Sheko language

Native toEthiopia
RegionBench Maji Zone, Kafa region
Native speakers
39,000 (2007 census)[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-3she

Sheko is an Omotic language of the Afro-Asiatic language family spoken in the area between Tepi and Mizan Teferi in western Ethiopia, in the Sheko district in the Bench Maji Zone. The 2007 census lists 38,911 speakers; the 1998 census listed 23,785 speakers, with 13,611 identified as monolinguals.[3]

Sheko, together with the Dizi and Nayi languages, is part of a cluster of languages variously called "Maji" or "Dizoid".

The language is notable for its retroflex consonants (Aklilu Yilma 1988), a striking feature shared with closely related Dizi and nearby (but not closely related) Bench (Breeze 1988).


Apart from the above-mentioned retroflex consonants, the phonology of Sheko is characterized by a total 28 consonant phonemes,[4] five long vowels and six short vowels,[5] plus four phonemic tone levels.[6]


Hellenthal (2010, p. 45) lists the following consonant phonemes of Sheko:

Labial Alveolar Post-
Retroflex Velar Glottal
Plosive Ejective
Voiceless t k ʔ
Voiced b d ɡ
Affricate Ejective tsʼ tʃʼ tʂʼ
Voiceless ts
Fricative Voiceless f s ʃ ʂ h
Voiced z ʒ ʐ
Nasal m n
tap r [ɾ]
Approximant w j

Unlike other Dizoid languages, Sheko has no contrast between /r/ and /l/.[7] Consonants are rarely geminated,[8] and there is a syllabic nasal /n̩/[9]


Hellenthal (2010, p. 56) lists the following long and short vowels of Sheko: /i/, /ii/, /e/, /ee/ /ə/, /a/, /aa/, /u/, /uu/, /o/, /oo/.


Sheko is one of very few languages in Africa that have four distinct phonemic tone levels.[10] Tone distinguishes meaning both in the lexicon and in the grammar, particularly to distinguish persons in the pronominal system.[11]


The Ethnologue lists the following morphosyntactic features: "SOV; postpositions; genitives, articles, adjectives, numerals, relatives after noun heads; question word initial; 1 prefix, 5 suffixes; word order distinguishes subjects, objects, indirect objects; affixes indicate case of noun phrases; verb affixes mark person, number, gender of subject; passives, causatives, comparatives."


  1. ^ Ethiopia 2007 Census
  2. ^ Endangered Languages Project data for Sheko.
  3. ^ Raymond G. Gordon Jr., ed. 2005. Ethnologue: Languages of the World. 15th edition. Dallas: Summer Institute of Linguistics.
  4. ^ Hellenthal 2010, p. 45
  5. ^ Hellenthal 2010, p. 56
  6. ^ Hellenthal 2010, p. 111
  7. ^ Hellenthal 2010, p. 47
  8. ^ Hellenthal 2010, p. 47
  9. ^ Hellenthal 2010, p. 58
  10. ^ Hellenthal 2010, p. 111
  11. ^ Hellenthal 2010, p. 113


  • Breeze, Mary. 1988. "Phonological features of Gimira and Dizi." In Marianne Bechhaus-Gerst and Fritz Serzisko (eds.), Cushitic – Omotic: papers from the International Symposium on Cushitic and Omotic languages, Cologne, January 6–9, 1986, 473–487. Hamburg: Helmut Buske Verlag.
  • Hellenthal, Anneke Christine. 2009. Handout on Sheko subject clitics. download
  • Hellenthal, Anneke Christine (2010). A grammar of Sheko (Ph.D. thesis). Leiden University. hdl:1887/15692.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • Yilma, Aklilu (1988). The phonology of Sheko (MA thesis). Addis Ababa University.
  • Yilma, Aklilu, Ralph Siebert and Kati Siebert. 2002. "Sociolinguistic survey of the Omotic languages Sheko and Yem." SIL Electronic Survey Reports 2002-053.

External links

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