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How to Greet in Wolof

Updated on April 29, 2018
A distribution of the Wolof people; in reality the Wolof language is spoken throughout most of Senegal.
A distribution of the Wolof people; in reality the Wolof language is spoken throughout most of Senegal.

French may be the official language of Senegal, and a growing one too, but Wolof constitutes the majority of what is actually spoken (although not a majority of what is written) in Senegal. If one is planning to visit Senegal for a long time, outside of commercial, political, or upper educational roles where command over French or to a lesser extent English can make one intelligible, then learning Wolof would probably be useful. For any trip though, a basic command over Wolof greetings can be a boon. These posts represent learning from the class I am taking on Wolof, writing about it as I learn the language, with the intent to expand this article with some additional information from my next class.

Greetings in Senegal are extremely important. Senegalese people tend to greet each other every time they meet, repeatedly. In the streets, greetings happen as well, when one crosses through an alley or when there are fewer people around, one greets one's neighbors. Of course, for big main streets, one doesn't, but still the level of casual greeting is much higher in Senegalese society - at least in Dakar - than in Western nations. Often times these basic street greetings are in French - comment ça va and the reply of "ça va" or "ça va bien" - but more personal greetings and those more in depth would probably be in Wolof.

The main problem with attempting to learn Wolof is that the words are extremely difficult to remember for an English (or indeed for many similar languages) speaker, as the language is very different from English in construction and sound. I find that the way it is spelled is very hard to find the appropriate pronunciation from, and would hence recommend attempting to find online spoken Wolof words, and using these to practice once one has a better grasp of how it sounds.

As a note, nga generally adds an n onto the previous word and then produces a g sound but this is a very hard thing for any English speaker to pronounce apparently.

Wolof Greetings and some Basic Words

Expression
English
French
Salam maalekum
Peace be upon you
Que la paix soit avec toi/Que la paix soit avec vous
Maalekum salaam
Peace be upon you too
Que la paix soit avec toi aussi/Que la paix soit avec vous aussi
Nanga def
How are you?
Comment allez vous ?/Comment vas-tu ?
Maanga fi/Maanga fi rekk
I'm good
Ça va
Yow Nak
And you?
Et toi ?/Et vous ?
Jere jef
Thanks
Merci
Not ko bokk
Don't mention it (technically it means "we share it"
De rien/Je vous en prie (mot à mot nous le partageons)
Naka nga todd
What is your name?
Comment vous appelez vous ?/Comment t'appelle tu ?
Naka nga sant
What is your last name?
Quel est ton nom de famille ?/Quel est votre nom de famille ?
Jàmm rekk
I am at peace (literally peace only - a useful response)
Je suis en paix (mot à mot seulement la paix - une réponse utile)
Alhamdulilaay
Thank god (much more casually used than its English equivalent)
Dieu, merci (plus souvent utilisé que son équivalent français)
Det
No
Non
Déedet
No, no no (accentuated version)
Non, non, non (version accentué)
Waaw (pronounced "wow")
Yes
Yes
Lool (the more Os added, the more accentuated) (la plus des Os ajoutés, le plus accentué)
Very
Très
Lekk naa ba suur
I'm full
Je suis rassasié
Lekka
Eat
Manges/Mangez
Baax na
Good
Bon
Naka was kër ga?
How is everyone? (literally how are the people of the house)
Comment va tout le monde ? (mot à mot comment va le peuple de la maison ?)
Naka waa Kër gi?
How is everyone there? (literally how are the people of the house there)
Comment va tout le monde là ? (mot à mot comment va le peuple de la maison là ?)
Fan nag dekk?
Where do you come from?
D'où viens-tu ?/D'où venez-vous ?
Fan nag deck ci?
Where do you come from there?
D'où viens tu là ? /D'où venez-vous là ?
Maangi dekk
I come from
Je viens de

A Hypothetical Greeting Conversation

Person A: Salam maalekum (Peace be upon you)

Person B: Maalekum Salaam (Peace upon you as well)

Person A: Nanga def ? (How are you ?)

Person B: Maangi fi (rekk). Yow nak ? (I am good. And you?)

Person A: Jàmm rekk (I am at peace)

Person B: Alhamdulilaay. Naka Nga tudd? (Thank god (perhaps "that's good", might be an appropriate English translation). What is your name?

Person A: Naa ngi tudd X. Yow Nak? (I am called X. And you?)

Person B: Naa ngi tudd Y.Naka Nga sant? (I am named Y. What is your last name?)

Person A: Nan ngi sant Z. Fan nag dekk? (I am named Z. Where do you come from?)

Person B: Maangi dekk Senegal. (I come from Senegal.)

© 2017 Ryan Thomas

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    • Georgia Estes profile image

      Georgia Estes 

      15 months ago from Arkansas

      Chi-Tonga (a Zambian language) also uses the "ng" sound.

      In English we have the sound..."ing" at the end of many verbs.

      Just remove the "i". Ngombe...cow, Ngulube...pig, and so forth.

      Enjoyed your article.

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