THE WOLOF LANGUAGE
Wolof is an African dialect mainly spread in Senegal and Gambia. As well as a bit in Mauritania which counts about 7% speakers along the border with Senegal. As we can expect, it is the native language of the Wolof people. It belongs to the Senegambian branch of the Niger Congo language group. Unlike most other dialects of this group, Wolof has no tone.
For covering a large part of Senegal, it is then the main dialect spoken in Senegal. This, supported by the fact that Wolof people count for 40% of the country. Also most other people there speak it as a second language. In total, we count about 10 million Wolof native speakers. But French is the only official language of the country. As a result, all people in Senegal speak French, which is then the main language.
Also, we have to note that the Wolof language includes some dialects which vary between rural and urban areas. For instance, the main dialect of Dakar, the capital, is an urban mixt of Wolof, French, and Arabic.
The word Wolof also refers to the Wolof culture. Among the variants are the old French Ouolof and the mainly Gambian Wollof, Jolof, Jollof, etc. The latter, now refers either to the Jolof Empire or to jollof rice, a common West African rice dish.
Wolof differs from Mautitania to Senegal by its lexicon. Not to mention that the first also uses Arabic while the second uses French as official language. However, they can understand each other quite well.
All vowels may be long (doubled) or short. /aː/ is written ⟨à⟩ before a long (doubled) consonant (example làmbi "arena"). When we double é and ó, we often place the accent mark only on the first letter. Vowels fall into two sets according to ATR ((advanced tongue root). Thus, i u é ó ë are +ATR, while e o a are the −ATR analogues of é ó ë.
We can double all simple nasals, oral stops apart from q and glottal, and the sonorants l r y w. On a one hand, the doubled q may occur in an initial position. On the other hand, doubled consonants and consonant clusters, including nt, nc, nk, nq, are restricted to word in medial and final position.
Quite unique in the language world, we cannot conjugate verbs in Wolof. In order to expresss different tenses, we conjugate the personal pronouns instead. The latter also refer to as what we call "focus form".
In fact, tenses like present, past and future, are not very important as they play almost no role. However, of crucial importance is the aspect of action from the speaker's point of view. About that, the main is to know whether an action is finished or still going on. Also, we have to consider other aspects to know whether it is a regular action or an action which will take place for sure. As well as whether we want to highlight the role of the subject, predicate, or object of the sentence. In short, not verbs but aspects make tenses.
A speaker may express that an action took place in the past just by adding suffix [oon] to the verb. For instance : Demoon naa Ndakaaru (I already went to Dakar).
Wolof has two main verb classes: dynamic and stative. Verbs are not inflected. Instead we use pronouns to mark person, aspect, tense, and focus.
Wolof does not mark any gender. But there is one pronoun which gathers the English 'he', 'she', and 'it'. Thus, to know the person's sex, we can add bu góor (male) or bu jigéen (female).
Markers of noun (articles) agree with the noun they modify. There are at least ten articles in Wolof. Some of them are for singular nouns, others for plural nouns. In large cities like Dakar, people often use the article -bi as a generic article when we do not know the actual one. While any loan noun from French or English uses -bi, most Arabic or religious terms use -ji. Also, the four nouns that refer to persons use -ki/-ñi. Plus, the plural form adds -yi at the end of words.
The Wolof system is based on the numbers "5" and "10". Its form is very regular, similar to Chinese.
For example: benn "one", juróom "five", can give juróom benn "six" ("five + one"). Other example: fukk "ten" and juróom benn "six" give fukk ak juróom benn "sixteen" ("ten + five one"). As for ordinal numbers, you only need to add [éél] to the cardinal number. Thus, ñaar (two) becomes ñaaréél (second).