Family: Isn’t it About… Time?

This week in my Wolof class we’ve been working on four grammar points:

  1. demonstrative pronouns
  2. possessive pronouns
  3. the affirmative formation of the LA verb class
  4. the negative formation of the LA verb class

Wolof verbs usually remain in the infinitive form so in order to express tenses, speakers add prefixes and suffixes to either the verb or the subject pronouns.  The “conjugation” occurs in the subject pronoun (first person singular, second person singular, etc) and that conjugation varies according to the verb class.  From what I understand, the patterns of conjugations remain constant so once you learn it, it’s quite easy to apply it to the other verb classes.

We’ve been contexualizing these rules in the vocabulary and relationship of the family.  To help us memorize these forms Cheikh, my teacher, had us make a “photo” family tree of at least 3 generations.  I thoroughly enjoyed creating my Keynote presentation (Apple’s highly superior version of Powerpoint).  It’s been a while since I’ve been able to really create awesome visuals on my computer… therefore I’m not at all ashamed to admit that I totally reveled in the opportunity to sit and “draw” in various programs.  (PS: if you haven’t already figured it out, I love my Mac… I’m such an art and graphic design nerd, but I’m proud of it!  Granted, I’m not as talented in some programs as my wonderful friends Dennis and Josh, but I feel I’m well-versed in the programs that I do have.)  In fact, I’m so pleased with my presentation that I’ve decided to include jpegs of the Keynote slides… You’ll also receive a lesson on Wolof family vocabulary 🙂  Please accept my profound apologies for not being able to share the animations and music in this blogging format…

The Merle and Jean Wiskow line

The word waakër means family and the “u” is the possessive marker; as I explained in previous posts, Awa Sekk is my Senegalese name.  So the title translates to the family of Awa Sekk – or – Awa Sekk’s family.  Let me offer three clarifications.  First, Elvis Presley is neither my uncle nor my cousin.  BIG bummer.  I didn’t have any pictures of Uncle Chris or Cole, so Elvis graciously offered to step in.  What a gentleman!  Second, I had to focus on marital relationships within my own family so I didn’t include my cousins’ wives on this slide.  They will make an appearance on the last slide.  Third, I also do not have a good picture of my brother, Ryan.  He only lived for a couple of days, so my parents didn’t have many opportunities to take pictures of him.  But he is very much a part of our family.

The next slide shows the Wolof vocabulary:

The Wiskow/Porter line

You’ll notice that specific words for grandfather, grandmother, brother, sister, niece or nephew do not exist.  Rather you give the relation i.e. grandparent and then identify the gender.  Male is góór and female is jigéén.  Mag translates to older sibling.  If either Autumn or Amber were to describe me, they’d use the word rakk, meaning younger sibling, and then add the female qualifier at the end.  To identify Autumn as the oldest I’d say Autumn, moom taaw la (Autumn, she is the oldest); to say that I am the youngest I’d have to say the following: Man caat laa (I am the youngest – in English we’d pronounce it with a vocal stress on the ‘I’).  Amber, moom sama mag ju jigéén la (Amber is my older sister) and in speaking about Mile’s relationship to Henry, I’d say this: Miles, moom rakkam ju góór la (Miles, he is his [Henry] little brother) or I could use the possessive marker of “u”: Miles, moom rakku ju góór la.  To talk about my parents I’d say this: Wendy ak Elwood samay waajur lañu.  Wendy sama yaay la te Elwood sama baay la.  In reference to Brent and Mark I’d say this: Brent, moom jëkkëru Autumn la – and – Mark, moom jëkkëram la (Brent is Autumn’s husband and Mark, he is her [Amber] husband) Cool, huh?

You’ll also notice that the same word is used for mother and aunt.  In Senegalese culture, your mother’s sister is also your mother – in reference to the love she has for you and also because she has matriarchal responsibilities over you.  Therefore you are also considered her children.  Likewise your father’s brother is also your father and you are considered to be his children, as well.  I thought that was neat and it really does apply in our family.  My sisters and I love Aunt Gloria just as much as we love our mother and for those of you that are close to our family, you know that Amber and I love the boys like they were our own kids.  If someone really wanted to differentiate between aunts and uncles from their biological parents they’d use tànta and tonton for aunt and uncle respectively.

The following slide shows my cousins and their families:

The Wiskow/Gifford line

This slide doesn’t have any Wolof vocabulary on it because cousins are just cousins.  By that I mean that to my knowledge – and granted, I’ve had a grand total of 4 days exposure to the culture surrounding family relationships – there aren’t special words for cousins and their children, etc.  But this slide allows me to delve deeper into the demonstrative and possessive pronouns as I present orally.  It’s also a great slide for our teacher to test me on vocabulary as he asks questions, etc because the vocab isn’t available to use as a crutch.

So there you go.  You’ve just had your first Wolof lesson.  The test is this coming Friday.  Happy studying! 🙂


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