Since Wolof was not formally a written language there is no universal system for the spelling of Wolof words which often makes it difficult for the begining student to distinguish between similar sounding words when reading Wolof as opposed to actually being able to hear it.
There are also different dialects of Wolof such as Gambian & Senegalese, rural & urban and even traditional & modern. Although the differences are generally slight it can still be somewhat confusing for non-native speakers trying to learn the language.
The distinction between short and long vowels is very important, because it is sometimes the only way to distinguish pairs of words which have different meanings. Long vowels are generally doubled, while short vowels are not.
(Tip: Mouse over the Wolof words and see the definition, also mousing over some of the English words will give the Wolof equivalent.)
|a||absorb||banta, tapa, santa|
|aa||far||laaj, naaj, caabi|
|e||get||dem, lem, gerte|
|i||in, pit||nit, simiis, timis|
|ii||meet||siis, lii, kii|
|x||(see note) *||xale, xaalis|
* There is no English equivalent for this sound, it is a slightly guttural sound that is between x and k. It may also be pronounced merely as h, especially among non-natives.
From time to time you may come across a Wolof word that uses an unsual letter that looks like this:
This is called ‘velar nasal’. It is another prenasalized consonant that sounds similar to the ng sound in the English word ‘sing’. This is not to be confused with the consonant ‘ng’ in the table above which has a ‘j’ sound.
For more on Wolof pronunciation please click HERE .