1.  Classification / Classification

Wolof belongs to the Northern Branch of the West Atlantic Group of Niger Congo. (Webbook?)

Ethnologue? lists the classification as: Niger-Congo, Atlantic-Congo, Atlantic, Northern, Senegambian, Fula-Wolof, Wolof

2.  Where Spoken / Localisation géographique

It is spoken in Senegal and The Gambia. A few speakers are reported for the southwest corner of Mauritania. (Webbook)

3.  Number of Speakers / Nombre de locuteurs

According to information compiled from Ethnologue:

  • 3,568,060 in Senegal (2002)
  • 10,000 in Mauritania (1993 Johnstone)
  • Subtotal: 3,612,560
  • 165,000 in Gambia (2002)
  • Total all Wolof: 3,777,560

According to Wikipedia, an additional 40% of Senegal's population and a significant number in Gambia speak Wolof as a second/additional language.

4.  Dialect Survey / Enquête de dialecte

Wolof has some dialectal variation, although no detailed survey has come to our attention. The major reported differences between the dialects of Senegal and The Gambia are in the areas of phonology and lexicon (Ka, personal communication, 1984). (Webbook)

According to Ethnologue:

  • Wolof (of Senegal)
    • Baol
    • Cayor
    • Dyolof (Djolof, Jolof)
    • Lebou (Lebu)
    • Jander
    • Waalo
  • Wolof of Gambia (Wolof of Senegal is intelligible with that of Gambia but with significant enough differences to require adaptation of materials. Needs further investigation)

5.  Usage / Utilisation

Wolof is a major language of Senegal, the first language of more than one-third of the population. In addition, it serves as the most widely used non-European lingua franca. [There is/was apparently some effort to have Wolof used in education/literacy.] Wolof is used in radio and television broadcasts and by civil servants (Nussbaum 1970). In The Gambia, Wolof follows behind Malinke and Fulfulde in importance. Plans have been made to use Wolof as the medium of education at the primary level. (Webbook)

Wolof is a national language in Senegal.

Literacy rate in Senegal (according to Ethnologue, accessed 2007):

  • L1: 10%
  • L2: 30%

6.  Orthography / Orthographe

6.1  Status / Statut

A standard Wolof orthography has been in use since 1975. (Webbook) This is Latin-based. Decrees of the government of Senegal in 1971, 1972, 1975 and 1985 apparently set the alhabet and orthography of Wolof in Senegal.

Wolof is also written in Arabic characters or Ajami, and is known as Wolofal. This system existed before colonization and continues to be used today to some degree.

There is also an alphabet called Garay that was developed specifically for Wolof in the early 1960s, but this is apparently almost unused.

6.2  Sample Alphabet / Alphabet exemple

Page from Hartell (1993) with the Wolof orthography of Senegal, on the Rosetta Project site: http://www.rosettaproject.org/archive/wol/ortho-1 . This information is also presented in the Systèmes alphabétiques database at http://sumale.vjf.cnrs.fr/phono/AfficheTableauOrtho2N.php?choixLangue=wolof

A webpage on "Unicode Symbols for Wolof Special Characters" at http://www.bisharat.net/A12N/WolofUnicode.html gives some information on the extended characters and diacritic characters.

Xumma (1999) has the following categorization of the alphabet with explanation in Wolof:
I - Abajadda bi
1 - Araf yi : wolofam na,
a) ñaar-fukki araf yu góor : b, c, d, f, g, j, k, l, m, n, ñ, ŋ, p, q, r, s, t, w, x, y.
b) ci 20 yooyu, 17 lanu ci man a seexal : bb, cc, dd, gg, jj, kk, ll, mm, nn, ññ, ŋŋ, pp, tt, ww, yy, x ak r
c) juróom-ñeenti araf yu nu likké : mb, mp, nc, nd, ng, nj, nk, nq, nt.
d) juróom-ñeenti araf yu jigéen yu gatt : a, à, e, é, ë, i, o, ó, u.
e) ci 9 araf yu jigéen yii, 7 a ci man a gudd : aa, ee, ée, ii, oo, óo, uu.

6.3  How to pronounce Wolof / Comment prononcer le Wolof

1 - Letters pronounced as in English: b, d, f, j, k, l, m, n, p, s, t, w, y

2 - Letters pronounced differently:

  • c = always pronounced like "ch" in cheap.
  • e = always pronounced like "e" in bed.
  • é = is a bit like 'e' in bed, but it is closed.
  • ë = pronounced like 'e' in the
  • g = always pronounced like "g" in gold.
  • i = always pronounced like "i" in fit.
  • ñ = pronounce the the Spanish ñ and the French and the Italian 'gn'.
  • ŋ = like 'ng' in king.
  • o = always pronounced like "o" in lot.
  • ó = is a closed 'o', pronounced like the 'au' in the French word 'gauche'.
  • q = does not exist in English, a little bit like the Spanish "j" but drier.
  • r = pronounced like the Spanish and the Italian r.
  • u = always pronounced like "oo" in book.

3 - Long vowels:

Long vowels are doubled. For exemple, 'a' is pronounced like the 'u' in cup, but 'aa' is pronounced like the 'a' in cast.

This rule applies to all vowels: 'e' , 'é', 'ë', 'i', 'o', 'ó' and u.

