Wolofal alphabet
Label of a specimen of Striped Kingfisher indicating the Wolof name of the bird in Latin alphabet and Wolofal.
Script type
Time period
c. 17 c. to the present
DirectionRight-to-left
LanguagesWolof
Related scripts
Parent systems
 This article contains phonetic transcriptions in the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA). For an introductory guide on IPA symbols, see Help:IPA. For the distinction between [ ], / / and ⟨ ⟩, see IPA § Brackets and transcription delimiters.

Wolofal is a derivation of the Arabic script for writing the Wolof language. It is basically the name of a West African Ajami script as used for that language.

Wolofal was the first script for writing Wolof. Although the Latin alphabet is the primary official script of the language in today's Senegal, Wolofal is still used by many people as a symbol of Islamic Wolof culture. Furthermore, Wolofal orthography has been standardized in 1990 by Directíon de la Promotion des Langues Nationales (DPLN) (now known as Directíon de l'alphabétisation des langues nationales), an initiative of Senegal's Ministry of Education as part of a harmonized national "Arabic script". This "harmonized script is used for Wolof, Pulaar, Soninke, Mandinka, Seereer, Joola, and Balant.[1]

The standardization of the Arabic script in Senegal was followed by an effort to teach the correct orthography to over 20,000 people, mostly Imams and their students, to write in the script. But despite the efforts of the Senegalese government in the matter, the alphabet has not been officially decreed by the government. The reason for this is that standardization of writing in Ajami script in West Africa is supposed to be a multi-national effort.[1]

Alphabet

Wolofal, like its parent system, the Arabic script, is an abjad. This means that only consonants are represented with letters. Vowels are shown with diacritics. As a matter of fact, writing of diacritics, including zero-vowel (sukun) diacritic as per the orthographic are mandatory.

In order to represent sounds in Wolof that are not present in Arabic, letters as well as diacritics have been created. Historically, there was different conventions among different writers and schools, but one of the aims and achievements of the push for standardization by the Senegalese Ministry of Education has been to agree upon a unified set of letters.[1][2]


Letters

There are 23 letters in Wolofal alphabet. The list does not include consonants that are used exclusively in Arabic loanwords and do not occur in Wolof words, nor does it include digraphs used for showing prenasalized consonants.[2]

