Wolof

Latin orthography notes

Updated 25 January, 2024

This page brings together basic information about the Latin script and its use for the Wolof language. It aims to provide a brief, descriptive summary of the modern, printed orthography and typographic features, and to advise how to write Wolof using Unicode.

This page doesn't describe Gambian Wolof.

Referencing this document

Richard Ishida, Wolof (Latin) Orthography Notes, 25-Jan-2024, https://r12a.github.io/scripts/latn/wo

Sample

Select part of this sample text to show a list of characters, with links to more details. Source
Change size:   24px

Doomi aadama yépp danuy juddu, yam ci tawfeex ci sag ak sañ-sañ. Nekk na it ku xam dëgg te ànd na ak xelam, te war naa jëflante ak nawleen, te teg ko ci wàllu mbokk.

Ku ne mën naa wax ne am na ay sañ-sañ ak ay tawfeex yu sosoo ci bataaxal bii te amul xeej ak seen, rawatina ci wàllu xeet, melo, awra, làkk, diiné, peete ci wàllu politig, xalaat, réew mbaa askan woo mën ti sosoo, ci it wàllu juddu alal ak lu mu mën ti doon. Rax sa dolli amul xeej ak seen ci politig, yoon, mbaa doxalin wu aju ci bitim réew mbaa suuf soo xamne nit ki fa la cosaanoo; réew moomu mbaa suuf soosu moom na boppam walla deet, mbaa ñu yamale yengu-yëngoom.

Usage & history

The Wolof language is spoken by around 40% of Senegalese, and others in Mauritania and The Gambia. There are around 5.5 million native speakers in Senegal, and the total number of speakers is a little over 12 million.ewo

Wolof is normally written in the Latin script, but also the Garay script is used by a small number of people, and historically but still occasionally it is written using the Arabic ajami script.

Wolof wɔlɔf Wolof language

As usual, the Latin orthography is a colonial import, replacing a former Arabic script orthography. The latest Latin orthography was standardised between 1971 and 1985 and is maintained by the "Centre de linguistique appliquée de Dakar" (CLAD).

Basic features

The Latin script is an alphabet. This means that it is largely phonetic in nature, where each letter represents a basic sound. See the table to the right for a brief overview of features for the modern Wolof orthography using the Latin script.

Wolof text runs left-to-right in horizontal lines. Words are separated by spaces. The orthography is bicameral. The visual forms of letters don't usually interact.

Wolof has 20 basic consonant letters. All this duplicated in upper- and lowercase.

Four pre-nasalised stops are written using digraphs.

Consonant gemination is common and distinctive, and is written using doubled letters.

This orthography is an alphabet in which vowels are written using 9 vowel letters, each with upper and lowercase forms. Combining marks (4) only occur in decomposed text. Long vowels are indicated by doubling letters, except that a long before geminates or consonant clusters is written using à.

Numbers use ASCII digits.

Line-breaking and justification are primarily based on inter-word spaces.

Character index

Letters

Show

Consonants

ñ␣ŋ
Ñ␣Ŋ

Vowels

à␣ë␣é␣ó
À␣Ë␣É␣Ó

ASCII

mb␣nd␣nj␣ng
a␣b␣c␣d␣e␣f␣g␣i␣j␣k␣l␣m␣n␣o␣p␣q␣r␣s␣t␣u␣w␣x␣y
A␣B␣C␣D␣E␣F␣G␣I␣J␣K␣L␣M␣N␣O␣P␣Q␣R␣S␣T␣U␣W␣X␣Y

Combining marks

Show
̈␣̀␣́␣̃

Punctuation

Show
‘␣’␣“␣”

ASCII

,␣;␣:␣.␣?␣!␣(␣)