4 - Double consonants:

When consonants are doubled they are pronounced clearly doubled as it is done in Italian. For exemple 'Guddi' is pronounced 'gud'+'di'.

See also:

A sample text (Latin script) is shown on the "Language Museum" site: http://www.language-museum.com/w/wolof.php

7.  Use in ICT / Utilisation dans les TIC

7.1  Fonts / Polices

Unicode fonts that include Latin Extended-A? will have the necessary characters for the Latin transcription of Wolof. These are fairly common.

7.2  Keyboard layouts / Dispositions de clavier

The CNRS/LLACAN "AFRO" Tavultesoft Keyman keyboard (for AZERTY) is intended to support this language: http://www.tavultesoft.com/keyman/downloads/keyboards/details.php?KeyboardID=377&FromKeyman=0

7.3  Content on computers & internet / Contenu en informatique et sur l'Internet

Universal Declaration of Human Rights: http://www.unhchr.ch/udhr/lang/wol.htm

L'Union Nationale des Commerçants et Industriels du Sénégal (UNACOIS) has content in Wolof, both in Wolofal and Latin transcriptions:

Wikipedia in Wolof at http://wo.wikipedia.org/ (many articles are shells as of 5-2007)

OKN portal in Wolof: http://www.pasteef.org/

7.4  Localized software / Logiciels localisés

The Alf@net project of ANAFA? has translated Firefox and AbiWord into Wolof.

There is a project to translate Debian (Linux) Installer in Wolof: https://launchpad.net/ubuntu/edgy/+source/debian-installer/+pots/debian-installer

Also GNOME? in Wolof.

Microsoft and the Senegalese govt. concluded an agreement for localising its software in Wolof. [need updated information]

The Open Knowledge Network (OKN) has a Wolof version of its project software [seeking more info]. http://www.openknowledge.net/

7.5  Language codes / Codes de langue


  • ISO 639-1: wo
  • ISO 639-2: wol
  • ISO 639-3: wol

Wolof, Gambian

  • ISO 639-3: wof

7.6  Locales / Paramètres régionaux

7.7  Other / Autre

The African Language Materials Archive has some "Wolof Language Ebooks" at http://www.aiys.org/aodl/public/access/alma_ebooks/index.php

Online dictionaries and wordlists:

Other sites about Wolof language:

8.  Localisation resources / Ressources pour localisation

8.1  Individuals (experts) / Individuelles (experts)

  • Mouhamadou Mamoune Mbacke (translating Debian, GNOME?)
  • Dr. Chérif Mbodj (CLAD)
  • Ousmane Faty Ndongo (ANAFA?)
  • Ibrahima Fall, dit Ibou (major contributor to Wolof Wikipedia)

8.2  Institutions / Institutions


8.3  On the internet / Sur la toile

"Langues Sénégalaises et les NTIC" http://www.quicktopic.com/25/H/6KmBx6F8jES (forum / message board)

"Wolof Accent Codes" (TLT, Penn State Univ.) http://tlt.its.psu.edu/suggestions/international/bylanguage/wolof.html

An article by M. Diki-Kidiri, C. Mbodj, and A.B. Edema on computer terminology in Sängö, Wolof, and Lingala is available (en français) at http://www.erudit.org/revue/meta/1997/v42/n1/003313ar.pdf

9.  Comments / Remarques

10.  References / Références

Chanard, Christian (2006), Systèmes alphabétiques des langues africaines, LLACAN, CNRS, http://sumale.vjf.cnrs.fr/phono/

Dwyer, David (1997), Webbook of African Languages, http://africa.isp.msu.edu/afrlang/hiermenu.html (page on "Wolof," http://africa.isp.msu.edu/afrlang/Wolof_root.html )

Hartell, Rhonda L. ed. 1993. The Alphabets of Africa/Alphabets de Langues Africaines. Dakar: UNESCO & SIL.

Omniglot, "Wolof (Wollof)," http://www.omniglot.com/writing/wolof.htm

[Senegal, Government of], Décret n° 71-566 du 21 mai 1971 relatif à la transcription des langues nationales, modifié par décret n° 72-702 du 16 juin 1972.

[Senegal, Government of], Décrets n° 75-1026 du 10 octobre 1975 et n° 85-1232 du 20 novembre 1985 relatifs à l'orthographe et à la séparation des mots en wolof.

SIL International, Ethnologue: Languages of the World, "Wolof," http://www.ethnologue.com/language/wol

______, "Wolof, Gambian," http://www.ethnologue.com/language/wof

SIL International, "ISO 639 Code Tables," http://www-01.sil.org/iso639-3/codes.asp

U.S. Library of Congress, "ISO 639.2: Codes for the Representation of Names of Languages: Alpha-3 codes arranged alphabetically by the English name of language," http://www.loc.gov/standards/iso639-2/php/English_list.php

Wikipedia, "Wolof language," https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wolof_language

______, "Wolof (langue)," [[https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wolof_(langue)

______, "Wolof (làkk)," https://wo.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wolof_(làkk)

Xumma, Mansóor. 1999. Mbindinu Wolof. Dakar: PAPA (Plan d'action en matière d'éducation non-formelle du Sénégal).

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Categories: Languages, Senegal, Gambia, Southern Mauritania