Wolofal Letters[1][2]
Name Forms Sound represented Latin equivalent Example Notes
Isolated Final Medial Initial Wolofal Latin
alif
اَلِف
ا ـا ا /a/ - / a اِتَمْ
گَالْ
itam
gaal
  • The alif has two functions: first, to be the carrier of vowel diacritic as word initial, and second to indicate long vowel "-aa".
beh
بࣹهْ
ب ـب ـبـ بـ [b] b بَاخْ baax
peh
ݒࣹهْ
ݒ ـݒ ـݒـ ݒـ [p] p ݒࣹݒّ pepp
  • Character not found in Arabic.
  • Obsolete Alternatives: پ, ݑ
  • Unicode U+0752
teh
تࣹهْ
ت ـت ـتـ تـ [t] t تَارْ taar
ceh
ݖࣹهْ
ݖ ـݖ ـݖـ ݖـ [c] c ݖَابِ caabi
  • Character not found in Arabic.
  • Obsolete Alternatives: چ‎, جۛ
  • Unicode U+0756
seh
ثࣹهْ
ث ـث ـثـ ثـ [s] s
  • Character only used in writing of Arabic Loanwords
jeem
جࣹيمْ
ج ـج ـجـ جـ [ɟ] j جَايْ jaay
hah
حَهْ
ح ـح ـحـ حـ [h] h
  • Character only used in writing of Arabic Loanwords
xah
خَهْ
خ ـخ ـخـ خـ [x] x خَمْ xam
dal
دَلْ
د ـد د [d] d دَانُ daanu
sal
ذَلْ
ذ ـذ ذ [ɟ]~[z] j
  • Character only used in writing of Arabic Loanwords
reh
رࣹهْ
ر ـر ر [r] r رَاس raas
seh
زࣹهْ
ز ـز ز [ɟ]~[z] j
  • Character only used in writing of foreign Loanwords
seen
سࣹينْ
س ـس ـسـ سـ [s] s سَنتْ sant
cheen
شࣹينْ
ش ـش ـشـ شـ [s]~[ʃ] s
  • Character only used in writing of foreign Loanwords
saad
صَادْ
ص ـص ـصـ صـ [s] s
  • Character only used in writing of Arabic Loanwords
daad
ضَادْ
ض ـض ـضـ ضـ [d] d
  • Character only used in writing of Arabic Loanwords
taay
طَايْ
ط ـط ـطـ طـ [t] t
  • Character only used in writing of Arabic Loanwords
saay
ظَايْ
ظ ـظ ـظـ ظـ [ɟ]~[z] j
  • Character only used in writing of Arabic Loanwords
ayn
عَيْنْ
ع ـع ـعـ عـ - - اِسْرَعࣹلْ
دࣴعࣴلْ
Israel
dëel
  • Used for writing vowel sequences, and mid-word syllables that start with vowels.
  • Used for marking long vowel "ëe", where it's written with diacritic ◌ࣴ.
gayn
غَيْنْ
غ ـغ ـغـ غـ [ɡ] g
  • Character only used in writing of Arabic Loanwords
ŋoon
ݝࣷونْ
ݝ ـݝ ـݝـ ݝـ [ŋ] ŋ ݝَامْ ŋaam
  • Character not found in Arabic.
  • Obsolete Alternatives: ݤ‎,ڭ
  • Unicode U+075D
feh
فࣹهْ
ف ـف ـفـ فـ [ɸ] f فَارْ faar
qaf
قَفْ
ق ـق ـقـ قـ [q] q نَقَرْ naqar
kaf
کَفْ
ک ـک ـکـ کـ [k] k کَانِ kaani
geh
گࣹهْ
گ ـگ ـگـ گـ [ɡ] g گَالْ gaal
  • Character not found in Arabic.
  • Obsolete Alternative: ڭ
lam
لَمْ
ل ـل ـلـ لـ [l] l لَجّ lajj
meem
مࣹيمْ
م ـم ـمـ مـ [m] m مَامْ
مبَارْ
maam
mbaar
  • Used either as an independent consonant, or as part of a digraph in prenasalized consonants.
noon
نࣷونْ
ن ـن ـنـ نـ [n] n نَانْ
نجࣷولْ
naan
njool
  • Used either as an independent consonant, or as part of a digraph in prenasalized consonants.
ñoon
ݧࣷونْ
ݧ ـݧ ـݧـ ݧـ [ɲ] ñ ݧَانْ ñaan
  • Character not found in Arabic.
  • Obsolete Alternatives: چ‎, جۛ
  • Unicode U+0767
waw
وَوْ
و ـو و [w] w وَاوْ
بُورْ
waaw
buur
  • The waw has two functions: first, to be a consonant with the sound /w/, and second to indicate long vowels "-oo" "-óó", and "uu".
heh
هࣹهْ
ه ـه ـهـ هـ [h] h اَهَکَايْ ahakaay
yeh
يࣹهْ
ي ـي ـيـ يـ [j] y يَايْ
نجِيتْ
yaay
njiit
  • The yeh has two functions: first, to be a consonant with the sound /j/, and second to indicate long vowels "-ee" "-éé", and "ii".

Vowels

Wolofal, like its parent system, the Arabic script, is an abjad. This means that only consonants are represented with letters. Vowels are shown with diacritics. As a matter of fact, writing of diacritics, including zero-vowel (sukun) diacritic as per the orthographic are mandatory.

Arabic has 3 vowels, and thus 3 vowel diacritics. But in Wolof, there are 9 vowels, and as all vowels are shown with diacritics in Wolofal. This means that on top of the 3 original diacritics, 6 additional ones have been created.

