or Garay is an alphabet created specifically for Wolof, a language widely spoken in Senegal and parts of the Gambia and Mauritania. Traditionally, Wolof was written with an adapted version of the Arabic script called Wolofal. While this is still a common writing system, the use of the Latin alphabet has steadily risen since Senegal declared it the official standardized script for Wolof.
Garay, a Native West African Script
Inspired by president Léopold Sédar Senghor’s call to “gather stones and build this new country” on the anniversary of Senegal’s independence from France, Assane Faye created the Garay alphabet in 1961. Strolling on the beach near his village, he wondered what was missing, how he could contribute to the new country. He came to a cave called Garay, which means “the whiteness of the cotton flower” on account of its white interior, and was struck by a vision. He traced shapes on the sand and called to his friend to get him something to write on. Thus, the new alphabet was born.
Over the years, Assane Faye has transcribed several books, maps, and manuscripts with the Garay alphabet, including the Quran. The script has been taught informally for more than fifty years following its invention, but its user community remains small among Wolof speakers. In 2016, a proposal for Garay’s inclusion into the Unicode Standard was submitted, hoping to reach a new technology-savvy generation.
Writing in Garay
Heavily influenced by the Arabic script, Garay is written right to left, with words separated by spaces. Faye wanted his alphabet to already be familiar to anyone who knew the basics of the Arabic script, but also much simpler in design and easier to learn.
In Garay, uppercase letters are distinguished from lowercase letters by a swash added to one side or the other of the letter. Each sentence begins with a capital letter. Personal names are likewise capitalized. Assane Faye writes his name as Asan fay:
|Latin Letter [IPA]||Audio||Garay lowercase||Garay uppercase|
|Alif (vowel carrier)|
Although Garay does include a letter to represent the “h” sound in Arabic loan words, it does not have a similar letter for the “q” sound. The letter k may suffice for that.
The gemination mark is written above the consonant and any diacritical marks it carries to indicate a long consonant. For example, the word for “to be born” is written juddu.
Unlike most other languages of the Niger-Congo family, Wolof is not a tonal language. Faye therefore did not need to account for vowel tones in his alphabet, a major concern for the creators of other West African scripts like N’Ko.
Garay has a unique way of representing vowel sounds by combining the alif sign or with the four basic vowels to create new vowel sounds. The alif must also always precede a vowel if the vowel begins a word or is not otherwise preceded by a consonant.
|Latin Letter [IPA]||Audio||Garay||With Alif||With consonant (M)|
The vowel e is written over the previous consonant as in the “Me” example in the above table. One exception to this rule is the class of consonants that have inherent diacritical marks to modify their sound: b, mb, j, nj, g, ŋg, ŋ, d, nd.
To avoid any possible confusion, the vowel e must be written over an alif after one of those consonants instead:
This rule also applies to the vowel é .
The vowel length mark written after a vowel sequence indicates that the vowel sound is long.
Garay also has a symbol to show that a consonant is not followed by any vowel, equivalent to the Arabic sukun. Unlike Arabic, however, the vowels, long or short, are explicitly marked in Garay, which makes the sukun symbol optional. The word for “lamb” or “sheep” is written Xar° in one of Assane Faye’s books, and Xar in another.
As opposed to the rest of the script, numbers are written left-to-right, as in Arabic.
|Number||Garay number||Number||Garay number|
There are no punctuation marks specific to the Garay script. Generic Latin full stops, question marks, exclamation points, plus, minus and equal signs, brackets and parentheses are used, as well as the Arabic comma and semicolon.
Garay does have one extra symbol, , that indicates the repetition of the entire word that precedes it.
Assane Faye’s Primer on Garay
Sources and Further Reading
- Everson, M. (March 22, 2016). Proposal for encoding the Garay script in the SMP of the UCS. Retrieved May 6, 2019, from Unicode.
- James, I. (March 2012). Garay script for Wolof. Retrieved May 6, 2019, from Skyknowledge.
- Garay : Atlas of Endangered Alphabets. Retrieved May 6, 2019, from
Atlas of Endangered Alphabets.
- Wolof. Retrieved May 6, 2019, from Omniglot.
- Currah, G. (July 27, 2017). Introducción a la fonética del wolof. Retrieved May 6, 2019, from Youtube.