Lexical borrowings as sociolinguistic variables

Lexical borrowings as sociolinguistic variables in Saint-Louis, Senegal. By Fallou Ngom. (LINCOM studies in sociolinguistics 05.) Munich: LINCOM Europa, 2006. Pp. ix, 187. ISBN 9783895863547. €60.

Reviewed by Fiona Mc Laughlin, University of Florida

This volume provides quantitative and qualitative analyses of lexical borrowings from French, Arabic, and English into Wolof within a sample of two hundred speakers in Saint-Louis, Senegal. Fallou Ngom analyzes the borrowings as sociolinguistic variables that correlate with age and sex and concludes that Arabic borrowings are typical of older speakers (i.e. fifty years of age and above), whereas English borrowings are stigmatized within older speakers but are typical of the speech of youths (i.e. those between twenty  and thirty years of age). French borrowings remain fairly constant across categories: no significant difference is apparent between age groups.

Data were obtained by means of the classic Labovian sociolinguistic interview, which contains discussions of political, religious, and cultural themes. N uses these themes to justify the division of the database into three separate registers. N finds that when speaking of political matters, speakers used more French borrowings because Senegal is a former French colony and many of its political institutions and practices are modeled on their French equivalents. However, when discussing religion in this predominantly Muslim country, Arabic borrowings were used more often, whereas English borrowings were used primarily in the discussion of cultural themes among the younger speakers.

N invokes the history of Saint-Louis as justification for choosing this city as a research site. During the colonial period, Saint-Louis was an important center of Muslim influence in terms of religious, legal, and educational institutions, and, as the former capital of French West Africa, Saint-Louis was where the French colonial policy of assimilation was presumably most assiduously implemented. However, N does not address whether this history affects the current residents of Saint-Louis or whether their speech differs from residents of other Senegalese cities.

A version of N’s dissertation, this volume has not been revised sufficiently and displays several shortcomings. Much of the relevant literature on borrowing in Wolof has been overlooked. Factual errors are frequent, such as N’s statement that ‘Wolof’s complex eight-class noun system […] is simplified to a two-class system in urban areas’ (32); although there is certainly a tendency towards a reduction of the noun class system in urban Wolof, it is not that extreme. Some of N’s speculations, such as his attribution of the existence of the voiceless uvular stop [q] in Wolof to Arabic influence, are spurious. The most conspicuous errors are in the presentation of the Arabic data. N presents the underlying representation of the definite article al plus noun in Arabic as the phonetic form and attributes the loss of the liquid consonant to Wolof phonotactics (despite Wolof’s allowance of l-consonant clusters) rather than to the well-known facts of coronal assimilation in the Arabic definite article. N has also confused the voiced and voiceless pharyngeal fricatives, [ʕ] and [ħ], in his Arabic transliterations. Finally, this study was not proofread for English errors and there are numerous mistakes on almost every page.