Summary: Reading Group #8

Bordering on National Language Varieties: Political and linguistic in the Wolof of Senegal and The Gambia. 

As the dissertation is based on Wolof spoken in Senegal and The Gambia, we made sure to invite Wolof speakers to share their experiences so they could give us insights into the varieties of Wolof they speak. This made our discussion insightful and fascinating. The meeting started at 5pm.  

The dissertation focusses on the way Wolof speakers’ ideologies, and sociolinguistic variation help shape a political border.  

Due to some of the participants having no prior experience of linguistics, Clyde, one of the co-organisers, explained some of the terms used by the author: 

  1. She clarified that when the author is talking about ‘language ideologies’, it’s simply referring to the beliefs or feelings about languages as used in their social world. For example, beliefs about certain languages being good or bad, romantic, ugly etc. Are not based on facts. 
  1. In broad terms, what the author means by ‘language practices’ is how language is written, read and spoken. 
  1. ‘Sociolinguistic variation’ is about different ways in which a language is spoken. This can depend on where the person comes from, whether the person is a male or female. 
  1. Sociolinguistic is about the study of language and society. It looks at language policy, accent, dialect, language and gender, etc.  

After a brief explanation of the above terms, Clyde posted a series of questions for our discussion: 

Q1) On page 66 of the article, ‘Wolof is a language without a standard variety, in the sense that there is no prestigious variety and very few people are aware of national orthographies, so its written form is limited’. To what extent do you agree with this statement? Standard is to be understood as ‘good/correct/prestigious’ here.   

Q2. Is Senegalese Wolof superior? 

Q3. p. 94: Which elements of the ‘context’ in which Wolof is used is Saloum affects the extent to which the way they speak conforms with the table below?   

The first question addressed the standard variation. This was an intense debate between various participants regarding which variety of Wolof is standard. The participants were able to make that critical analysis of their thought and experiences with a lot of compelling arguments. One of the participants argued that there is no standard variety of Wolof language. He was not sure what criteria people used to be able to determine the standard Wolof variety. From his point of view, all regional varieties of Wolof are equal.  

Another participant asserted that there is a standard Wolof variety: the Fanafana variety. He considered the Fanafana Wolof speakers as a different variety from those other Wolof speakers in the urban Kombo and Senegal. However, it was argued that for many the words of Fanafanas are difficult to understand. He further emphasized that during his teaching in Kaur senior secondary school, there were a lot of Fanafana communities in that region and the speakers of this variety sound different when compared to other Wolof speakers in the urban area. 

During the discussion, it was further clarified that Fanafanas are recognized to be a set of people who live in rural areas. Therefore, the variety of Wolof they speak is not influenced as much by other European languages such as English and French. Some suggested that people who come from the village speak a more authentic variety of Wolof than those in the urban area. 

One of the participants, a Fanafana speaker, acknowledged that the Fanafanas speak more original versions of the Wolof language. He later emphasized that they can speak a series of sentences without encompassing any foreign words which is common practice among other speakers Wolof speakers in The Gambia and Senegal. He also alluded to the fact that Fanafana Wolof speakers can understand speakers of other varieties of Wolof more easily than they can understand Fanafana Wolof speakers. Therefore, he regarded the Fanafana dialect as the most prestigious. 

The meeting further highlighted that the concept of Fanafana Wolof being unadulterated is relative; however, this is due to its unadulterated status (not influenced by the colonial language) that some people admire the dialect. It was argued that most Fanafana speakers change their dialect when they move to the urban area and the majority of its speakers feel shy to be heard speaking the dialect in public with other Wolof speakers. This led us to wonder why, if the Fanafana variety of Wolof is so prestigious, speakers tend to disassociate with it when faced with other Wolof speakers in urban areas? 

Q2) Our second focussed on the alleged superiority of the Senegalese Wolof. Some recalled that Senegalese Wolof is used in a wide range of domains in Senegalese society, including Parliament, the media, entertainment etc. People who attended the meeting seemed to agree that the Senegalese Wolof has a great influence in The Gambia due to the greater number of Senegalese in our urban area and also their Ndaga Music. 

The meeting also highlighted that the Senegalese Wolof comprises many French words and that many of its speakers often cannot speak without including French words. This trend also applies to the Wolof spoken by the Gambians, although with more focus on English words.  

Q3) The final question explore phonological variation between Gambian and Senegalese Wolof. We spent some time reading the words and discussing how they would be pronounced, whether we felt there were differences as suggested in the reading. We discovered that the answers were far from being straightforward. We also needed the help of our Wolof speakers regarding some of the translations from Wolof to English, e.g. the writer seemed to have translated a ‘house’ as (cherr) instead of (nack). 

The meeting came to an end at 6.30pm.  

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