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.[2]

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,[3] five long vowels and six short vowels,[4] plus four phonemic tone levels.[5]


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/.[6] Consonants are rarely geminated,[7] and there is a syllabic nasal /n̩/[8]


Hellenthal (2010, p. 56) lists the following long and short vowels of Sheko: /i/, /iː/, /e/, /eː/ /ə/, /a/, /aː/, /u/, /uː/, /o/, /oː/.


Sheko is one of very few languages in Africa that have four distinct phonemic tone levels.[9] Tone distinguishes meaning both in the lexicon and in the grammar, particularly to distinguish persons in the pronominal system.[10]


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. ^ Sheko at Ethnologue (25th ed., 2022) Closed access icon
  2. ^ Raymond G. Gordon Jr., ed. 2005. Ethnologue: Languages of the World. 15th edition. Dallas: Summer Institute of Linguistics.
  3. ^ Hellenthal 2010, p. 45
  4. ^ Hellenthal 2010, p. 56
  5. ^ Hellenthal 2010, p. 111
  6. ^ Hellenthal 2010, p. 47
  7. ^ Hellenthal 2010, p. 47
  8. ^ Hellenthal 2010, p. 58
  9. ^ Hellenthal 2010, p. 111
  10. ^ Hellenthal 2010, p. 113