West-African languages are no rare birds: The case of Wolof (Senegal)

Wednesday 14 February 2024, 4:30 pm
PhD student
C.L.A. Bourdeau MA
prof. dr. H. de Hoop
dr. S. van Putten

Wolof is spoken in Senegal, the Gambia and certain areas of Mauritania. This language has drawn the attention of linguists because of the apparent complexity of its verbal system, which is often assumed to involve many different conjugations. In addition, the so-called Wolof conjugations are said to express more grammatical categories than the conjugations found in European languages. More precisely, besides tense (present, past, etc.) and person (I, you, he/she, etc.), Wolof conjugations would reflect the structure of information by pointing out the most important piece of information within the sentence. This way of describing the grammar of Wolof unrightfully makes Wolof stand out as an exotic language. In this dissertation, it is argued that Wolof has, in fact, no conjugations, and that the overall structure of the language is pretty standard. The author offers a radically simplified description of the Wolof grammar which boils down to a couple of structures and involves a small set of grammatical rules. 

Corentin Bourdeau (Montpellier, 1990) was doing a Master in Business Administration in Lima (Peru) when his journey as a linguist started in 2012. While attending a conference on Iranian languages at the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru, he met and befriended the linguist Luis Miguel Rojas Berscia (then a BA student), who would introduce him to fieldwork in the Peruvian Upper Amazon a few weeks later. After completing his studies in Business Administration, Corentin went on to study linguistics. In 2015, he graduated from Radboud University (Nijmegen, the Netherlands) with a Master in General Linguistics. Subsequently, Corentin moved to Bolivia for a while but finally came back to Europe and inexorably resumed his linguistic journey to do a PhD on the grammar of Wolof. He is currently working on forms of address as postdoctoral researcher at the Radboud University.