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Wolof language

StatesSenegal Gambia
RegionWest Africa
Speakers5.5 million;
12.3 million as a second language
EthnicityWolof people, Lebou people
Fam2Atlantic Congo
Fam3Northern Atlantic
Fam4Wolof Nyun
AgencyCLAD (Centre de linguistique appliquée de Dakar)
Lc1wol|ld1=Wolof|ll1=Wolof language
Lc2wof|ld2=Gambian Wolof

     Home | Language | Wolof language

Wolof is a language spoken in Senegal, The Gambia, and Mauritania, and is the native language of the Wolof people. Like the neighbouring languages Serer and Fula, it belongs to the Atlantic branch of the Niger Congo language family. Unlike most other languages of Sub-Saharan Africa, Wolof is not a tonal language.

Wolof is the most widely spoken language in Senegal, spoken not only by members of the Wolof ethnic group (approximately 40 percent of the population) but also by most other Senegalese.

Note however that, this figure is misleading because other tribes who have been Wolofized and speak the Wolof language are added to this figure when in actual fact they are not Wolofs at all.

Wolof dialects may vary between countries (Senegal and the Gambia) and the rural and urban areas. "Dakar-Wolof", for instance, is an urban mixture of Wolof, French, Arabic, and even a little English - spoken in Dakar, the capital of Senegal.

"Wolof" is the standard spelling, and is a term that may also refer to the Wolof ethnic group or to things originating from Wolof culture or tradition. As an aid to pronunciation, some older French publications use the spelling "Ouolof"; for the same reason, some English publications adopt the spelling "Wollof", predominantly referring to Gambian Wolof. Prior to the 20th century, the forms "Volof", and "Olof" were used.

Wolof has had some influence on Western European languages. Banana is possibly a Wolof word in English , and the English word yam is believed to be derived from Wolof/Fula nyami, "to eat food."

It should be stated that, the word "nyam" and its derivatives "nyami" attributed to the Wolof people or Fula here actually comes from the language of the Serer people, from the standard Serer-Sine word "gari ñam" (pronounced "gari nyam") meaning "to eat", from the Serer Kingdom of Sine. The Wolof people who have immigrated to another Serer Kingdom called the Kingdom of Saloum picked it up from the Serer people of Saloum (the indigenous people). In Serer Saloum, the word is "ñaam" (nyam) which means "to eat". Whilst in Serer-Sine (proper Serer) it is "gari ñam" (gari nyam) meaning "to eat", in Saloum it is merely shortened to "ñaam". The word derives from the proper Serer word "ñam" (nyam) which means "food". It is from that the Senegambian word "ñaambi" (cassava) originated from. These words are used by all Senegambians not just by the Serer people (the progenitors of these words), but also by the Wolof people, the Fula people, the Mandinka people etc. The Serer people also being ancestors of the Wolof people as they are the ancestors of the Toucouleur people and Lebou people, their language has also been borrowed and diluted by these groups. "Cheikh Anta Diop had defended the hypothesis that the Wollofs were not originally a group apart but the result of a process of metissage so to speak of different ethnic groups: Serere, Lebou, Toucoulor, Mandinka and Sarahuli who, in their evolution i.e. the Wollofs, transformed themselves into an autonomous "tribe" with a strong capacity to assimilate, absorb or integrate with all other ethnic groups. The Serer people also have an ancient tradition of farming not just millet and other crops but cassava ("ñaambi") as well.

Hip or hep (e.g., African-American's now clichéd "hip cat") is believed by many etymologists to derive from the Wolof hepicat, "one who has his eyes open" or "one who is aware".

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