Wolof is a language spoken in Senegal, The Gambia, and Mauritania, and is the native language of the Wolof people. Like the neighbouring language Fula, it belongs to the Atlantic branch of the Niger-Congo language family. Unlike most other languages of Sub-Saharan Africa, Wolof is not a tonal language.
Wolof is the most widely spoken language in Senegal, spoken not only by members of the Wolof ethnic group (approximately 40 percent of the population) but also by most other Senegalese. Wolof dialects may vary between countries (Senegal and the Gambia) and the rural and urban areas. “Dakar-Wolof”, for instance, is an urban mixture of Wolof, French, Arabic, and even a little English – spoken in Dakar, the capital of Senegal.
“Wolof” is the standard spelling, and is a term that may also refer to the Wolof ethnic group 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”, and “Olof” were used.
Wolof has had some influence on Western European languages. Banana is a Wolof word in English, and the English word yam is believed to be derived from Wolof/Fula nyami, “to eat food.” Hip or hep (e.g., African-American’s now clichéd “hip cat”) is believed by many etymologists to derive from the Wolof hepicat, “one who has his eyes open” or “one who is aware”.
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