Garay Alphabet: a Wolof Script


Garay alphabet by Cultures of West Africa

The word Garay in the Garay script created by Assane Faye for the Wolof language. 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

Photograph of a woman writing Wolof with the Garay script on a blackboard. On the wall beside her are maps in Garay.
Woman writing the Garay Script. (Image source)

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.

Consonants

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 fayThe name Assan Faye written in the Garay script used to transcribe the Wolof language.

Latin Letter [IPA] Audio Garay lowercase Garay uppercase
Alif (vowel carrier) Lowercase letter Alif in the Garay alphabet used to transcribe the Wolof language. Uppercase letter Alif in the Garay alphabet used to transcribe the Wolof language.
C [c]
Lowercase letter C or CA in the Garay alphabet used to transcribe the Wolof language. Uppercase letter C or CA in the Garay alphabet used to transcribe the Wolof language.
M [m]
Lowercase letter M or MA in the Garay alphabet used to transcribe the Wolof language. Uppercase letter M or MA in the Garay alphabet used to transcribe the Wolof language.
K [k]
Lowercase letter K or KA in the Garay alphabet used to transcribe the Wolof language. Uppercase letter K or KA in the Garay alphabet used to transcribe the Wolof language.
B [b]
Lowercase letter B or BA in the Garay alphabet used to transcribe the Wolof language. Uppercase letter B or BA in the Garay alphabet used to transcribe the Wolof language.
MB [mb]
Lowercase letter MB or MBA in the Garay alphabet used to transcribe the Wolof language. Uppercase letter MB or MBA in the Garay alphabet used to transcribe the Wolof language.
J [ɟ]
Lowercase letter J or JA in the Garay alphabet used to transcribe the Wolof language. Uppercase letter J or JA in the Garay alphabet used to transcribe the Wolof language.
NJ [ɲɟ]
Lowercase letter NJ or NJA in the Garay alphabet used to transcribe the Wolof language. Uppercase letter NJ or NJA in the Garay alphabet used to transcribe the Wolof language.
S [s]
Lowercase letter S or SA in the Garay alphabet used to transcribe the Wolof language. Uppercase letter S or SA in the Garay alphabet used to transcribe the Wolof language.
W [w]
Lowercase letter letter W or WA in the Garay alphabet used to transcribe the Wolof language. Uppercase letter W or WA in the Garay alphabet used to transcribe the Wolof language.
L [l]
Lowercase letter L or LA in the Garay alphabet used to transcribe the Wolof language. Uppercase letter L or LA in the Garay alphabet used to transcribe the Wolof language.
G [g]
Lowercase letter G or GA in the Garay alphabet used to transcribe the Wolof language. Uppercase letter G or GA in the Garay alphabet used to transcribe the Wolof language.
NG [ŋg]
Lowercase letter ŊG or ŊGA, NGGA in the Garay alphabet used to transcribe the Wolof language. Uppercase letter ŊG or ŊGA, NGGA in the Garay alphabet used to transcribe the Wolof language.
Ŋ [ŋ]
Lowercase letter Ŋ or ŊA, NGA in the Garay alphabet used to transcribe the Wolof language. Uppercase letter Ŋ or ŊA, NGA in the Garay alphabet used to transcribe the Wolof language.
D [d]
Lowercase letter D or DA in the Garay alphabet used to transcribe the Wolof language. Uppercase letter D or DA in the Garay alphabet used to transcribe the Wolof language.
ND [nd]
Lowercase letter ND or NDA in the Garay alphabet used to transcribe the Wolof language. Uppercase letter ND or NDA in the Garay alphabet used to transcribe the Wolof language.
X [x~χ]
Lowercase letter X or XA in the Garay alphabet used to transcribe the Wolof language. Uppercase letter X or XA in the Garay alphabet used to transcribe the Wolof language.
H [ħ] Lowercase letter H or HA in the Garay alphabet used to transcribe the Wolof language. Uppercase letter H or HA in the Garay alphabet used to transcribe the Wolof language.
Y [j]
Lowercase letter Y or YA in the Garay alphabet used to transcribe the Wolof language. Uppercase letter Y or YA in the Garay alphabet used to transcribe the Wolof language.
T [t]
Lowercase letter T or TA in the Garay alphabet used to transcribe the Wolof language. Uppercase letter T or TA in the Garay alphabet used to transcribe the Wolof language.
R [r]
Lowercase letter R or RA in the Garay alphabet used to transcribe the Wolof language. Uppercase letter R or RA in the Garay alphabet used to transcribe the Wolof language.
Ñ [ɲ]
Lowercase letter Ñ or ÑA, NYA in the Garay alphabet used to transcribe the Wolof language. Uppercase letter Ñ or ÑA, NYA in the Garay alphabet used to transcribe the Wolof language.
F [f]
Lowercase letter F or FA in the Garay alphabet used to transcribe the Wolof language. Uppercase letter F or FA in the Garay alphabet used to transcribe the Wolof language.
N [n]
Lowercase letter N or NA in the Garay alphabet used to transcribe the Wolof language. Uppercase letter N or NA in the Garay alphabet used to transcribe the Wolof language.
P [p]
Lowercase letter P or PA in the Garay alphabet used to transcribe the Wolof language. Uppercase letter P or PA in the Garay alphabet used to transcribe the Wolof language.

Although Garay does include a letter Lowercase letter H or HA in the Garay alphabet used to transcribe the Wolof language. to represent the “h” sound in Arabic loan words, it does not have a similar letter for the “q” sound. The letter k Lowercase letter K or KA in the Garay alphabet used to transcribe the Wolof language. may suffice for that.

The gemination mark Gemination mark in Garay which indicates a long consonant. 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 Gemination mark in Garay which indicates a long consonant.  juddu.

Vowels

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 Lowercase letter Alif in the Garay alphabet used to transcribe the Wolof language. or Uppercase letter Alif in the Garay alphabet used to transcribe the Wolof language. 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)
a [a]
Letter A in the Garay alphabet used to transcribe the Wolof language. Letter A with Alif in the Garay alphabet used to transcribe the Wolof language. Ma in the Garay alphabet used to transcribe the Wolof language.
i [i]
Letter I in the Garay alphabet used to transcribe the Wolof language. Letter I with Alif in the Garay alphabet used to transcribe the Wolof language. Mi in the Garay alphabet used to transcribe the Wolof language.
e [ɛ]
Letter Ɛ in the Garay alphabet used to transcribe the Wolof language. Letter Ɛ with Alif in the Garay alphabet used to transcribe the Wolof language. Mɛ in the Garay alphabet used to transcribe the Wolof language.
o [ɔ]
Letter Ɔ in the Garay alphabet used to transcribe the Wolof language. Letter Ɔ with Alif in the Garay alphabet used to transcribe the Wolof language. Mɔ in the Garay alphabet used to transcribe the Wolof language.
ó [o]
Letter O in the Garay alphabet used to transcribe the Wolof language. Letter O with Alif in the Garay alphabet used to transcribe the Wolof language. Mo in the Garay alphabet used to transcribe the Wolof language.
é [e]
Letter E in the Garay alphabet used to transcribe the Wolof language. Letter E with Alif in the Garay alphabet used to transcribe the Wolof language. Me in the Garay alphabet used to transcribe the Wolof language.
ë [ə]
Letter ə in the Garay alphabet used to transcribe the Wolof language. Letter ə with Alif in the Garay alphabet used to transcribe the Wolof language. Mə in the Garay alphabet used to transcribe the Wolof language.
ü Letter ü in the Garay alphabet used to transcribe the Wolof language. Letter ü with Alif in the Garay alphabet used to transcribe the Wolof language. Mü in the Garay alphabet used to transcribe the Wolof language.
u [u]
Letter U in the Garay alphabet used to transcribe the Wolof language. Letter U with Alif in the Garay alphabet used to transcribe the Wolof language. Mu in the Garay alphabet used to transcribe the Wolof language.
ö Letter ö in the Garay alphabet used to transcribe the Wolof language. Letter ö with Alif in the Garay alphabet used to transcribe the Wolof language. Mö in the Garay alphabet used to transcribe the Wolof language.

