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Although French is spoken and written by only a small part (about 15%) of the population, it is the official (administrative) language of Senegal according to the constitution.

Amount of French speakers in SenegalAmount of French speakers in SenegalPhoto: Aaker CC 3.0 Unported no changes made

The official explanation for maintaining French as the main language is that it ranks above all other languages, thus favoring none of them. The main language of the people is Wolof. For half of the population it is the first language and for 30-40% of the population it is used as a second language, making Wolof the main means of communication between the various population groups.

Other official languages are Sérèr, Pulaar, Diola, Mande and Soninké. There are also about twelve smaller tribal languages. Most Senegalese speak and understand three or more languages. Arabic is the language of instruction in the Koranic schools.

The word "Senegal" probably comes from Sounougal, the Wolof name for the Senegal River.

The various languages spoken in Senegal are quite different from each other. Just look at the pronunciation of some numbers:


Peul (Fula): sappo

Mandinka: tang

Wolof: fuk


Peul (Fula): temedere

Mandinka: keme

Wolof: teemeer


Peul (Fula): wujenere

Mandinka: wili kiling

Wolof: junneh


Derksen, G. / Gambia, Senegal

Dirkx, J. / Reishandboek Senegal

Else, D. / The Gambia and Senegal
Lonely Planet

Gambia en Senegal

Hesseling, G. / Senegal/Gambia : mensen, politiek, economie, cultuur
Koninklijk Instituut voor de Tropen

CIA - World Factbook

BBC - Country Profiles

Last updated May 2024
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