|Native to||Senegal, Mauritania, Gambia|
L2 speakers: ?
|Latin (Wolof alphabet)|
|Regulated by||CLAD (Centre de linguistique appliquée de Dakar)|
Areas where Wolof is spoken
Wolof // (Wolofal: ولوفل) is a language of Senegal, Mauritania, and the Gambia, 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 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 dialects vary geographically and between rural and urban areas. The principal dialect of Dakar, for instance, is an urban mixture of Wolof, French, and Arabic.
Wolof is the standard spelling and may also refer to the Wolof ethnicity or culture. Variants include the older French Ouolof, Jollof, Jolof, Gambian Wolof, 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.
English is believed to have adopted some Wolof loanwords, 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 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 incomprehensible with standard Wolof, a distinction that has been obscured because all Lebu speakers are bilingual in standard Wolof.
Note: Phonetic transcriptions are printed between square brackets  following the rules of the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA).
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, 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 ⟨é⟩||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 é and ó are written double, the accent mark is often only on the first letter.
Vowels fall into two harmonizing sets according to ATR: i u é ó ë are +ATR, e o a are the −ATR analogues of é ó ë. For example,
'You (plural) ate.'
'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,
'I did not begin them there.'
where harmony would predict *door-u-më-léén-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.
Unlike most sub-Saharan African languages, Wolof has no tones. Other non-tonal languages of Africa include Amharic, Swahili and Fula.
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 and 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 (finished) or imperfective, (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 surely take place and whether an actor wants to emphasize the role of the subject, predicate, or object.[clarification needed] As a result, conjugation is done by not tense but aspect. Nevertheless, the term temporal pronoun is usual for such conjugated pronouns although aspect pronoun might be a better term.
For 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". 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 express that an action absolutely 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):
Demoon naa Ndakaaru. "I already went to Dakar."
Wolof has two main verb classes: dynamic and stative. Verbs are not inflected, instead pronouns are used to mark person, aspect, tense, and focus.: 779
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|
Ordinal numbers (first, second, third, etc.) are formed by adding the ending –éél (pronounced ayl) to the cardinal number.
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)
|1st person||2nd person||3rd person|
|Situative (Presentative)||Perfect||Verb + -ing||maa ngi||nu ngi||yaa ngi||yéena ngi||mu ngi||ñu ngi|
|Imperfect||maa ngiy||nu ngiy||yaa ngiy||yéena ngiy||mu ngiy||ñu ngiy|
|Terminative||Perfect||Past tense for action verbs or present tense for static verbs||naa||nanu||nga||ngeen||na||nañu|
|Objective||Perfect||Puts the emphasis on the object of the sentence||laa||lanu||nga||ngeen||la||lañu|
|Imperfect||Indicates a habitual or future action||laay||lanuy||ngay||ngeen di||lay||lañuy|
(Explicative and/or Descriptive)
|Perfect||Puts the emphasis on the verb or the state 'condition' of the sentence||dama||danu||danga||dangeen||dafa||dañu|
|Imperfect||Indicates a habitual or future action||damay||danuy||dangay||dangeen di||dafay||dañuy|
|Subjective||Perfect||Puts the emphasis on the subject of the sentence||maa||noo||yaa||yéena||moo||ñoo|
|Imperfect||Indicates a habitual or future action||maay||nooy||yaay||yéenay||mooy||ñooy|
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 specific temporal pronouns and precedes others.
The New Testament was translated into Wolof and published in 1987, second edition 2004, and in 2008 with some minor typographical corrections.
Boubacar Boris Diop published his novel Doomi Golo in Wolof in 2002.
The 1994 song "7 Seconds" by Youssou N'Dour and Neneh Cherry is partially sung in Wolof.