Click Wolof examples for audio pronunciation. An audio player will open in a new browser tab. (Pro tip: on a Mac tap trackpad with three fingers to preview link without leaving page).
|VOWEL||ENGLISH EQUIVALENT||WOLOF EXAMPLES|
|a||absorb naan||sant last name|
|aa||far sore||laaj question|
|e||get jot||dem to go|
|ee||where ana||seet examine|
|é||say wax||bés day|
|ée||sane regle||wéer lean against|
|ë||bird picc||kër house|
|i||pit leeñ||fit courage|
|ii||meet daje||siis not wanting to share|
|o||moment saa||fomp wipe clean|
|ó||no déedéet||jóg get up|
|oo||door bunt||loos neck|
|óo||phone telefon||fóon to smell|
|u||cook togg||ubbi to open|
|uu||moon weer||juuyoo to miss each other|
|CONSONANT||ENGLISH EQUIVALENT||WOLOF EXAMPLES|
|b||boy bóoy||ban clay|
|c||chat werante||ceeb rice|
|d||dog xaj||dara nothing|
|f||fire safara||fas tie|
|g||good baax||agsi arrive|
|j||job liggéey||jox give|
|k||keep denc||kaani hot pepper|
|l||land suuf||lakk burn|
|m||mark màndarga||naam answer to name|
|n||nice rafet||àdduna life here below|
|ñ||genius xel||gaañ hurt|
|p||paint pentuur||puso sewing needle|
|r||rat janax||raxas cleanse|
|s||soup supp||kawas sock|
|t||take fab||tubaab westerner|
|w||wait nég||kéwél red-fronted gazelle|
|x||(see note) *||xaalis money|
|y||yes waaw||yaa to be wide|
* 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.
|nd||ndey expression of pity|
|ng||ngan to be the guest of a host|
Attribution for audio files: Mamadou Sy [CC BY 2.0 fr], via Wikimedia Commons
Basic layout for pronunciation guide adopted from the Peace Corps Wolof English dictionary.
Wolof pronunciation is primarily a one-to-one correlation between graphemes (distinct units of writing) and phonemes (distinct units of sound). In other words, each letter of the Wolof alphabet should correspond to a single vocal pronunciation.
|Vowel||How to Pronounce|
|a||pronounce a as in ‘butter‘|
|à||pronounce à as in British ‘life‘|
|aa||pronounce aa as in ‘far’|
|e||pronounce e as in ‘bedroom‘|
|ee||pronounce ee as in ‘where’|
|é||pronounce é as in ‘big‘|
|éé||pronounce éé as in ‘sane’|
|ë||pronounce ë as in ‘bird‘|
|i||pronounce i as in ‘beetle‘|
|ii||pronounce ii as in ‘meet’|
|o||pronounce o as in ‘hot‘|
|ó||pronounce ó as in French ‘beau‘|
|oo||pronounce oo as in ‘door’|
|óó||pronounce óó as in ‘phone’|
|u||pronounce u as in ‘book‘|
(with lips rounded)
|uu||pronounce uu as in ‘moon’|
Wolof vowels can be written twice to indicate they are pronounced as long vowels.
e.g. xol (heart); xool (to look at).
|Consonant||How to Pronounce|
|b||pronounce b as in ‘boy’|
|c||pronounce c as in ‘chat‘|
(with tongue close to top front teeth)
|d||pronounce d as in ‘dog’|
|f||pronounce f as in ‘fire’|
|g||pronounce g as in ‘good’|
|j||pronounce j as in ‘jazz’|
(with tongue close to top front teeth)
|k||pronounce k as in ‘cool’|
|l||pronounce l as in ‘land’|
|m||pronounce m as in ‘moon’|
|n||pronounce n as in ‘not’|
|ñ||pronounce ñ as in ‘onion‘|
(with tip of tongue behind front teeth)
|p||pronounce p as in ‘park’|
|q||pronounce q like a ‘k‘ pulled back into throat|
(audio example: sëqat — cough)
|r||pronounce r as in ‘rat’|
|s||pronounce s as in ‘sign’|
|t||pronounce t as in ‘stamp’|
|w||pronounce w as in ‘war’|
|x||pronounce x as in Scottish ‘loch‘|
|y||pronounce y as in ‘your’|
For prenasalized consonants slightly pronounce the initial letter while putting greater emphasis on the second letter. For example: mBUH for the consonant mb (hint: form your lips like you are about to make the sound for m and then sound out b). The proper way to do this is through the nose but even if you have trouble nasalizing simply pronouncing it like the example above should suffice.
Prenasalized consonants: mb, mp, nd, ng, nj.
Finally, there’s one other nasalized consonant that is found in some Wolof words. It is called the velar nasal and it looks like ŋ. This letter is pronounced similar to the ng in the English word single.
With the exception of f, s, and r, all consonants have long and short counterparts. Long consonants are indicated by double consonants.
e.g. dalla (shoes); matta (firewood). When pronounced slowly one hears: dal–la; mat–ta (especially in Gambian Wolof).
To an outsider a terminal (ending letter) b, and a terminal p are often very similar. The sound that is heard depends on the word following. Terminal c and j are also close.
You may come across some Wolof sources that leave out accented letters. These accents are important because words that are spelled similarly can have completely different meanings.
e.g. reer (supper) / réer (to be lost); woor (to fast) / wóor (to be sure).
Different orthographies may employ different pronunciation rules but the rules here are the most common (or very near approximations of these rules).
These are the same word spelled using different orthographic rules:
jëre–jëf / djeredieuf (thank you).
As the same word they are pronounced the same despite differing spelling. The first spelling is the standardized CLAD spelling — the second spelling is a common Francophone (French) spelling. In the first one the initial j (and the following j) is pronounced how we would more or less pronounce it in English (like the j in ‘jazz’), while the second one starts with a d instead of a j yet that d (or dj) and the following d is still pronounced much like the j in the first example since French d‘s usually have an English j-ish sound.
Some written examples of Wolof syllables & approximate pronunciation:
bayyi baiy∘yi (cancel)
sàngara saan∘ga∘ra (alcohol)
mbàjj mbaaj (blanket)
bët buht (eye)
ñépp nyip (all)
penku pen∘koo (east)
ci biti chee bee∘tee (outside)
ndox ndokh (water)
mbedd mbed (street)
Ndax dégg nga angale? ndakh deg nguh an∘ga∘ley (Do you speak English?)
Benn waxtu moo jot. ben wakh∘too moh jot (It’s one o’clock.)
Maangi dem ndakaaru. maan∘gee dem nda∘kaa∘roo (I’m going to Dakar.)
More written examples here.
A few English words that sound nearly the same as some Wolof words:
bought / boot (carry on back)
your / yoo (mosquito)
rare / reer (dinner)
rub / rab (beast)
rat / rat (a type of plant)
rye / raay (caress)
Some audio examples of Wolof pronunciation:
More audio examples here.
Portions of this document have been adopted from the works of David P. Gamble.
The following links will open in a new tab:
Back-released velar click (Wikipedia)
Final consonants with nasal release (Wikipedia)
For more on Wolof pronunciation click here.
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