Ajami Scripts in the Senegalese Speech Community

  • Fallou Ngom


Wolofal (from Wolof: Wolof language or ethnic group and ‘-al’: causative morpheme) is an Ajami writing (a generic term commonly used to refer to non-Arabic languages written with Arabic scripts) used to transliterate Wolof in Senegal. It results from the early Islamization of the major Muslim ethnic groups in the country, especially the Pulaar, the Wolof and the Mandinka. Although Senegal is considered to be a French-speaking country, ironically over 50% of the Senegalese people are thought to be illiterate in French. French literacy is restricted to the minority educated group mostly found in urban areas. Because the literacy rate in French is very small in the country, especially among older people, Wolofal remains a major means of written communication among people who are illiterate in French and who have attended Qurʾānic schools. It is used by these people to write letters, run their informal businesses and read religious poems and writings. This paper is based upon fieldwork conducted in Senegal in the summer of 2004. It discusses the orthographic system of Wolofal (compared to Arabic) and provides a sociolinguistic profile of communities in which it serves as major means of written communication.