French, Wolof in Senegal

Wolof and French in Senegal

The students in these videos discuss the varying roles of Wolof and French in Senegalese life. As their discussion shows, many people in Senegal speak at least two languages and sometimes more. More importantly, the nature of the social situation, as well as various ethnic values and concerns, determine which language is used in what situation. They also point out that it is not uncommon to go back and forth between languages within the same conversation, and that, even within the same language, there are "academic" and "street" versions which differ from one another.

Some of the languages recognized by the government as national languages are Wolof, Pulaar, Diola, and Mandingo. French is given special status as the official language and is used in education, for government business, and in businesses catering to the middle and upper classes. Wolof is the mother tongue of a significant portion of the population, although there are also large numbers of speakers of Pulaar, Serer-Sine, and numerous other languages as well.

The discussion in the video brings out the tension between the high status granted French in Senegalese society and the history of its introduction to Senegal as the language of outside colonizers. They discuss whether Wolof or any other African languages will ever replace imported European languages as offical and predominate languages in Senegal and in other African countries. Although the discussion focuses on the situation in Senegal, the types of language issues they discuss are common not only in many African countries, but also in other countries with multilingual populations and tensions between widely spoken "international" languages and local, regional, and national mother tongues.