Wolof grammar

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This audio course for learning Wolof is based on rehearsal and active listening. Wolof is the Lingua Franca of Senegal and spoken not only by more than 40% of the population of which it is the mother tongue but also by a large part of the various ethnic groups of the country (80% of the population).

Cours de Wolof - Leçon #1 - @ Copyright LIMBA
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Où parle-t-on le wolof?

 

La langue wolof est parlée principalement au Sénégal par plus de 10 millions de locuteurs. Des populations parlant le wolof sont aussi présentes en Gambie (environ 230 000 personnes) ainsi qu'en Mauritanie (plus de 15 000). 

The Senegalese are recognized in the Francophonie for their warmth and kindness. Although French is widely understood throughout the country, knowledge of Wolof allows a real foray into Senegalese culture. This audio course to learn Wolof will allow visitors and those having contact with the Senegalese people to access a rich but little-known culture.

Wolof is the main language of two important ethnic groups (Wolofs and Lebous) and since it is spoken or understood by more than 80% of the population of Senegal, it is the most used in various media (along with French).

Languages ​​of Senegal

Linguists know that Wolof has a similar origin with Fulani (a language spoken by nearly 23 million inhabitants in the African countries of the region). Although intercomprehension is impossible between people speaking Wolof and Fulani, the common origin has been attested by several linguists (a bit like between French and Polish which are both languages ​​belonging to the Indo-European family) .

Wolof is part of the Senegalese-Guinean language family. The most important language (in terms of number of speakers is Fulani) in this family. The other languages ​​of Senegal are part of the Mande language family (Bambara, Soninké, Mandingo, Soussou).

It is important to know that other languages ​​are also spoken in Senegal without being part of one of these two groups (Mande or Senegalese-Guinean). There is the "Moor" spoken by at least 50,000 people. It is a form of Arabic, called "hassanya".

Here is the% of languages ​​spoken in Senegal (mother tongue speakers)

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  • Wolof 40%

  • Fulani (also called pulaar) 17.5%

  • serer 16.5%

  • diola 8%

  • Mandingo or Malinké 6%

  • soninké or sarakolé 6%

When one knows the linguistic diversity in Africa, it should not be surprised to learn that several other languages ​​are spoken by ethnic groups (often few) less known. To name a few: bassari, coniagui, balante, bedik .... These linguistic groups are found mainly in Casamance and Eastern Senegal.

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History of Wolof

Wolof, mainly spoken in Senegal, finds its origins in the heart of the Atlantic branch of the Niger-Congolese languages. Drawing its source from Pulaar , the Fulani people have a nomadic tradition still called Fulbe or Fulani in Arabic and is typically of Islamic custom. Wolof is also present in Mauritania, Cameroon, Gambia and Chad, but more rarely in the West and in Europe.

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It is important to know that the cultural mode of a language goes far beyond the framework of a single ethnic group. As regards Wolof, the language took root from Lôf, former province of Tekrou, then from Wâlo. The foundation and expansion in the 14th century of the Diollof empire provided it with real support. The realities conveyed by the rise of urban and technical cultures have prompted a renewal of its lexicon and have included Portuguese, English and French words. Like most African languages ​​of oral tradition, Islamization constituted the first contact with civilization with a written tradition and the first attempts at writing Wolof were made in Arabic characters: "Wolofal" still used in particular for Islamic religious poetry. It was not until 1971 that Wolof did not take an official script in Latin characters.

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Thanks to the work of the Center for Applied Linguistics of Dakar (CLAD) light has been shed on previous linguistic works, that is to say those carried out during the colonial period and subsequently all the grammatical rules, conjugation, spelling which are currently in use. force especially in language teaching. Several authors and writers have worked in this direction.

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Wolof grammar and basic rules

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Here are some grammatical elements that can help students learning the Wolof language, the main language of Senegal. These are the main aspects of the language. The information in this section is taken from the book "Parlons wolof" edited by Harmattan and written by Michel Malherbe and Cheikh Sall.

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Wolof writing

Wolof, like the vast majority of languages ​​on the African continent, was linked to the oral tradition for a very long time. The first contacts with Islam in the 11th century of our era naturally developed a system directly influenced by the Arabic alphabet. It was much later that the Latin alphabet was integrated into everyday life.

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Wolof is a language with an oral tradition. Contacts with Islam from the tenth century, and with explorers and missionaries from Europe around the middle of the fifteenth century introduced the practice of writing Wolof. The use of the Latin alphabet and the Arabic character as in the French language leaves its borrowings in the transcription of Wolof without forgetting the colonial aspect.