Other

Show

To be investigated

%␣Z␣[␣]␣z␣§␣«␣»␣‑␣–␣—␣†␣‡␣…␣‰␣′␣″␣‹␣›

Alphabets

The Wolof alphabet varies slightly from country to country. A small number of sounds are written differently from one region to the next, and there are small diwoerences sometimes in the order of the items in the alphabet. Wikipedia has a list of Alphabets by country, Here we show a superset of alphabetic items and tease them apart below the table.

a␣b␣c␣d␣e␣ë␣f␣g␣i␣j␣k␣l␣m␣n␣ñ␣ŋ␣o␣p␣q␣r␣s␣t␣u␣w␣x␣y
A␣B␣C␣D␣E␣Ë␣F␣G␣I␣J␣K␣L␣M␣N␣Ñ␣Ŋ␣O␣P␣Q␣R␣S␣T␣U␣W␣X␣Y
Items to show in lists

Phonology

The following represents the general repertoire of the Wolof languages and dialects.

Click on the sounds to reveal locations in this document where they are mentioned.

Phones in a lighter colour are non-native or allophones. Source Wikipedia.

Vowel sounds

i u ə ə əː e o ɛ ɛː ɔ ɔː a

Long vowel sounds are distinctive.

Consonant sounds

labial alveolar palatal velar glottal
stop p b t d c ɟ k ɡ ʔ
pre-nasalised ᵐb ⁿd ᶮɟ ᵑɡ  
fricative f s   x  
nasal m n ɲ ŋ
approximant w l j  
trill/flap   r

The glottal stop occurs before standalone vowels, but is not written.

able

Vowel harmony

Vowels in suffixes tend to be altered due to vowel harmony, based on the advanced tongue retraction (ATR) of the word-initial vowel. There are some exceptions.

+ATR vowels are: i u é ó ë.

-ATR vowels are: e o a.

Authors differ in whether they reflect the vowel harmony in writing.wwo

Tone

There is no tone in Wolof.

Structure

Gemination is common and occurs with all consonants except q, ʔ, f, s, and x.wwo

Gemination and consonant clusters do not occur in word-initial position, but can occur medially and in final position, where they may be followed by a faint epenthetic schwa.wwo

p, d, c, and k only occur formally in word-initial position, unless geminated (which is common), or following a nasal. However, word final b, j, and g are typically devoiced and become allophones of those consonants.wwo

Vowels

Vowel letters

8 basic vowel letters and 1 additional (see vlength) are used, each with an upper and lower case form.

i␣u␣é␣ó␣ë␣e␣o␣a␣à
I␣U␣É␣Ó␣Ë␣E␣O␣A␣À

Languages in the Atlantic group of the Niger-Congo family, of which Wolof is one, are unusual in that they are not tonal.

Combining marks used for vowels

The following combining marks only appear in decomposed text.

̈␣̀␣́␣̃

Standalone vowels

Standalone vowels are written using ordinary vowel letters and no special arrangements.

Vowel length

Long vowel sounds are written by doubling the relevant vowels, eg. aateekat

Long and short vowel sounds are phonemically distinctive.

A doubled vowel (indicating length) will typically (but not always) have any accent on only the first letter. The following examples are from the list of Wiktionary lemmas; of the 17 examples with a long é, the example with a double accented letter is one of only 2.

léebéer

téére

à [U+00E0 LATIN SMALL LETTER A WITH GRAVE] (not listed in the Wolof alphabet) is used for long vowels before a prenasalised or geminated consonant.wwo

làmbi

kàddu

Nasalisation

tbd.

Vowel absence

tbd

Vowel sounds to characters

This section maps Wolof vowel sounds to common graphemes in the Latin orthography. Uppercase is not shown. Click on a grapheme to find other mentions on this page (links appear at the bottom of the page). Click on the character name to see examples and for detailed descriptions of the character(s) shown.

 

aa [U+0061 LATIN SMALL LETTER A + U+0061 SMALL LETTER A]

à [U+00E0 LATIN SMALL LETTER A WITH GRAVE] before prenasalised or geminated consonants. 

