Ajami in the Senegambia

by Fallou Ngom

Serigne Mouhamadou Masokhna Lo's Wolof Community

Background about Wolof

ajami scholarWolof is a major lingua franca in the Senegambian sub-region. It is part of the Northern West Atlantic branch of the Niger-Congo phylum. It is spoken by the overwhelming majority of Senegalese people either as a first or second language in both urban and rural areas. It is also spoken in the neighboring countries of The Gambia and Mauritania. The language is widely used in commerce, daily communication in most urban areas in the Senegambian region and in the media. Some of the major linguistics features of the language are its rich verbal morphology, its different focus systems and its eight noun class system. The Senegalese variety is also known for its geminates, its centralized vowel 'ё', and the heavy Arabic and French lexical influence (the official language of the country). In contrast, the Gambian variety exhibits strong influence from Mandinka (the major language in the country), simplifications of Senegalese Wolof geminates and syllable structure, the replacement of the centralized vowel 'ё' with 'u', and heavy lexical influence from English (the official language of The Gambia).

Background information about Wolof from Diourbel

Diourbel is at the heart of Wolof country in Senegal. The Wolof variety spoken in the region is the Bawol (also known as the Baol) variety. The area is the epicenter of the Murīdiyya Sufi order of Cheikh Ahmadou Bamba. Wolof serves as the major lingua franca in the region. Wolof Ajami (or Wolofal) serves as the major means of written communication in the region for people illiterate in French who constitute the majority of the region's population. Ajami is used more in rural areas than in urban areas where both standard and non-standard French continue to be used, as in many urban areas in Senegal. The major economic activity in the region remains agriculture (particularly peanut cultivation) and commerce. The region has one of the highest rates of expatriates mostly living in Western Europe (especially in Italy and Spain) and North America, most of whom are members of the Murīd Sufi order, and are active Ajami users.

Linguistic features of Wolof from Diourbel

The Wolof variety spoken in the region of Diourbel is known as Bawol (Boal or Bawol-Bawol). The variety exhibits limited French influence in general, strong Arabic influence, and uses "old Wolof" words rarely heard in urban areas. It exhibits the well-known consonantal mutation phenomenon typical of northern West Atlantic languages. Phonologically, a noticeable trait of the Bawol-Bawol variety of Wolof is, besides its rigorous respect of the complex Wolof eight noun class agreements (which tend to be simplified in urban areas), the pervasive use of the glottal fricative /h/ at word-initial position in words such as /ham/ (to have), /hat/ (year), /háll/ (forest) etc. In other Wolof varieties, particularly those spoken in urban areas, the word initial glottal consonant /h/ is systematically deleted, and thus the words /ham/ (to have), /hat/ (year), /háll/ (forest) are typically pronounced as /am/, /at/ and /áll/ etc. Similar features are also attested in Saalum-Saalum Wolof primarily spoken in the region of Kaolack. More extensive research on these dialectal features of Wolof is needed.
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