It’s a pig… it’s a donkey… no, it’s a rhinoceros!

Apparently my Wolof translation skills are about on par with Pape’s reading skills. That is to say, super-sarcastically, advanced.


I went through a couple of Pape’s books with our Senegalese house-helper and together we translated them and I scribbled in the Wolof text in Sharpie. It was a good language exercise, but also pretty funny. She’s flipped through these books with Pape before, but since she doesn’t read English she didn’t know what they were about. And let me tell you, she was none too impressed by the great storyline of Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed. “Really? That’s what this book is about??”


One major challenge in Wolof translashun is that there isn’t a set spelling since it wasn’t a written language until 1971. And it’s all funnetic and very subjective. So, for example, there was one word that when she said it, I would have spelled it ‘yex’ but she would spell it ‘heqh’. And the dictionary said ‘yiix’.

The other challenge is that some vocabulary just doesn’t exist, especially for things that are not originally from Senegal. (The same is true in English. What would you call an object used for cleaning teeth that doesn’t have bristles and is carved from a piece of wood about 8 inches long?)

So when we got to a picture of a pig, she said, “Mbaam”. But then she explained that a mbaam can also be that animal that’s like a horse and pulls carts – a donkey. Then a few pages later we get to picture of a rhinoceros. She paused, then said, “Mbaam aala,” which means an mbaam that lives out in the bush or the wilderness!


Moo, baa, la la la!
By Sandra Boynton. Translated by Khady and Dorothée.

Benn nak mungi wax MOO.
Benn haar mungi wax BAA.
Netti mbaam ñungi wooy LA LA LA!
“Déedéet, déedéet,” yangi wax. “Du noonu.”
“Netti mbaam ñungi wax OINK bëcëg bi ak guddi bi.”
Mbaam aala SNORT ak SNUFF
Ak xaj ji nungi def coow RUFF RUFF RUFF!
Yeneen xaj defnanu BOW WOW WOW!
Ak muus ak doomam ñungi wax MEOW!
QUACK! mungi wax kanaara.
Benn fas mungi wax NEIGH.
Amatul coow leegi. Looy waxati?


By Sandra Boynton. Translated by Khady and Dorothée.

Bu mag ak bu ndaw
Bu gatt ak bu njool
Kaw ak suuf
Gaaw ak yiix
Diis ak oyof
Bëcëg ak guddi
Ci biir ak ci biti
Wax ndank ak yuxu
Bu amul doolée ak bu am doolée
Bu baax, bu bonn
Tang ak sedd
Ndaw ak mag
Bu tooy ak bu woo
Salam malecum, bë beneen yoon

As much as I would like to… there are some books that I will not be translating. For example, anything dealing with the following topics:


Polar bears


Walruses and zookeepers





8 Responses

  1. Maybe your next job will be writing the “Official Wolof Dictionary” that there may be consistency. It may not be a best seller, but surely the government will be sure that it is placed in every library and school where Wolof is spoken.
    En shalla….(or however it is spelled)


  2. Reblogged this on JANGA WOLOF and commented:
    Nice little blog about translating children’s books from English to Wolof. Very fun.


  3. Great language learning idea. I did Go Dog Go once with my language helper. That is a great book for prepositions. :)


  4. Hey Khady, good stuff you have here. I am impressed by the level of your Wolof. Mbaam means pig and donkey. Mbaam xuuf mean pig and Mbaam sëf.
    Mbaam all is wart hog.
    I don’t know this word “yiix”. When you find out let me know!



  5. […] to share this interesting post from my friend, who writes a great Senegal blog. (Really. If you’re interested in Senegal and […]


  6. […] to share this interesting post from my friend, who writes a great Senegal blog. (Really. If you’re interested in Senegal and […]


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