Wolofal short vowels[1][2]
Vowel IPA Latin eq. Unicode Example Notes
Wolofal Latin
◌َ [a] a U+064E مَگْ mag
◌ࣵ [a] à U+08F5 مࣵگّ màgg
  • Diacritic not found in Arabic.
  • Only before a long (prenasalized or geminate) consonant.
  • Obsolete Alternative: ◌َ
◌ࣴ [ə] ë U+08F4 بࣴتْ bët
◌ࣹ [ɛ] e U+08F9 کࣹݒّ kepp
  • Diacritic not found in Arabic.
  • Obsolete Alternative: ◌ٜ
◌ࣺ [e] é U+08FA کࣺݒّ képp
  • Diacritic not found in Arabic.
  • Obsolete Alternative: ◌ٜ
◌ِ [i] i U+0650 اِتَمْ itam
◌ࣷ [ɔ] o U+08F7 سࣷقْ soq
  • Diacritic not found in Arabic.
  • Obsolete Alternative: ◌ٝ
◌ࣸ [o] ó U+08F8 نࣸبْ nób
  • Diacritic not found in Arabic.
  • Obsolete Alternative: ◌ُ
◌ُ [u] u U+064F دُگُبْ dugub

When vowels appear at the beginning of the word, an alif (ا) is used as the carrier of the vowel.[2]

Vowel as first sound of word
A À Ë E É I O Ó U
اَ اࣵ اࣴ اࣹ اࣺ اِ اࣷ اࣸ اُ

Vowels in Wolof are also distinguished by length, short and long. Short vowels are only shown with a diacritic. Similar to Arabic, long vowels are indicated by writing alif (ا), waw (و), or yeh (ي). But unlike Arabic, this does not mean that the vowel diacritic can be dropped. It cannot, as there 8 vowels and not 3. Vowel "à" (◌ࣵ) does not have a long version.[2]

Wolofal long vowels[1][2]
Vowel Latin equivalent Example
Wolofal Latin
◌َا aa بَاتْ baat
◌ࣴعࣴـ / ◌ࣴعࣴ ëe دࣴعࣴلْ‎ dëel
◌ࣹيـ / ◌ࣹي ee لࣹينْ leen
◌ࣺيـ / ◌ࣺي ée لࣺينْ léen
◌ِيـ / ◌ِي ii نجِيتْ njiit
◌ࣷو oo وࣷورْ woor
◌ࣸو óo وࣸورْ wóor
◌ُو uu بُورْ buur

The same principle is followed for when a long vowel is at the beginning of a word. An alif (ا) is used as the carrier of the vowel, followed by either waw (و) or yeh (ي) as appropriate. The exception is when a word starts with the long vowel "Aa". Instead of two alifs (اا) being used, an alif-maddah (آ) is used.[2]

Vowel as first sound of word
Aa Ëe Ee Ée Ii Oo Óo Uu
آ اࣴعࣴـ / اࣴعࣴ اࣹيـ / اࣹي اࣺيـ / اࣺي اِيـ / اِي اࣷو اࣸو اُو

Consonant diacritics

There are two consonant diacritics in Wolofal alphabet. These are shadda (◌ّ) indicating gemination, and sukun (◌ْ) indicating zero-vowel.

These two diacritics cannot appear on the same consonant simultaneously. Geminated consonants only ever occur either at the end of the word, or before a suffix.[2]

All consonants require either a vowel diacritic or one of these diacritics (or a vowel diacritic combined with shadda) except in two cases:[2]

  1. When a consonant is prenasalized, and is thus shown with a digraph including either the letter m "م" or n "ن". In these cases, the letters m "م" or n "ن" will remain with no diacritic.
  2. When the letter in question is alif (ا), waw (و), or yeh (ي) and its function in the word is to indicate a long vowel, it will remain unmarked.

