Wolof is a language
spoken in Senegal, the Gambia, and Mauritania, and it is the native language
of the ethnic group of the Wolof people. It belongs to the Atlantic branch
of the Niger-Congo language family.
"Wolof" is the standard spelling, and is a term that may also refer to the
ethnic group of the Wolofs or to things originating from Wolof culture or
tradition. As an aid to pronunciation, some older French publications use
the spelling "Ouolof"; for the same reason, some English publications adopt
the spelling "Wollof", predominantly referring to Gambian Wolof. Prior to
the 20th Century, the forms "Volof", "Olof" and (rarely) "Jolof", "Jollof"
and "Dyolof" can be found.
In The Gambia, about 15% (approximately 200,000 people) of the population
speak Wolof as a first language, but Wolof has a disproportionate influence
because of its prevalence in Banjul, The Gambia's capital, where 50% of the
population use it as a first language. In Serrekunda, The Gambia's largest
town, only few people have Wolof ethnicity, although approximately 90% of
the population speaks and/or understands Wolof. Increasingly, young people
from hetero-ethnic parents grow up using Wolof as a first language. Overall,
Wolof is gaining influence in The Gambia, partly due to its association with
the popular mbalax music and Senegalese popular culture. In Banjul and
Serrekunda, Wolof has gained lingua franca status and is already more widely
spoken than Mandinka. In the provinces, however, Mandinka remains the most
dominant language of The Gambia. The official language of the Gambia is
English. The Gambia's dominant languages, Mandinka (40%), Wolof (15%) and
Fula (15%), also have official status, but are as yet not used in formal
In Mauritania, about 7% (approximately 185,000 people) of the population
speak Wolof. There, the language is used only around the southern coastal
regions. Mauritania's official language is Arabic; French is used as lingua
There is no officially standardized orthography for Wolof, but the language
institute "Centre de linguistique appliquée de Dakar" (CLAD) is widely
acknowledged as an authority when it comes to spelling rules for Wolof.
Wolof is written with the letters of the Latin alphabet.
Grammatically, Wolof does not dinstinguish between male (masculine), female
(feminine) and neuter; in other words, it does not use a grammatical gender.