Every year I find someone to talk with in Wolof, the language I learned when I was a Peace Corps volunteer in The Gambia. Mostly, what I manage to conjure up are the greetings and part of a health talk I used to give. “Today I want to talk with you about the road to good health.” I also know how to say, “Oh, that’s too expensive. Reduce it a little.” I can probably still get my laundry done.
Whenever I run into a Wolof speaker, there is a sense of delight and surprise that we’ve found each other. The first time I met up with a Wolof speaker in the U.S. was about a year after the Peace Corps when I was eating dinner at Boone Tavern in Berea, Kentucky.
My waiter was from The Gambia, something I found out after I noticed his accent and asked him where he was from. When I started rattling off Wolof greetings, he was momentarily thrown off guard, particularly since I had lived near his hometown.
Since Berea is a small town at the edge of Appalachia, I’m sure the last person he thought he would meet when he went to work that day was an American woman who knew Wolof. I was just as excited to find him. Since then, most of the Wolof speakers I’ve run into in the U.S. have been from Senegal.
I don’t know how many Wolof speakers there are in the United States, but I’ve found a Web site, Languages of the World with some interesting U.S language statistics.
Here they are:
- Number of languages spoken in the U.S.: 311.
- Those languages indigenous to the U.S: 162
- Those that are immigrant languages: 149
- There are 14 million households in the United States where English is not the primary language.