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Learn Wolof: Greetings

My Magazine 2023/02
5 min
Wolof is widely spoken in The Gambia, especially in the Kombo Region. When travelling abroad, it is always good to know a few words in the local language as it shows your willingness to learn about the culture and shows respect to the hosts. And it all starts with greetings. We will teach you some of the most common phrases and useful words that will come in handy during your exploration of The Gambia!

Greetings in The Gambia

Greeting in Gambia is slightly different from what you might be used to. Since Gambia is 95% Muslim, the most common greeting salutation is "As-Salaam-Alaikum", which is, in fact, in the Arabic language. The proper response is "Wa-Alaikum-Salaam". Many people ask if it is offensive to respond in Arabic to a non-Muslim. On the contrary, learning and responding in Arabic will show respect to the Gambians. 

 

What about greetings in Wolof?

Even in English, you will often hear people saying: "Hello, how are you?". In The Gambia, people on the streets always greet each other, not simply by saying "Hello" but also with some small talk questions, such as "How are you?", "How is your mother?", "How is your family?", "How are your children?" The usual response is ", I am here/She is there/They are there". 

In Wolof, you usually greet with "Naka nga deff?" which means "How are you". But there are some unwritten rules that show a higher level of appreciation and respect, especially for elders. Find more information in the video below. 

 

Quick dictionary

Let us give you a quick sum of the most common expressions of greetings, which will help you start a conversation and offer a better chance to emerge in exploring local life. 

ENGLISH - WOLOF

How are you? - Naka nga deff?
How is it? - Nakam?
I am fine. - Mang fi rek.
Good morning! - Naka subasi?
Good afternoon! - Naka bechek bi?
Good evening! - Naka ngon si?
Good night! - Fanan Jamma!
Goodbye! - Ba beneen. / Mangi dem.
See you later! - Dinala Gis! / Waat Duyaga!

 

Conversation

Here are two samples of greeting conversations. One between close friends and one between acquaintances. 

Close Friends

A: Koku kanla? - Who is it?
B: Manla. – It’s me.
A: Yow la kan? - Who exactly?
B: Ahmed.
A: Numfa demeh? - How are you doing?
B: Ma ngi bahk. Yow nak? – I’m good and you?
A: Ya ngi rerr deh. – It’s been a while.
B: Mang fih deh. – I’m around.
A: Naka waa kerr? - How are people at home?
B: Nyepang si jama. - They are all fine.
A: Eksil, aksil. - Come in.
B: Yabahk. - Thanks. (in this context)

 

Acquaintances

C: Nakam? - How are you?
D: Yang si jama? - Hope you are doing well?
C: Mang si jama. – I’m doing well.
D: Ma ngi ni rek di santa yalla. – I’m just here thanking God.
C: Geja gisseh. - It’s been a while.
D: Foyy dem ni? - Where are you heading to?
C: Ma ngeh dem si boutique bi. – I’m heading to the shop.
C: Naka waa kerr? - How are people at home?
D: Nyepang si jama. - They are all fine.
C: Bahna kon. – It’s good then.
C: Nuyul mah gai. - Greet them for me.
D: Nenj kor dega. – They’ll hear it.

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