The Lord’s Prayer in Wolof:
Suñu bai bi chi asaman,
na sa tur sela,
na sa ngur dika,
lo buga na am chi suf
neke chi asaman.
Mei ñu tey suñu dundu gir gu neka
te bal ñu suñu ton,
naka le ñu bale nha ñu ton,
te bul ñu bayi ñu tabi chi bolis,
wande musal ñu chi lu bon.
Wolof is the native language of the Wolof and Lebou people, who make up 40% of Senegal. Another 40% of Senegalese speak it as a second language. It is also widely known in the Gambia. It used to be common in what is now the US back in the 1600s and 1700s.
- Speakers: 12 million (6 million native).
- Countries: 80% of Senegal, 20% to 25% of the Gambia, 7% of Mauretania.
- Script: mainly Roman, but some write in Wolofal (based on the Arabic alphabet) or even Garay (invented in 1961, pictured below).
- Language family: West Atlantic branch of the Niger-Congo family.
Wolof is a close cousin of Fulani. It is related to most languages in West Africa, like Bambara and Igbo. It is a distant cousin of Bantu languages, like Swahili and Zulu. Cheikh Anta Diop, a Wolof speaker and an Egyptologist, says it is distantly related to Ancient Egyptian.
Unlike most western European languages:
- The time or tense of a verb is shown not by verb endings but by putting words before the verb.
- You can sometimes drop the verb “to be” from a sentence.
These are common in Niger-Congo languages – and Ebonics: “She fine”, “He been gone”, “He done fixed it.” That is no accident: most Black people who came to North America spoke a Niger-Congo language. That shaped how they learned and used English.
In 1670, the Wolof or Jolof empire broke apart. The wars of secession created tons of prisoners of war, who were sold off as slaves. That made Wolof the leading African language in what is now the American South by 1700.
Words and meanings that likely come from Wolof (or a closely related language):
- banana – by way of Spanish or Portuguese.
- chick – from jigen, woman. Helped by how jigen sounds like “chicken”.
- bug – from bugal, to annoy, worry.
- cat (as in “cool cat”) – from -kat, a person who…
- chigger (bedbug) – from jiga, insect, sand flea.
- dig – from deg, to understand.
- done (as in “He done fixed it”) – from doon, to mark an action as completed in the past. Helped by the “done” of “I have done.”
- guy (as in “you guys”) – from gay, fellows, persons, used as a term of address. Helped by the English name “Guy”.
- hip – from hipi or hepi, to open one’s eyes, to know what is going on.
- honky – from hong, red or pink, used to describe white people (you see that in “redneck”).
- jive – from jev, to talk disparagingly.
- juke (as in juke joint and jukebox) – from dzug, to misbehave, lead a disorderly life.
- okay – from waw ke, yes (emphatic).
- nyam, yam, yummy – from nyam, to eat.
- poop – from pup, to defecate, said of children.
– Abagond, 2015.
Sources: Mainly “Africanisms in American Culture” (2005) edited by Joseph E. Holloway; “Black Talk” (2000) by Geneva Smitherman; “The Story of English” (1986) by Robert McCrum, William Cran and Robert MacNeil; Wikipedia (2015).
- Wolof Wikipedia
- Youssou N’Dour & Neneh Cherry: 7 Seconds – sung in English and Wolof
- The libraries of Timbuktu – have books in Wolof
- Mali Empire – Wolof was one of the main languages of the empire
- Standard English
- Roman alphabet
- Wolof speakers: