by Richard Shawyer
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Explanation of phonetic symbols
":" indicates a lengthening of the sound. The production of the sound is also usually more tense.
|WOLOF LETTER||PHONETIC SYMBOL||PHONETIC DESCRIPTION||WOLOF EXAMPLES||NOTES|
|a||ʌ||voiced half-open central unrounded||and (incense pot)
xamb (poke a fire)
and xamb As in English "butter". As in English, in Wolof there is some degree of variation in certain contexts towards [ə] or even [u]. Thus man (can) can be said as [mʌn], [mən] or [mun]. But man (myself) is always [mʌn]. It bears no relation to an English "a" as in "cat", the sound of which does not exist in Wolof. which is [æ].
|It exists in standard British English as part of the diphthong [a:i] (time, nine). It is different to the normal English long "a" as in star which is [ɑ:].|
|à||a||voiced open front unrounded||àlluwa (writing board)
ànd (to accompany)
xàmb (spirit shrine)
|ã||ɑ̃||voiced open central unrounded nasalised||sãs (very hot)||This is very rare. As for the ɑ̃ in temps, gant in French.|
|é||e||voiced half-close front unrounded
génn (to leave)
|ée||e:||téeñ (cloth for carrying on head)
réer (to get lost)
|e||ɛ||voiced half-open front unrounded
|dem (to go)
deg (type of soil)
genn (a, one)
reer (evening meal)
jeex (to be finished)
|ë||ə||voiced half-close central unrounded||kër (house)
ëf (to blow)
|ëe||ə:||As in English bird.|
|i||i||voiced closed front unrounded
|cin (cooking pot)
|The tongue is humped as far forward as possible and as near to the palate as possible without causing any friction. This is like the French "i" rather than the English short "i" [ɩ]. That is in comparison with [ɩ], the lips are less rounded (more spread) and the tongue is more humped, further forward and nearer the palate.|
riir (to roar)
|As in English beat.|
|o||ɔ||voiced half-open back rounded
|Same as in English pot hot, not, and the open French o as in pomme. Same as in German doch, offen.|
|oo||ɔ:||boot (carry on back)
door (to begin)
woom (to be abundant)
andandoo (to go together)
|ó||o||voiced half-close back rounded
|jóge (to come from)
sómbi (rice porridge)
|Same as the closed French o as in beau, chose. Does not exist in English. Sometimes this sound will be interchanged with [u], but when it differentiates between [ɔ] or [o:] it is invariable.|
dóor (to hit)
bóom (to murder)
|u||u||voiced close back rounded
ubbi (to open)
toxu (to relocate)
|u It is the same as the French ou as in vous or the German u as in Mut. Similar to the English [u] in book, except that it is closer, rounder and stronger. The tongue is as far back as possible and as near to the roof as possible so that the opening between the tongue and the palate is as narrow as possible. The lips are heavily rounded.|
[a:i] baay; [e:i] féey; [ɛ:i] teey; [ɔ:i] nooy; [o:i] tóoy;[u:i] fuuy; [e:u] réew; [ɛ:u] reew; [i:u] siiw; [a:u] baaw; [ɔ:w] soow;
Unlike English the duration of the vowel is important to differentiate minimal pairs such as bay (to cultivate) and baay (father); béy (goat) and béey (whitlow). Other minimal pairs include words like réew (country) and reew (impolite).
As in English the glide is always of the falling type (open vowel moving toward a more closed one).
Because Wolof differentiates length of diphthongs while English doesn't the length of an English diphthong tends to be between a long and short Wolof diphthong. Thus the English speaker needs to shorten how he would say doy [dɔi] or woy [wɔi] in relation to how he says boy [bɔi] which is closer to how theWolof would say booy [bɔ:i] or nooy [nɔ:i].