Jäger am Wasserfall, 1899, Josef Thoma
Jourdan Dunn photographed by Hans Feurer for Antidote S/S 2013
French is Senegal’s official language and remains the only language taught in schools. And traditionally, French was the language of writing, Wolof the language of speaking; French dominated the public sphere, Wolof the private.
This began to change in the 1990s, however, when the privatisation of radio and television shifted the linguistic compass towards urban Wolof as talk show hosts engaged with listeners in the language of everyday life.
Politicians, most notably Abdoulaye Wade, Senegal’s president from 2000 to 2012, also began using the language in political speeches where it became a symbolic indicator of ‘Senegalese-ness’. (Wade’s French-educated son Karim’s attempts at Wolof were somewhat less successful; rather than marking him out as one of the people, his garbled Wolof inspired a slew of comedy sketches and led his political adversaries to label him a “toubab [white person]” after he botched the Wolof name for a Senegalese town.)
This rise of Wolof in the public sphere further fuelled the growth of written urban Wolof too. Graffiti artists scrawled political slogans in the language, and advertisers increasingly included Wolof phrases on their billboard advertisements.
But it was with the explosion in mobile phone usage and the internet that ordinary Senegalese really started conversing with one other in written Wolof. And today, the language is blossoming on phones and social media. On news sites, comments from readers are punctuated with Wolof proverbs, while discourses, diatribes, love poems and song lyrics in Wolof proliferate on Facebook.
And like with Mami’s written Wolof, the vast majority of these don’t follow any strict forms of spelling.
This worries some such as Souleymane Faye, a former collaborator with Senghor and linguist at Centre de Linguistique Appliquée de Dakar (CLAD). Faye is concerned that, especially without widely recognised standard rules for Wolof, the spread of Facebook-Wolof endangers the language as a whole. Although new media could introduce African languages to the outside world, he says, “the internet will not raise African languages to an academic or intellectual status”.
However, Mami’s older sister Sokhna perhaps sums up the views of many Senegalese, when she comments: “Spelling is not important. It’s the ability to communicate a message that counts”.
An interesting look at how the internet is shaping the evolution of Wolof in Senegal. (via kalakutaqueen)