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Due to the phonological specificities of the Wolof language, the letters: h , v , and z were not used. On the other hand, we introduced the letters ñ = gn French and ŋ = [ŋ] for the velar sound that we hear in final position in English words like " sing ". Thus the Wolof alphabet has 25 letters: abcdefgijklmn ñ ŋ opqrstuwxy

The Wolof phonological system

Distinctive sound units (phonemes in Wolof)

Wolof has 54 units of distinctive sounds that make it possible to establish differences in meaning in terms of vocabulary. Among these distinctive sound units are 15 vowel type (or vowel arrangement) and 39 consonants (or consonant arrangement).

The vowels are: a, aa, e, ee, é, ée, ë, i, ii, ó, óo, o, oo, u, uu

The consonants are: b, bb, c, d, f, g, gg, j, jj, k, l, ll, m, mm, mb, mp, n, nc, nd, ng, nj, nk, nn, nq, nt, ñ, ññ, ŋ, ŋŋ, p, q, r, s, t, tt, w, x, y

The distinctive features of phonemes in Wolof

Wolof vowels

The vowels are mainly distinguished from each other by:

  • The fact that they occur in the front, in the center or in the back of the mouth channel during their emission,

  • Their duration can be short or long,

  • The more or less large opening of the mouth channel (or aperture). With respect to this criterion, a vowel is closed or half-closed, open or half-open.

Closed front vowels: Short: i - tis = to splash, Long: ii - tiis = to be morally painful

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Pre-closed vowels: Short: é - wér = to be healthy, Long: ée - wéer = to press something against something

Vowels before mid-open: Brief: e - ren = this current year, Long: ee - reen = root

Mid-closed central vowels: Brief: ë - kër = house

Open central vowels: Short: a - sa = ton / ta, Long: aa - saa = instant

Closed back vowels: Short: u - rus = to experience discomfort, to be confused, Long: uu - ruus = to crumble, to crumble…

Mid-closed back vowels: Brief: ó - tóx = smoking, Long: óó - tóóx = to be saturated

Mid-open back vowels: short: o - wor = to betray, long: oo - woor = to fast.

Like vowels, consonants also have their own particularities; they are classified: in deaf or sonorous consonants, in occlusive, constrictive or nasal consonants, themselves being divided into simple, twin or complex consonants.

Parts of speech in Wolof

In Wolof, three classes of discourse were proposed by the missionary author Kobès: substantives, particles and attributes. The nouns are declined and the verbs are conjugated. The same word can be used in two or three different ways (nouns, verbs, adverbs, prepositions…). We also have invariable words that admit neither declension, number nor genre.

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Male and female in Wolof

In Wolof, there is no such thing as a genre. We are talking more about classes, which number 10 in Wolof. The class is characterized by an article which is placed after the word (like articles in French)

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Possessive adjectives in Wolof

Possessive adjectives like "my" or "my" are always placed before the noun except those in the third person like (his, his, his). Thus the word "work" which is said "ligeey" can be accompanied by " samma ligeey " to mean "my work". To say "your work", we will say " its ligeey ".

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Numbers in Wolof

Wolof's number system is influenced by the fifteen system (by 5). So after the number 5 " juroom ", we will say 6 " juroom been " (literally 5 + 1), 7 " juroom naar " (5 + 2) and so on.

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Wolof conjugation and verbs  

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The nature of a verb in Wolof is determined in relation to its ability to support personal pronouns. There are six personal pronouns in Wolof:

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I = dama , Tu = danga , He / she = dafa , We = damaged , You = dangeen , They / they = deñu .

It is important to stress that even if there is a grammatical similarity between French and Wolof, we still encounter important differences in the morphological construction of the conjugation. The verb to be having no equivalent in Wolof, the "verb" of state will then play its role.

Wolof example:

a) dama contan - I'm happy

b) Danga soon - You are tired

c) Dafa marr - He / she is thirsty

d) Dañu tang - We are hot

e) Dangeen feebar - You are sick

f) Deñu noppalu - They rest

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Unlike French, the voice in Wolof does not correspond to the same term as that of French. So we mean by voice in Wolof: the affirmative and the negative.

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In addition, the conjugation in Wolof includes ten modes: the infinitive, the enunciative, the subjective, the objective, the causative, the imperative, the subjunctive, the suppositive, the gerund and the accusative.

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Ex: The enunciative: sopà nâ ko

I love her (I love her)

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In addition, time is distinguished in Wolof by the main tenses: the past, the present, the future; but she doesn't have much secondary time. On the other hand, the use of circumstantial verbs as auxiliaries, allows him to express the nuances which do not exist in the conjugation of European languages.

The present: The expression of "the action in the process of taking place" is assimilated to the value of an immediate present or even the form "ing" of English. We encounter a modification of personal pronouns with the addition of a '' y '' except in the second person plural (vous) of French.

