyiʔ-e leggal / leɗɗe ndiy-an / di’e in-nde / in-ɗe; yettoo-re / gettoo-je
Ndut ʔil nœf ɲin sis pɛɾɛm ɓuk ɲif ʔyo kɪlɪl mɞlop tiː
Sili ʔil nuf ɲin sis pɛ̣ɾɛm ɓuq ɲif ʔyox kilik molop tʰiː
Safi xas nœf kiɲin sis pɛʔdɛm ŋgup ɲif ʔjɔx kidik mazup tik
Lala kɔs nɔf kumun sis peɾim kuː ɲif ʔyɔx kɛdɛk musu tɛːk
None kᵘas nɔf kumɞn siːs pɛfɛm ku ɲif ʎoh kɛdɛk mᵘɔjuʔ tek
Banhum ci-gil / i- ci-nuf / xa- nyaŋkən / -əŋ gu-rul / xa- bu-lemuc / i- bu-rul / i- mu-leen gu-xuun / xa- / ba-, ku- ci-nɔ / mu-nn mu-nd / +-əŋ gu-rɛt / xa-; ci-ram / nya-
Cobiana si-ggih / nyi- si-nuf / ŋa- gu-nyikin / ŋa- bu-gees / ja- jaarum / a- a-cis / ga-s bu-heeh gu-maab / ŋa- u-doʔ / dɛ- ma-leem gi-sɛh / ŋa-; gu-mantiinya / ŋa-
Cassanga si-gir / ga-, nyi- gu-nuf / ŋɔ- gu-nyikən / ŋa- gu-gees / ŋa- jaalumb / a- a-cis / ga-s bi-lɛr gu-maab / ŋa- gu-rien / ŋa- ma-yaab gu-sɛr / ŋa-; si-mbur / nyi-
Konyagi ì-ŋkə́r æ̀-nə̀f / væ̀- ì-cə̀l / wæ̀-s Ø-bènyə́ / wæ̀- Ø-ryə̀w̃ / wæ̀- Ø-w̃ə̀s / wæ̀- #-sǽt Ø-ỹə̀c / wæ̀- æ̀-tə́x / væ̀- wə-̀ŋkà ù-w̃æ̀cə́ / wæ̀-m
Tenda a-ŋgəz / b+ a-nəv / b+ ɛ-cən / o-z yiŋga / ɔ- liw / o-d e-tey / o-z ɔ-zat a-capar / b+ ɛ-təɣ / ɔ- men (o-class) ɔ-wac / ɔ-m; zəc / o-c
Bedik ngəs ga-nəf / ba- e-cəl / ma-s gi-nyaŋga / ma- i-ɗem / mə- bə-məš / ma- ma-yel ɛ-bɛʔy / Ø-m ga-t / ba-t məŋga yat
Pajade m-aasa ko-nufa nya-sɛnɛ pe-nnya pe-deema pa-mməs p-wad pe-jeere ma-tte ma-mbe micc
Biafada gərä gə-nəfa nya-sin / ba+ cede / maa-s bu-deema mməsə / maa-m bwa-hanna bu-jedä bu-r / maa-r ma-mbiya gə-səttə; gə-gbanyi

References

  1. ^ Wilson, William André Auquier. 2007. Guinea Languages of the Atlantic group: description and internal classification. (Schriften zur Afrikanistik, 12.) Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang.