Wolof (language)

from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


Spoken in

SenegalSenegal Senegal Gambia Mauritania
speaker 3.2 million (native speakers)

3.5 million (second language speakers)

Official status
Official language in Senegambia (historical)
Recognized minority /
regional language in
National language in Senegal and Mauritania
Language codes
ISO 639 -1

where (Wolof, Senegal)
no entry for Wolof Gambia

ISO 639 -2
  • wol (Wolof, Senegal)
  • nic (other Niger-Congo languages ​​at Wolof Gambia)
ISO 639-3
  • wol (Wolof, Senegal)
  • wof (Wolof Gambia)
Main distribution area of ​​the Wolof in Senegal and Gambia

Wolof [ wɔlɔf ] is a Wolof language from the northern branch of the West Atlantic language family , a subgroup of the Niger-Congo languages . The closest related languages ​​are Fulfulde and Serer .

Wolof is spoken predominantly in Senegal . About 80% of Senegalese speak the language and make Wolof the actual colloquial language of the country. Wolof is also spoken in the neighboring countries of Gambia and Mauritania .

In the older French- language literature you can also find the spelling “Ouolof” instead of “Wolof”. In some English-language publications, especially those that refer to the Gambian Wolof, you will also find the spelling “Wollof” , because this spelling tends to lead to the correct pronunciation of the word in English native speakers. In publications from the 19th century and before you can also encounter the spelling “Volof” or “Olof” . The spellings “Jolof” , “Jollof” and “Dyolof” also appear very rarely . - The term Wolof is used for the people as well as for their language and for things and conditions from their culture and tradition.

Language diffusion and neighborhood

About 40 percent of Senegalese (approx. 3.2 million people) speak Wolof as their mother tongue. Another 40 percent of Senegalese speak Wolof as a second language. In the region from Dakar to Saint-Louis as well as west and south of Kaolack, Wolof is spoken by the majority of the population. In eastern Senegal and in the part of the country south of Gambia (Casamance, Bassari-Land) only a few speak Wolof, although the situation in the big cities such as Ziguinchor is again different: Wolof is the most widely used colloquial language there, especially among young people but even more interspersed than in the north with words and phrases that come from French. The latter is the official language for all of Senegal; however, Wolof is recognized as the “national language” alongside Serer, Diola, Malinke, Pulaar and Soninké.

In Gambia, around 15 percent of the population (around 200,000 people) speak Wolof. The official language in Gambia is English. The dominant languages ​​of the Gambia, Mandinka (40%), Wolof (15%) and Ful (15%), are also accepted as official languages. About every second Wolof is in the Gambia's capital Banjul .

In Mauritania , around 7 percent of the population (around 185,000 people) speak Wolof. The language is used there only in the southern coastal region. The official language in Mauritania is Arabic, the most important lingua franca is French.

Spelling and pronunciation

Wolof has been written in Arabic letters since the 11th century, since the beginning of Islamization. Numerous poems and religious writings have come down to us in Arabic script and it is still in use today in the Muslim context.

As a rule, however, Wolof is now written using the letters of the Latin alphabet. For this purpose, the language institute Center de linguistique appliquée de Dakar (CLAD) developed a standard orthography that has been official since the 1970s. It was last confirmed again by the state in 2005. However, in everyday use you will also find spellings based on French spelling. For example, one could already read on an advertising poster: Thiafka bou mat seuk “Perfect taste”, which in official spelling should have been Cafka bu mat sëkk .

The pronunciation of the letters generally corresponds to that of the German phonetic values. The r is not like in English or French as throat-R , but as tongue tips-R speaking, similar to the Italian or Spanish. The letter x is pronounced like the German letter combination ch in Bach .

Wolof also uses diacritical marks for the vowels to indicate whether it is an open or a closed vowel. Example: o is open as in the German word open , ó is closed as in the German word Ofen .

Single vowels are pronounced short, double vowels long. Example: o is short like open in German , oo is long like the a in English call . If a closed vowel is long, the diacritical mark is only placed over the first vowel, i.e. óo , but some sources deviate from this CLAD standard and write óó .

The very common letter ë is pronounced like the German e in shadow , like the French e in le or like the English unstressed article a ([ə] = Schwa ).


Special features of the Wolof language

Pronoun conjugation instead of verb conjugation

Even though the verbs in Wolof are not inflexible, but rather suffixes with very different functions can be appended to them, large parts of the conjugation in Wolof are more in the area of ​​personal pronouns: The different forms of the pronouns (see below) each bring different parts of the sentence into focus and sometimes also nuance tense and aspect (see above all the contrast between naa and dama ). In particular, they also combine with other elements such as the auxiliary verb di “sein / werden”, which marks the unfinished aspect, or the form “a ngi”, which marks direct experience, to form inseparable units. The resulting forms are also called temporal pronouns.

Example: The verb dem means “to go”; the temporal pronoun maa ngi (from man “I” + a ngi “just in the moment (can be experienced)”) means “I, here and now”; the temporal pronoun dinaa (from di "to be / will" + naa "I") means "I will (in the future)". The following sentences can now be formed: Maa ngi dem. "I'm going right now / now." - Dinaa dem. "I will go (in the future)."

Conjugation by aspect rather than time

In Wolof, tenses such as present tense, past tense and future tense (future) play a subordinate role. On the other hand, the aspect of an action from the speaker's point of view is of decisive importance. The most important aspect is whether an action is completed or not yet completed from the speaker's point of view, regardless of whether it takes place in the present, past or future. Other aspects are whether an action takes place regularly, whether an action definitely occurs or has occurred, whether an action wants to emphasize the subject, predicate or object of a sentence, etc. Consequently, conjugation is not based on tenses, but on aspects. Nevertheless, the term temporal pronouns (tense pronouns) has become established for the personal pronouns to be conjugated; The term aspect pronoun would be more appropriate.

Example: The verb dem means “to go”; the temporal pronoun naa means "I am / already have"; the temporal pronoun dinaa means "I will in the future"; the temporal pronoun damay (from dama + di ) often means “I am / do regularly”, but also “I'll be the same”. The following sentences can now be formed: Dem naa. "I've already left." - Dinaa dem. "I will go (in the future)." - Damay dem. “I go regularly / usually / normally.” Or “I'll go soon”. If you really want to express that an action took place in the past, this is not done by conjugating the temporal pronouns, but by adding the suffix - (w) oon to the verb or first auxiliary verb. With the auxiliary di this results in the form doon . (The temporal pronoun is already in conjugated form, depending on the aspect under consideration.)

Examples: Demoon naa Ndakaaru. "I had (already) gone to Dakar." Dama doon dem Ndakaaru. "I went to Dakar."

Action verbs versus state verbs and adjectives

In Wolof one differentiates between action verbs and state verbs. Action verbs express activities or activities; State verbs describe states or properties. Example: the "go" is action verb; baax "being good" is a state verb .

This distinction plays a dominant role in Wolof because the appropriate translation of the temporal pronouns often depends on whether they are used with an action verb or a state verb: In the former, the completed aspect corresponds more to our perfect or past perfect and the unfinished to our present tense or past tense, while with the latter, the completed aspect usually has to be translated with a form in the present or past tense. Some temporal pronouns occur predominantly with a verb type; for example, the temporal pronoun maa ngi "I, here and now" is rarely used together with a state verb .

Some verbs can be both an action verb and a state verb, depending on the context in which they are used. Example: toog in the meaning "sit down" is an action verb, in the meaning "sit down" is a state verb .

Strictly speaking, there are no adjectives in Wolof: this role is taken over by the verbs of states. Example: baax , as a verb of state, means “to be good” and is used wherever we would use the adjective “good”. For example, baax na means “it / that is good” and nit ku baax corresponds to our “good person”, but one would have to translate quite literally as “person who is good”.

Consonant harmony - harmony of the sounds

The initial consonant of some words is based on the initial consonant of the preceding word.

Example: The definite article “der / die / das (here)” has the following different forms in the singular: bi , gi , ji , mi , si , wi , li , ki . Which form is used often depends on the initial consonant of the preceding word, for example, it says motley bi “the door”, but kër gi “the house / the yard”.

Strictly speaking, this variety of forms is the remnant of a class division, as it is common for many African languages ​​(especially for the Bantu languages , to which Wolof does not belong); here the world of nouns is divided into different nominal classes, e.g. B. in animate things, inanimate things, everyday objects, etc.

In the Wolof, too, this classification was maintained in some places. In these cases, no more consonant harmony can be recognized, but the different articles cause a change in meaning. For example, trees usually have the article gi , but their fruits have the article bi : mango gi "the mango tree" vs. mango bi "the mango". And the diminutive (belittling) is also formed by changing the article: jëkkër ji “husband” vs. njëkkër si "husband" (usually negative).

Missing gender

Wolof does not distinguish grammatically between masculine (male), feminine (female) and neuter (neuter). Example: bi can mean “the”, “the” or “that” depending on the translation. Mu ngi dem can mean “he works”, “she works” or “it works” depending on the translation. However, the variety of articles / classifications dealt with in the previous section partly fulfills similar functions as our grammatical gender.

Five number system

The Wolof number system is based on the numbers "5" and "10". Example: benn “one”, juróom “five”, juróom-benn “six”, fukk “ten”, fukk ak juróom-benn “sixteen”.

Numeralia (numerals)

Cardinal numbers (basic numbers)

The Wolof number system is based on the numbers "5" and "10".

0 tus / neen / zéro (French) / sero / dara ("nothing")
1 benn
2 ñaar / yaar
3 ñett / ñatt / yett / yatt
4th ñeent / ñenent
5 juróom
6th juróom-benn
7th juróom-ñaar
8th juróom-ñett
9 juróom-ñeent
10 fukk
11 fukk ak benn
12 fukk ak naar
13 fukk ak ñett
14th fukk ak ñeent
15th fukk ak juróom
16 fukk ak juróom-benn
17th fukk ak juróom-ñaar
18th fukk ak juróom-ñett
19th fukk ak juróom-ñeent
20th ñaar-fukk
26th ñaar-fukk ak juróom-benn
30th ñett-fukk / fanweer
40 ñeent-fukk
50 juróom-fukk
60 juróom-benn-fukk
66 juróom-benn-fukk ak juróom-benn
70 juróom-ñaar-fukk
80 juróom-ñett-fukk
90 juróom-ñeent-fukk
100 téeméer
101 téeméer ak benn
106 téeméer ak juróom-benn
110 téeméer ak fukk
200 ñaar téeméer
300 ñett téeméer
400 ñeent téeméer
500 juróom téeméer
600 juróom-benn téeméer
700 juróom-ñaar téeméer
800 juróom-ñett téeméer
900 juróom-ñeent téeméer
1000 junni / junne
1100 junni ak téeméer
1600 junni ak juróom-benn téeméer
1945 junni ak juróom-ñeent téeméer ak ñeent-fukk ak juróom
1969 junni ak juróom-ñeent téeméer ak juróom-benn-fukk ak juróom-ñeent
2000 ñaar junni
3000 ñett junni
4000 ñeent junni
5000 juróom junni
6000 juróom-benn junni
7000 juróom-ñaar junni
8000 juróom-ñett junni
9000 juróom-ñeent junni
10,000 fukk junni
100,000 téeméer junni
1000000 tamndareet / million

Temporal pronouns (verbs of time)

Conjugation of the temporal pronouns

Situational (presentational) Terminative lens Processive (explicit) Subjective Neutral
Perfective Imperfect Perfective Imperfect Perfective Imperfect Perfective Imperfect Perfective Imperfect Perfective Imperfect
1st person singular ("I") maa ngi maa ngiy naa dinaa, dinaay laa laay dama damay maa maay ma may
2nd person singular ("you / you") yaa ngi yaa ngiy nga dinga, dingay nga ngay danga dangay yaa yaay nga ngay
3rd person singular ("he / she / it") mu ngi mu ngiy n / A dina, dinay la lay dafa dafay moo mooy must muy
1st person plural ("we") nu ngi nu ngiy well dinanu, dinanuy lanu lanuy then danuy noo nooy nu nuy
2nd person plural ("her") yeena ngi yeena ngiy ngeen dingeen, dingeen di ngeen ngeen di dangeen dangeen di yeena yeenay ngeen ngeen di
3rd person plural ("she") ñu ngi ñu ngiy nañu dinañu, dinañuy lañu lañuy then dañuy ñoo ñooy ñu ñuy

Basic vocabulary words

The following examples come from gibberish, Wolof for Senegal - word for word by Michael Franke.

Word meaning Wolof Word meaning Wolof
I man big rey, likes
you yow small tuuti, ndaw
he she it moom eat lekk
we now drink naan
her yeen sleep nelaw
she ( plural ) ñoom to die dee
who? can go dox, the
What? lan come ñow / ñëw
human nit give may, jox
man góor to take jël
woman jigéen speak wax
head bopp love nob, sopp, bëgg
eye bët
ear nopp
nose bàkkan
mouth gémmiñ
tooth bëñ
tongue làmmiñ
heart xol
hand loxo
foot tank
water ndox
Fire safara
Sun jant, naj
moon weer

The main expressions

Wolof German Word-by-word translation
Answer: Maalekum salaam!
Good day. / Good day.
Answer: Hello. / Good day.
(Arabic) Peace be with you
answer: And be with you peace
Nan nga def? / Naka nga def?
Answer: Maa ngi fi rekk.
How are you?
Answer: (Thank you) I'm fine.
as you (already) do / do
Answer: I'll be here (here) only
Ba beneen (yoon). Goodbye. until another (sometimes)
jërë-jëf thank you -
waaw Yes Yes
déedéet No No
Fan la ... am? Where is there ...? where it ... exist / have
Fan la fajkat am? Where is a doctor? where healing makers exist / have
Fan la… nekk? Where is …? where it ... is
Fan la loppitan bi nekk? Where is the hospital? where the hospital is located

Sound sample

With the song 7 Seconds, which had a great commercial success in the charts in 1994 , the European listener can get an idea of ​​the language. In the duet with Neneh Cherry and Youssou N'Dour , N'Dour sings the first verse on Wolof.


"Boul ma sene, boul ma guiss madi re nga Fokni mane
Khamouma li neka thi sama souf ak thi guinaw
Beugouma kouma khol oaldine yaw li neka si yaw
Mo ne si man, li ne si mane moye dilene diapale"


  • Michael Franke: gibberish, Wolof for Senegal - word for word. Reise Know-How Verlag, Bielefeld 2002, ISBN 3-89416-280-5 .
  • Gabriele Aïscha Bichler: Bejo, Curay and Bin-bim? The language and culture of the Wolof in Senegal (with attached Wolof textbook). European university publications Volume 90, Peter Lang Verlagsgruppe, Frankfurt am Main 2003, ISBN 3-631-39815-8 .
  • Jean-Léopold Diouf, Marina Yaguello: J'apprends le Wolof - Damay jàng wolof (1 textbook with 4 audio cassettes). Karthala publishing house, Paris 1991, ISBN 2-86537-287-1 .
  • Arame Fal, Rosine Santos, Jean Léonce Doneux: Dictionnaire wolof-français (suivi d'un index français-wolof). Karthala publishing house, Paris, 1990, ISBN 2-86537-233-2 .
  • Michel Malherbe, Cheikh Sall: Parlons Wolof - Langue et culture. L'Harmattan publisher, Paris 1989, ISBN 2-7384-0383-2 . - Note: Uses simplified spelling instead of the CLAD standard orthography.
  • Jean-Léopold Diouf: Grammaire du wolof contemporain. Karthala publishing house, Paris 2003, ISBN 2-84586-267-9 .
  • Jean-Léopold Diouf: Dictionnaire wolof-français et français-wolof. Karthala publishing house, Paris 2003, ISBN 2-84586-454-X .
  • Fallou Ngom: Wolof. Lincom Verlag, Munich 2003, ISBN 3-89586-616-4 .
  • Peace Corps The Gambia: Wollof-English Dictionary . Banjul (The Gambia) 1995. (only refers to the dialect spoken in Gambia, no standard orthography according to CLAD; PDF file; 619 kB)
  • Nyima Kantorek: Wolof Dictionary & Phrasebook. Hippocrene Books, 2005, ISBN 0-7818-1086-8 . - Note: Refers mainly to the dialect spoken in Gambia; no standard orthography according to CLAD.

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. http://www.jo.gouv.sn/spip.php?article4802