Wolof is used by over 5 million people in Senegal, the Gambia, and Mauritania. It is a language in the Senegambian sub-section of the Niger-Congo language family. Historically, Wolof was written using Arabic script, but the language is now written and taught using the Roman alphabet.
Wolof is key for communication in West Africa and serves as the lingua franca in Senegal. It also plays an important role for Senegalese culture around the world. World recognized Senegalese singer Youssou Ndour extensively uses Wolof in his music and famed filmmaker Ousmane Sembène also produces in the Wolof language. You may also be familiar with Akon, another famous Wolof speaker.
Freshman Interest Group (FIG)
First semester Wolof, African 391, is part of the FIG, HipHop, Youth Culture, and Politics in Senegal. A First-Year Interest Group (FIG) is a kind of academic learning community designed specifically for first year students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Each FIG is a unique cluster of UW courses, linked together to explore a common theme or topic. All FIGs are based on a small seminar and most FIG seminars are connected to two other courses.
It is designed to introduce students to the study of contemporary Africa through a focus on Senegalese hip hop, youth culture, and language. It is designed for students interested in youth culture, international studies, and issues of development, democracy, globalization, and social justice. It is also geared to those who enjoy learning about overseas cultures, especially those interested in doing research or volunteer work in Africa.
Hear from former students
“Being able to communicate with someone in their native language allows for a different level of understanding. I also feel extremely fortunate to have been able to study Wolof at UW-Madison and continue studying it in Senegal, as it allows me to use Senegal’s main language to communicate with people without reverting to the colonial language of French.”
– Lauren S.
“Being able to understand the corner street vendor selling mangos, or a president speaking to a worldwide community in his or her native tongue has affected me in a positive way. Learning the French, Arabic, and Wolof languages have given me the opportunity to turn acquaintances into life-long connections through my travels.”