Why Pulaar?   Leave a comment

People may wonder why I choose to learn Pulaar, as opposed to French, for my research and latest stint abroad. It is a good question. I also got the same question from Senegalese. So, I hope this post can address the question and any concerns.

In Senegal, the official language is French. However, Senegal also has a lingua franca – Wolof. Senegalese Wolof has a profound impact on how the Senegalese communicate. In fact, the language even has its own Google home page. I wont deny the importance of Wolof in Senegal, but to other ethnic groups, especially in the region where I was conducting my research – Casamance – the Wolof people and their language are seen as invasive (see the Wolofization of Senegal).

Of all the languages spoken in (West) Africa, which one would be the most useful? We know that French is prevalent in Africa, and thus correlates to French-speakers having power, access to resources, and influence. According to Organisation of La Francophonie, there are 28 African countries that speak French; 21 of those countries have French as their official language. Thus, one can extrapolate that, indeed, French is an important language within the African context. However, I have two qualms with the use of French in (West) Africa.

  1. Not unlike other colonial languages, French is used in the profession and academic sectors of Africa, thus if not all locals can speak French they may be blocked from said sectors. This blockage may hinder their professional and personal development and livelihood.
  2. Also, the use of French comes with a sense of unbalanced power inequality. To ‘correct’ this toward a balanced situation and restore power to Africans via their native tongues, the use of French may need to decrease.

To continue this piece, I ask one question: Of the local languages of West Africa, especially Senegal and The Gambia (where my background currently consists of), which are more prevalent?

  • Wolof – 3 countries: Mauritania, *Senegal, and The Gambia.
  • Jola – 3 countries: Senegal, The Gambia, Guinea-Bissau.
  • Mandinka – 10 countries: Mali, *Senegal, *The Gambia, Guinea, Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso, Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Guinea-Bissau and Chad.
  • Pulaar 18-21 countries: Mauritania, Senegal, Mali, *Guinea, Burkina Faso, Niger, Nigeria, Cameroon, Gambia, Chad, Sierra Leone, Benin, Guinea-Bissau, Sudan, Central African Republic, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Togo, Liberia, Gabon.

With the amount of African countries that speak Pulaar, and granted there are hundreds of dialects of Pulaar, I would feel that being able to speak Pulaar betters myself professionally. The number of Pulaar-speaking countries rival that of French-speaking countries. With Pulaar, I am more capable to travel and work in more African countries, as opposed to learning other traditional languages mentioned. However, I will recognize that of the Pulaar-speaking countries, there is only one country that the Fulas are the majority of the population – Guinea. Besides Guinea, Fulbe are the minority, but this only gives me a niche professional opportunity.

More information on the importance of the Pulaar language can be found here (PDF) by National African Language Resource Center, Indiana University.

*- Countries where the language is mostly spoken.
(Orignial post was altered on Janurary 21, 2013)

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