Linguistic Landscape of Senegal
“The official language in Senegal is French, but most of the time you’ll hear people speaking Wolof. Wolof is a local language, and it’s actually pretty easy to learn. If you have just a couple phrases in Wolof, people will really appreciate the fact that you are trying to learn the language. First of all, if you are going to greet someone, you actually use the Arabic greeting that is very common all over the Middle East; you would say, ‘Salaam aleykum.’ And then the response to that is, ‘Waleykum asalaam.’ The next question you would always ask someone is equivalent to ‘How are you?’ And in Wolof you would say, ‘Na nga def.’ The response to that is always, ‘Mangi fi rekk.’ It’s interesting that ‘mangi fi rekk’ actually translates as ‘I am here only.’ And this relates to the cultural more in Senegal where if something’s going wrong, you actually really don’t talk about it. So when someone asks how you are, even if you’re doing really poorly, you don’t say that. You also don’t want to say if you’re doing really well, because they believe that might attract bad spirits. So the response is always, ‘Oh, I’m here. Nothing more, nothing less.’
"Wolof is a language of proverbs, and a lot of times they use proverbs to communicate. For example, the most well-known proverb in Wolof is probably, ‘Ndank ndank moy jop golo ci nay,’ and that means, ‘Bit by bit,’ or, ‘Slowly, slowly, you will catch the monkey in the bush.’ So it’s just supposed to be an encouraging thing, go at something slowly and steadily and you’ll eventually be able to obtain your goal. Another one that I really like is, ‘Ku am kuddu du lakk.’ And that means, ‘He who has a spoon will not burn himself.’ And that relates to the fact that in Senegal you generally eat with your hand, but some people, if they don’t want to eat with their hand, they eat with a spoon, or if the food is really hot they’ll eat with a spoon. And this proverb is supposed to convey the fact that if you have connections, like social connections, family connections, business connections, you’ll always be OK. You won’t be left out in the world.”
In this video, a Senegalese expert discusses the various languages spoken in Senegal.