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Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies


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Go deeper into Wolof by checking out this episode of the Said & Done Podcast. Columbia Professor Mariame Sy discusses growing up speaking Pulaar, Wolof and French in multilingual Senegal.

Welcome to the Columbia Wolof Language Program!

Wolof is one of the most widely spoken language of West Africa with upwards of ten million speakers. It is the native language of the Wolof people and is spoken in countries such as Senegal, The Gambia and Mauritania. Historically, Wolof was written using Arabic script, but the language is now written and taught using the Roman alphabet.

Wolof serves as a lingua franca in Senegal and in large part of West Africa. It also plays an important role for Senegalese culture around the world. There are also strong historical and contemporary links between the African American experiences and West Africa and Wolof. The Island of Gorée, off the coast of Dakar, was the largest slave-trading center on the African coast from the 15th to the 19th century. The House of Slaves with its “Door of No Return” is testament to one of humanity’s darkest eras. To learn Wolof is an important link to understanding and examining these experiences from an African context

Studying Wolof also opens up opportunities to engage with the arts in West Africa. Dak’Art, one of the largest art shows of contemporary African art hosted in Dakar, and the Saint Louis International Jazz Festival are some of the most prominent events during which artists from around the world share their work and experiences with the public. Many prominent figures of African literature, film, and music produce their work in Wolof, including Sembene Ousmane whose tremendous literary and cinematographic work has earned him the designation of “father of African cinema”.

Wolof in New York: Harlem’s Little Senegal.

Just two blocks east of Morningside Park on West 116th Street, students can immerse themselves in Wolof language and culture, and have a taste of authentic Senegalese cuisine. Little Senegal, as the neighborhood is called, offers hints of what a neighborhood of Dakar might look like: shops, restaurants, people dressed in traditional Senegalese clothing, sitting on stoops and storefronts holding conversations in Wolof.

Taking courses in Wolof will allow you to fulfill the language requirement at Columbia.

Please check the Columbia Directory of Classes for the latest information on class times and locations.