Ajami in the Senegambia

by Fallou Ngom

Mouhammadou Thierno Dème's Fula - Pulaar Community

Background about Fula - Pulaar

ajami scholarHaal-pula(a)r (also called Fula, Fulfulde, and Fulani) is part of the West Atlantic branch of the Niger- Congo phylum. It is one of the most distributed languages in West Africa, besides the Mande language family. Pulaar, Pular, and Fulakunda are three varieties of Haal-pula(a)r. These three varieties are widely used in commerce, daily communication in their communities in both rural and urban areas and in the media. The Pulaar variety (also known as Toucouleur or Fuutankoore) is typically spoken in the Fuuta Tooro region. Fuuta Tooro (or Fouta Toro) was a major Pulaar geopolitical state, which has its seat in northern Senegal. It is also spoken in Mauritania, in The Gambia and some parts of Mali, Guinea, and Guinea Bissau (Ethnologue, 2005). The Pular variety of Haal-pula(a)r is typically referred to as the Fuuta Jalon (or Fuuta Jaloo) dialect is primarily spoken in Guinea and Sierra Leone. Its speakers are also found in several neighboring countries such as in Senegal, Mali, Guinea Bissau, and The Gambia, to name only a few. Pular is heavily used in commerce in many of these countries today. Fulakunda is the variety of Haal-pula(a)r primarily spoken in the present-day region of Kolda (known as Fuladu) in Casamance, Senegal. It is also spoken in neighboring Guinea Bissau and The Gambia. Some key features distinguish these three Fula varieties (among many). The morpheme /-aani/ is the perfective negative morpheme in the Fuuta Tooro and Fulakunda varieties, while the Fuuta Jalon variety typically uses the morpheme /-aali/. The Fuuta Jalon variety also favors sequences of oral vowels followed by the velar nasal /ŋ/ word-finally (similar to Senegambian Mandinka), while the Fuuta Tooro and Fulakunda varieties typically use sequences of oral vowels followed by the either the alveolar nasal /n/ or the bilabial nasal /m/ in similar positions. The Fulakunda variety stands out as the one variety with significant influence from Mandinka, one of the major languae francae in the Fuladu area of Casamance. While none of these languages is introduced in the public education systems, their Latin-based alphabets are now used in various adult literacy programs in Senegambia, particularly in rural areas, by both government and non-government organizations. Best evidence suggests that ajami is not yet included in any formal literacy program in the Senegambian sub-region. In general, while the Roman script is more commonly used in urban and rural areas where government and non-government literacy programs operate, ajami continues to be a major means of written communication in Muslim areas where these organizations have little presence. Because most speakers of these languages are Muslim, their languages also exhibit strong lexical influence from Arabic.

Background information about Pulaar from Casamance

The city of Ziguinchor is the capital of the southernmost administrative region formerly known as Casamance, Senegal. It is the most ethnically, religiously, culturally and linguistically diverse region of Senegal. It is inhabited by the Jóola, Mandinka, Fulakunda, Wolof, Fuuta Jalon Fula (mostly immigrants or descendants of immigrants from Guinea), and many other ethnic groups. Several of the ethnic groups in the region such as the Balanta, the Jóola Kasa, the Mankanya and Mandjak who live in the region follow Christianity and traditional animist beliefs. It is the region with the highest percentage of animists in Senegal. The principal economic activities in the region are rice cultivation, particularly among the Jóola, peanut cultivation, tourism, commerce and fishing. It is the most lush and green region of Senegal.

Linguistic features of Pulaar from Casamance

The Pulaar variety of Fuuta Tooro also known as the Fuutankoore variety featured in this Ajami document differs from the Fuuta Jalon variety in several ways. The language has between 21 and 22 noun classes, depending on the variety examined. These noun classes may cause consonantal mutations. It is well known that these consonantal mutations and reduplications are common features of Pulaar and other West Atlantic languages. Phonologically, some of the most commonly noticeable traits of the Fuutankoore variety are its use of words such as 'tokooso' (small) rather than 'tosooko' typical of the Fuuta Jalon variety, 'toon' pronounced as /toon/ (there) rather than 'ton' pronounced as /tɔŋ/ in the Fuuta Jalon variety, 'miin' pronounced as /miin/ (I) rather than /miŋ/in the Fuuta Jalon variety, 'holdum' pronounced as /hɔldum/ (what) rather than /hɔnduŋ/ in Fuuta Jalon Fula, the systematic use of the morpheme '-aani' as the perfective negative marker, the morpheme '-at' an imperfective morpheme, and the influence of Wolof (the major lingua franca in Senegambia), to name only a few.
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