Words in Wolof to Know if you Visit Senegal
Wolof, the language of the thousands proverbs, the one that every Wolof speaking person will tell you: ‘it is so easy to learn!!’, and that every non-Wolof speaking person will definitively not agree, the language without an official writing way (maybe there is one, but haven’t found it yet), the same Wolof that Senegalese people will not understand why you cannot speak it… ‘You have been here, what? A week, you should speak by now!’, this language….for which I have mixed feelings.
I arrived in October, really willing to learn it! I started reading websites, watching short videos, taking notes, trying to find a professor in Thies. My memory cooperated a little bit, but not a lot. I even took a series of six courses with a teacher sent by the CECI team in Dakar. The thing is…African languages are so different, I could not associate the words with nothing I knew, so, they came and went not always willing to take residence on my old brain… Very different to my experience learning English and French (I am a Spanish speaking from Argentina) in Montreal at 24 years of age (18 years ago!), or even Italian and Portuguese in my travels. I could understand so quickly and make all king of connections, of course, the Latin root was always present, and even for English, lots of words resemble, and we are used to hearing it by years of watching subtitled movies and songs!
I am almost at the end of my mandate now, I cannot say that I speak Wolof, I can only say that I can try some greetings, and understand some words, and for some of them…I really liked the way they mix in the French language, which is also spoken here.
So, here goes my little list, the top 10 words or phrases you should know if you come to visit the TERANGA (the welcoming) country…but be prepared, you would be questioned on you ignorance of the language!
1- JËRE-JËF: being grateful is of main importance, so, I started with ‘thank you’
2-NA NGA DEF? MAA NGIY FI: ‘How are you? I am here‘…meaning ‘I am well’
3-ANA WAA KËR GA?: ‘How is the people in your house?’ Being KËR ‘house‘. Did I mention that salutations are very long? You are expected to ask how are you? how is your house? your health? your job? the children? and after all this, just to be sure, so…you are ok?
4- XAALIS : one word I was always hearing in conversations…can you guess? It means money! You can hear often ‘AMUMA XAALIS’: I don’t have money. Useful to know, how to ask NAATA LAY JAR? ‘How much is it?’
5-JAMM REKK: JAMM meaning peace is always present in conversations. I learned quickly to say JAMM REKK (in peace only), a good way to answer all the variations of ‘How are you?’ REKK being ‘only’, which you can add to mostly other words, even in French as ‘de fois REKK’ (sometimes only)
6-SAMA XARIT: my friend, so nice when your colleagues identified you as one!
7-BALMA: I am sorry, this expression is used in the Korité celebration when you greet friends and family, you say sorry for all the wrongs done in the year, even the ones you did not notice you committed.
8- CEEBU JЁN, the typical dish of the country which consists in rice (CEEBU), fish (JЁN) and vegetables in a big communal bowl. And if you ate too much, and drank too much ATTAAYA (tea) you can always say ‘SURNA’: I have had enough, I am full!
9- JËKKËR and JABAR: husband and wife, at least I understand when men are asking if I have a husband, and/or if I want one…they may offer their help if I ever need one.
10- NOO TUDD?: children will often ask you ‘what is your name?’
Of course, all said here is only my particular experience, things could be completely different depending on our job, personality, past and more… For me, I just wished to have more memory, to remember what I was learning and to have done it in a more orderly way…
For my last 5 weeks here and in conclusion, I can only say:
BA BÉNÉNE YONE (until next time) and NIO FAR (we are together)!
And before any comment, I say BALMA if I did not write or translated correctly some of the words. The fault is all mine.
A note: the book « J’apprends le wolof » (I learn the Wolof) de Jean Léopold Diouf et Marina Yaguello may be a reference of orthography and vocabulary.