Wolof started as the language of the Lebou people, and is a member of the Senegambian branch of the Niger-Congo language family. A 2006 survey found that out of a total of 10 million speakers, approximately 4.2 million of these speak Wolof as a first language.
Although Wolof is not an official language in any country, many people use it as a primary language. In Senegal, it is the most extensively spoken language, with almost 40% of Senegalese being native Wolof speakers, and a further 40% using Wolof as a second or learned language. Furthermore, in Gambia 20–25% of the population speak first language Wolof, and in Mauritania roughly 7% of inhabitants are native Wolof speakers. In Senegal, Wolof is used as the common tongue when various ethnic groups gather in cities and towns.
Senegalese, Mauritanian, and Gambian Wolof are made up of different language and writing rules, making each one diverse. Each vernacular also draws from different languages for their technical loan words. In addition, further dialectical differences can be found between rural and urban areas. This being said, there still appears to be a shared clarity between the dialects in both written and spoken Wolof.
Wolof borrows words from the official languages in the countries in which Wolof is widely spoken; namely French from Senegal, English from the Gambia, and Arabic from Mauritania. Conversely, English has borrowed a few words from Wolof, for example yummy from nyam (“to taste”).
Although 1974 saw the standardisation of the Latin alphabet as the official script used for Wolof in Senegal, a few of the senior Senegalese men still prefer to write Wolof using the original Wolofal script, which is a version of Arabic script.
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