The vowel e Letter Ɛ in the Garay alphabet used to transcribe the Wolof language. is written over the previous consonant as in the “Me” Mɛ in the Garay alphabet used to transcribe the Wolof language. example in the above table. One exception to this rule is the class of consonants that have inherent diacritical marks to modify their sound: Lowercase letter B or BA in the Garay alphabet used to transcribe the Wolof language. b, Lowercase letter MB or MBA in the Garay alphabet used to transcribe the Wolof language. mb, Lowercase letter J or JA in the Garay alphabet used to transcribe the Wolof language. j, Lowercase letter NJ or NJA in the Garay alphabet used to transcribe the Wolof language. nj, Lowercase letter G or GA in the Garay alphabet used to transcribe the Wolof language. g, Lowercase letter ŊG or NGGA in the Garay alphabet used to transcribe the Wolof language. ŋg, Lowercase letter Ŋ or NGA in the Garay alphabet used to transcribe the Wolof language. ŋ, Lowercase letter D or DA in the Garay alphabet used to transcribe the Wolof language. d, Lowercase letter ND or NDA in the Garay alphabet used to transcribe the Wolof language. nd.

To avoid any possible confusion, the vowel e Letter É in the Garay alphabet used to transcribe the Wolof language. must be written over an alif after one of those consonants instead:

bɛ in Garay.   be,   mbe in Garay.   mbe,   jɛ in Garay.   je,   njɛ in Garay.   nje,   gɛ in Garay.   ge,   Ŋɛ in Garay.   ŋge,   Ŋgɛ in Garay.   ŋe,   dɛ in Garay.   de,   ndɛ in Garay. nde.


This rule also applies to the vowel é Letter E in the Garay alphabet used to transcribe the Wolof language..

The vowel length mark Vowel length mark in the Garay alphabet used to note indicate a long vowel. written after a vowel sequence indicates that the vowel sound is long.

Garay also has a symbol Sukun mark in the Garay alphabet used to note when a consonant is not followed by any vowel. 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, meaning lamb or sheep in Garay.  Xar° in one of Assane Faye’s books, and  Xar, meaning lamb or sheep in Garay.  Xar in another.

Numbers

As opposed to the rest of the script, numbers are written left-to-right, as in Arabic.

NumberGaray numberNumberGaray number
1Number 1 in Garay, an alphabet used to transcribe the Wolof language.10Number 1 in Garay, an alphabet used to transcribe the Wolof language.Number 0 in Garay, an alphabet used to transcribe the Wolof language.
2Number 2 in Garay, an alphabet used to transcribe the Wolof language.20Number 2 in Garay, an alphabet used to transcribe the Wolof language.Number 0 in Garay, an alphabet used to transcribe the Wolof language.
3Number 3 in Garay, an alphabet used to transcribe the Wolof language.30Number 3 in Garay, an alphabet used to transcribe the Wolof language.Number 0 in Garay, an alphabet used to transcribe the Wolof language.
4Number 4 in Garay, an alphabet used to transcribe the Wolof language.40Number 4 in Garay, an alphabet used to transcribe the Wolof language.Number 0 in Garay, an alphabet used to transcribe the Wolof language.
5Number 5 in Garay, an alphabet used to transcribe the Wolof language.50Number 5 in Garay, an alphabet used to transcribe the Wolof language.Number 0 in Garay, an alphabet used to transcribe the Wolof language.
6Number 6 in Garay, an alphabet used to transcribe the Wolof language.60Number 6 in Garay, an alphabet used to transcribe the Wolof language.Number 0 in Garay, an alphabet used to transcribe the Wolof language.
7Number 7 in Garay, an alphabet used to transcribe the Wolof language.70Number 7 in Garay, an alphabet used to transcribe the Wolof language.Number 0 in Garay, an alphabet used to transcribe the Wolof language.
8Number 8 in Garay, an alphabet used to transcribe the Wolof language.80Number 8 in Garay, an alphabet used to transcribe the Wolof language.Number 0 in Garay, an alphabet used to transcribe the Wolof language.
9Number 9 in Garay, an alphabet used to transcribe the Wolof language.90Number 9 in Garay, an alphabet used to transcribe the Wolof language.Number 0 in Garay, an alphabet used to transcribe the Wolof language.
0Number 0 in Garay, an alphabet used to transcribe the Wolof language.100Number 1 in Garay, an alphabet used to transcribe the Wolof language.Number 0 in Garay, an alphabet used to transcribe the Wolof language.Number 0 in Garay, an alphabet used to transcribe the Wolof language.

Punctuation

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, Repetition mark in the Garay alphabet used to note a repeated word., that indicates the repetition of the entire word that precedes it.