Consonants

Basic consonant letters

p␣b␣t␣d␣c␣j␣k␣g␣q
P␣B␣T␣D␣C␣J␣K␣G␣Q
f␣s␣x
F␣S␣X
m␣n␣ñ␣ŋ
M␣N␣Ñ␣Ŋ
w␣r␣l␣y
W␣R␣L␣Y

Pre-nasalised stops

mb␣nd␣nj␣ng

Pre-nasalised sounds are written using digraphs, and frequently occur word-initially.

mbaam

màngo

ndam

Onsets

tbd

Finals

tbd

Consonant clusters

tbd

Consonant length

Consonant gemination is common and is phonemically distinctive in Wolof. Gemination is written by doubling the consonant.

bët

bëtt

Consonant sounds to characters

This section maps Wolof consonant sounds to common graphemes in the Latin orthography.

Uppercase is not shown.

Click on a grapheme to find other mentions on this page (links appear at the bottom of the page). Click on the character name to see examples and for detailed descriptions of the character(s) shown.

Stops

Prenasalised

Fricatives

Nasals

Other

Numbers, dates, currency, etc

ASCII digits are used.

Text direction

Wolof text runs left to right in horizontal lines.

Glyph shaping & positioning

You can experiment with examples using the Wolof character app.

Transforming characters

The Latin orthography used for Wolof is bicameral, and applications may need to enable transforms to allow the user to switch between cases. Capital letters are used at the beginning of sentences or titles, and for proper nouns.

Graphemes

Since there are no combining marks or decompositions in normal Wolof text, grapheme clusters correspond to individual characters. Where combining marks appear in decomposed text, the combination of base and combining mark still fits within the definition of a grapheme cluster.

Grapheme clusters

Base (Mark?)

Each letter is a grapheme cluster, even if (rare) combining marks are attached.

Click on the text version of this word to see more detail about the composition.

uppukaay
óom
mbaam

Punctuation & inline features

Word boundaries

Words are separated by spaces.

Phrase & section boundaries

,␣;␣:␣.␣?␣!

Wolof uses ASCII punctuation.

phrase

, [U+002C COMMA]

; [U+003B SEMICOLON]

: [U+003A COLON]

sentence

. [U+002E FULL STOP]

? [U+003F QUESTION MARK]

! [U+0021 EXCLAMATION MARK]

Bracketed text

(␣)

Wolof commonly uses ASCII parentheses to insert parenthetical information into text.

  start end
standard

( [U+0028 LEFT PARENTHESIS]

) [U+0029 RIGHT PARENTHESIS]

Quotations & citations

“␣”␣‘␣’

Wolof texts may use quotation marks around quotations. Of course, due to keyboard design, quotations may also be surrounded by ASCII double and single quote marks.

  start end
initial

[U+201C LEFT DOUBLE QUOTATION MARK]

[U+201D RIGHT DOUBLE QUOTATION MARK]
nested

[U+2018 LEFT SINGLE QUOTATION MARK]

[U+2019 RIGHT SINGLE QUOTATION MARK]

Line & paragraph layout

Line breaking & hyphenation

Lines are generally broken between words.

Line-edge rules

As in almost all writing systems, certain punctuation characters should not appear at the end or the start of a line. The Unicode line-break properties help applications decide whether a character should appear at the start or end of a line.

Show line-breaking properties for characters in the Wolof orthography.

The following list gives examples of typical behaviours for some of the characters used in Wolof. Context may affect the behaviour of some of these and other characters.

Click/tap on the characters to show what they are.

  • “ ‘ (   should not be the last character on a line.
  • ” ’ ) . , ; ! ? %   should not begin a new line.

Text alignment & justification

The principal line-break opportunities are inter-word spaces.

Baselines, line height, etc.

tbd

Wolof uses the 'alphabetic' baseline.

Counters, lists, etc.

Wolof uses ASCII digits as counters.

Page & book layout

Online resources

  1. Wikipedia

References