The role of Wolof in multilingual conversations in the Casamance: fluidity of linguistic repertoires

Research output: ThesisDoctoral ThesisMonograph


The thesis constitutes a sociolinguistic study of small-scale multilingualism in rural Casamance (Senegal). This region is characterised by extensive societal and individual multilingualism, due in large part to the maintenance of many small local languages. However, also prominent in speakers’ repertoires is Wolof, the de-facto national language of Senegal, which is the focus of this study.

Wolof belongs to the Atlantic group of the Niger-Congo language family and is spoken by about 5.2 million people in Senegal. While there is a considerable body of research on Wolof in urban centres of the country, no attention has been paid to rural Casamance, where research has generally focused on languages with local status. This is despite the fact that the use of Wolof has been on the rise in this region for more than a century and is connected to many elements of social life.

The central aim of this study is to investigate what role Wolof plays in the linguistic repertoires, practices and lives of multilingual individuals belonging to one household in the village of Djibonker. Research attention has been devoted to an understanding of the social environments in the village, and to the individuals’ metalinguistic and metapragmatic awareness. The study adopts an ethnographic approach combining participant observations, semi-structured interviews, informal discussions and participatory videography data in order to explore the role of Wolof. Furthermore, it triangulates the data in analysis to consider the researchers’, observers’ and speakers’ points of view.

The study reveals that Wolof is prominent in repertoires and discourse, but its role is fluid and may differ according to the experiences and identities of the participants as well as the relationship between them. Furthermore, findings illustrate that Wolof has a greater presence than estimated and reported by the speakers. Wolofisation however, which is often seen as a threat to smaller languages and language ecologies in Senegal, can be precluded; Wolof does not occupy another language’s place but is rather added to the multilingual repertoires of speakers.
Original languageEnglish
  • Pauwels, Anne , Supervisor, External person
  • Lüpke, Friederike Käte Evelyn Marie-Luise, Supervisor
  • Marten, Lutz, Supervisor, External person
Publication statusPublished - 2018
MoE publication typeG4 Doctoral dissertation (monograph)

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