Assane Faye’s Primer on Garay

A Garay primer by Assan Faye. On the right, introductory text; on the left the letter alif. On the first line four equivalent letters in the Latin and Arabic scripts, followed by four lowercase Garay letters and four uppercase letters.
A Garay primer by Assan Faye. On the right, introductory text; on the left the letter alif. On the first line four equivalent letters in the Latin and Arabic scripts, followed by four lowercase Garay letters and four uppercase letters.
A Garay primer by Assan Faye. On the right, the letter C and its equivalent sound in Latin, 'thi' and the equivalent Arabic letter. On the left, the letter M.
A Garay primer by Assan Faye. On the right, the letter C and its equivalent sound in Latin, 'thi' and the equivalent Arabic letter. On the left, the letter M.
A Garay primer by Assan Faye. On the right, the letter K and its Latin and Arabic equivalents. On the left, the letter B.
A Garay primer by Assan Faye. On the right, the letter K and its Latin and Arabic equivalents. On the left, the letter B.
A Garay primer by Assan Faye. On the right, the letter M'B and its Latin and Arabic equivalents. On the left, the letter J.
A Garay primer by Assan Faye. On the right, the letter M'B and its Latin and Arabic equivalents. On the left, the letter J.
A Garay primer by Assan Faye. On the right, the letter Nj and its Latin and Arabic equivalents. On the left, the letter S.
A Garay primer by Assan Faye. On the right, the letter Nj and its Latin and Arabic equivalents. On the left, the letter S.
A Garay primer by Assan Faye. On the right, the letter W and its Latin and Arabic equivalents. On the left, the letter L.
A Garay primer by Assan Faye. On the right, the letter W and its Latin and Arabic equivalents. On the left, the letter L.
A Garay primer by Assan Faye. On the right, the letter G and its Latin and Arabic equivalents. On the left, the letter ŊG.
A Garay primer by Assan Faye. On the right, the letter G and its Latin and Arabic equivalents. On the left, the letter ŊG.
A Garay primer by Assan Faye. On the right, the letter Ŋ and its Latin and Arabic equivalents. Note the use of the reduplication mark near the drawing: the word Ŋoosi is intended to be repeated as Ŋoosi Ŋoosi. On the left, the letter D.
A Garay primer by Assan Faye. On the right, the letter Ŋ and its Latin and Arabic equivalents. Note the use of the reduplication mark near the drawing: the word Ŋoosi is intended to be repeated as Ŋoosi Ŋoosi. On the left, the letter D.
A Garay primer by Assan Faye. On the right, the letter N'D and its Latin and Arabic equivalents. On the left, the letter X.
A Garay primer by Assan Faye. On the right, the letter N'D and its Latin and Arabic equivalents. On the left, the letter X.
A Garay primer by Assan Faye. On the right, the letter H and its Latin and Arabic equivalents. On the left, the letter Y.
A Garay primer by Assan Faye. On the right, the letter H and its Latin and Arabic equivalents. On the left, the letter Y.
A Garay primer by Assan Faye. On the right, the letter T and its Latin and Arabic equivalents. On the left, the letter R.
A Garay primer by Assan Faye. On the right, the letter Ñ and its Latin and Arabic equivalents. On the left, the letter F.
A Garay primer by Assan Faye. On the right, the letter Ñ and its Latin and Arabic equivalents. On the left, the letter F.
A Garay primer by Assan Faye. On the right, the letter N and its Latin and Arabic equivalents. On the left, the letter P.
A Garay primer by Assan Faye. On the right, the letter N and its Latin and Arabic equivalents. On the left, the letter P.
A Garay primer by Assan Faye. On the right, a summary of the lowercase letters and numbers. On the left, the digits and the numerical values of the letters.
A Garay primer by Assan Faye. On the right, a summary of the lowercase letters and numbers. On the left, the digits and the numerical values of the letters.
Last pages of the Garay primer by Assan Faye.
Last pages of the Garay primer by Assan Faye. On the left-hand page, the final letter of each word has a tail that goes back to underline the entire word. This is an optional stylistic choice that has no impact on the sound or meaning of the words. On the right-hand page, this embellishment does not appear.
Chart of the Garay alphabet, including consonants, vowels and numbers, by Assane Faye.
Chart of the Garay alphabet by Assane Faye.

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.

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