It is important to note that unlike Arabic, it is possible for a consonant to take shadda (◌ّ) while not having consonants. This phenomenon mostly occurs at the end of words. Native Wolof speakers pronounce geminated nouns not as doubles but simply longer. But the distinction is essential, as the meaning of a word can change.[2] Table below provides some examples:

Wolofal Latin Meaning Wolofal Latin Meaning
بࣴتْ bët eye بࣴتّ bëtt to find
بࣷیْ boy to catch fire بࣷیّ boyy to be glimmering
دَگْ dag a royal servant دَگّ dagg to cut
دࣴجْ dëj funeral دࣴجّ dëjj cunt
فࣹنْ fen to (tell a) lie فࣹنّ fenn somewhere, nowhere
گَلْ gal white gold گَلّ gall to regurgitate
ݝࣷنْ goŋ baboon ݝࣷنّ goŋŋ a kind of bed
گࣴمْ gëm to believe گࣴمّ gëmm to close one's eyes
جَوْ Jaw a family name جَوّ jaww heaven
نࣴبْ nëb rotten نࣴبّ nëbb to hide
وࣷݧْ woñ thread وࣷݧّ woññ to count

Prenasalized consonants

Prenasalized consonants are written as a digraph (combination of two consonants). While historically, there were single letter alternatives, these letters are no longer used. Prenasalized consonants are constructed using meem (م) or noon (ن) in combination with other consonants. The letter meem (م) appears in pairs with beh (ب) or peh (ݒ), whereas the letter noon (ن) appears in pairs with teh (ت), ceh (ݖ‎), dal (د), jeem (ج), qaf (ق), kaf (ک), and geh (گ). Some digraphs cannot appear at the beginning of words, -mp (مݒ), -nc (نݖ), -nq (نق).

Prenasalized consonants cannot take the zero-vowel diacritic sukun (◌ْ). If they are at the end of the word and have no vowels, they will take the gemination diacritic shadda (◌ّ).

Some Wolof-speaking authors treat these digraphs as their own independent letters.

Wolofal prenasalized Consonant Digraphs[2]
Forms Sound represented Latin equivalent Example Notes
Isolated Final Medial Initial Wolofal Latin
مب ـمبّ ـمبـ مبـ [ᵐb] mb مبَارْ mbaar
  • Obsolete Alternative: ݑ
مݒ ـمݒّ ـمݒـ - [ᵐp] mp سَمݒّ samp
  • Cannot exist at the beginning of a word
نݖ ـنݖّ ـنݖـ - [ⁿc] nc سَنݖّ sanc
  • Cannot exist at the beginning of a word
ند ـندّ ـند ند [ⁿd] nd ندَوْ ndaw
  • Obsolete Alternative: ڎ
نج ـنجّ ـنجـ نجـ [ᶮɟ] nj نجࣷولْ njool
  • Obsolete Alternative: چ
نق ـنقّ ـنقـ - [ⁿq] nq جَنقّ janq
  • Cannot exist at the beginning of a word
نک ـنکّ ـنکـ نکـ [ɴk] nk دࣺنکّ dénk
نگ ـنگّ ـنگـ نگـ [ᵑɡ] ng نگَ nga
  • Obsolete Alternative: ݣ
  • Important to note that it is different from ݝ

Sample text

Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Translation Latin Script Wolofal (Arabic) Script
All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood. Doomi aadama yépp danuy juddu, yam ci tawfeex ci sag ak sañ-sañ. Nekk na it ku xam dëgg te ànd na ak xelam, te war naa jëflante ak nawleen, te teg ko ci wàllu mbokk. دࣷومِ آدَمَ يࣺݒّ دَنُيْ جُدُّ، يَمْ ݖِ تَوفࣹيخْ ݖِ سَگْ اَکْ سَݧْ-سَݧْ. نࣹکّ نَ اِتْ کُ خَمْ دࣴگّ تࣹ اࣵ‎ندْ نَ خࣹلَمْ، تࣹ وَرْ نَا جࣴفْلَنْتࣹ اَکْ نَوْلࣹينْ، تࣹ تࣹگْ کࣷ ݖِ وࣵلُّ مبࣷکّ.

Bibliography

  1. ^ a b c d e f Priest, Lorna A; Hosken, Martin; SIL International (12 August 2010). "Proposal to add Arabic script characters for African and Asian languages" (PDF). pp. 13–18, 34–37.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Currah, Galien (26 August 2015) ORTHOGRAPHE WOLOFAL. Link (Archive)