There comes a point in a girl’s life when she realizes it’s time to learn Wolof. When she realizes it’s time to explore the vastly unfamiliar and to accept the glamourless reality. When she realizes it’s time to take ownership of the present and wring it of all its opportunities. And when she realizes that it’s about time to fail while trying rather than fail for lack of trying. But I must preface this by saying that this clarity doesn’t always come when you need it most but rather when you are most ready to handle itÛ_
So here is a girl’s story in which she realized the beauty of language and the power of communication, in which she ignored and later explored, in which she finally closed her eyes and took the dive, and in the end, she learned Wolof.
Living in Southern Rhode Island, I have had very little exposure to language diversity. In my experience, language was starkly divided into separate compartments: you speak English at school save for the 50 minutes a day of French, Spanish, or Italian. You may speak Spanish, Arabic or Mandarin, Japanese, Portuguese, or Korean in your house or with some friends, but in general, here in the States, you’ve got to speak English wherever you go. And yet, in the duality that is always present, all the languages I had every studied (including some German) had very direct shared roots with that of the English language (Latin and Germanic). Thus, no matter how far into one of these languages I went, I was always able to relate the structure and etymology to that of my maternal language: English.
One of the reasons for coming to Senegal was to continue learning the French language. I was curious to see how the French of West Africa differed from Parisian and Canadian French (both of which are vastly different!). I also had been told that by having a firm basis in French would make continued study in tandem with learning one of the local languages easier. My attitude going into this was that I could become fluent in French – considering I would be entirely immersed in it for eight months – in addition to having the opportunity to fiddle around with an indigenous language on my free time. Again, I was compartmentalizingÛ_
Upon landing in Dakar, immediately was I hit by the realization that language wouldn’t be following the same rules I had been expecting to play by. Signs lining the streets advertise in a jumble of French, Wolof, Arabic, and English. Radio and television stations report in all of the above and though newspapers are predominately French, I’ve run across clippings from languages ranging from Arabic to Italian. The difference here is that even though Senegal has an official language” (French) it isn’t nearly as dominate in Senegal as English is in the States and even more deceivingly; it isn’t really the national language. But the real truth behind language in Senegal can’t be told by any of the aforementioned examples. You see it when you talk to people and over time