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Ex: leave - dem

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I'm leaving - damay dem

You're leaving - dangay dem

He / she leaves - dafay dem

We leave - dañuy dem

You go - dangeen dem

They leave - deñuy dem

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The imperfect in Wolof: in the imperfect we find the same personal pronouns to which we add the morpheme "doon".

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Ex: sleeping - nelaw

I was sleeping - dama doon nelaw

You were sleeping - danga doon nelaw

He / she was sleeping - dafa doon nelaw

We were sleeping - dañu doon nelaw

You were sleeping - dangeen doon nelaw

They slept - deñu doon nelaw

The Wolof conjugation is therefore constructed according to a process of affixing a morpheme indicating time or by the addition of a letter as in the case of the '' y '' expressing the action taking place in a trial in the present tense. But in the past tense, we add to personal pronouns the morpheme "oon" after verbs with the following pronouns: naa, nga, na, nañu, ngeen, nañu. Here the fourth and the sixth person look alike, only the context and the understanding of the interlocutors can define which case it is.

Ex: leave - dem

I'm gone - demoon naa

You're gone - demoon nga

He / she is gone - demoon na

We're gone - demoon nañu

You're gone - demoon ngeen

They left - demoon nañu

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The future is formed with: dinaa , dinga , dina , dinañu , dingeen and dinañu .

Ex: work - ligeey

I will work - dinaa ligeey

You will work - dinga ligeey

He / she will work - dina ligeey

We will work - dinañu ligeey

You will work - dingeen ligeey

They will work - dinañu ligeey

The negation is composed from the following pronouns: duma, doo, du, duñu, du, ngeen, and duñu followed by the verb.

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Ex: I don't watch / duma xool

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In Wolof, the interrogative sentence is constructed with a verb followed by the pronouns: naa, nga, na, nañu, ngeen and neñu.

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Ex: do I see? / Xool naa?

Does? / Ndax?

Is he sleeping? / Ndax dafay nelaw?

Am I leaving? / Ndax damay dem?

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We therefore meet, depending on the time, a modification of the pronoun or the verb. This is what defines the subtleties of the conjugation of Wolof. The intellectual gymnastics are carried out quickly by the speakers plus a sustained prosodic rhythm, singing and bouncing.

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There are eight conjugations in Wolof:

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  • The perfect : indicates the moment of the utterance (the suffix '' y '' of the incomplete).

  • The presentative : presents a coincidence between the process and the situation of the enunciation.

  • The narrative-aorist / accomplished : the process is identified in relation to a situational landmark.

  • The imperative : indicates the order of execution of which the interlocutor is the subject.

  • The mandatory : indicates the order to his interlocutor to have the trial carried out by his subject.

  • The emphatic of the verb, of the subject and of the complement : indicates the choice of the enunciator which identifies the verb, the subject or the complement of the predicative relation by distinguishing it from a set of possible values.

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It should also be noted that the order of the constituents, in Wolof, will be carried out according to the conjugation used. Four verbal morphemes are also added (analytical or synthetic), either the past tense marker "oon" or "--woon" if the verb ends with a vowel, the unfulfilled ones "y" and " di >> and the negative << ul >>.

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The Wolof conjugation system therefore involves different morphemes depending on the tenses used and the aspect sought by the speaker. The morphological approach is therefore inflectional and is based on an operation of prefixes and suffixes.

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Numbers in Wolof

In Wolof, you can count in all languages ​​but more easily with a simple numbering system (quinary and tens: 6 = 5 + 1 and 11 = 10 and 1….).

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Ex: 0 = tus, 1 = been, 2 = ñaar, 3 = ñett, 4 = ñent, 5 = juróom, 6 = juróom been (5 + 1), 7 = juróom ñaar, 8 = juróom ñett, 9 = juróom ñent , 10 = fukk, 11 = fukk ag been, 12 = fukk ag ñaar, 13 = fukk ag ñett, 14 = fukk ag ñent, 15 = fukk ag juróom, 16 = fukk ag juróom been, 17 = fukk ag juróom ñaar, 18 = fukk ag juróom ñett, 19 = fukk ag juróom ñent, 20 = ñaar fukk, 21 = ñaar fukk ag been (2 * 10), 30 = fanweer, 40 = ñent fukk, 50 = juróom, 60 = juróom been fukk, 70 = juróom ñaar fukk, 80 = juróom ñett fukk, 90 = juróom ñent fukk, 100 = téeméer, 1000 = junni.

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Wolof is a complex language but more or less structured among a panoply of African vehicular languages ​​of oral tradition. It should also be noted that it is a living language, its writing evolves and adapts to modern French and Latin linguistic standards.

Cours de Wolof - Leçon #1 - @ Copyright LIMBA
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