Shilluk language

Shilluk (natively Dhøg Cøllø or d̪ɔ́cɔ̀llɔ̀)[2] is a language spoken by the Shilluk people of South Sudan and Sudan. It is closely related to other Luo languages. The term Shilluk is a pronunciation of Arabic origin.[3]

Shilluk (Chollo)
Dhøg Cøllø
PronunciationZɔg ʃɔllɔ
Native toSouth Sudan & Sudan
RegionUpper Nile State & White Nile State
EthnicityShilluk people
Native speakers
(175,000 cited 1982)[1]
Official status
Official language in
Shilluk Kingdom
Language codes
ISO 639-3shk



Front Central Back
Close i [i][i̠] [u̠]
Mid e [ɛ] e [ɛ̠] o [o]

ɔ [ɔ] ɔ̠ [ɔ̠]

Open a [a][a̠]

Each of these vowels also exists in a long form and an overlong form which are phonemic.[4][5]

Advanced and retracted tongue rootEdit

Shilluk, like most Nilotic languages, differentiates vowels according to their place of articulation. They are either pronounced with advancement of the root of the tongue or with retraction of the root of the tongue. Gilley uses the terms "extended larynx" or "blown vowel".

The vowels with advancement of the root of the tongue are [i], [e], [o], [ɔ], [a] and their corresponding long variants. The vowels with retraction of the root of the language are denoted by a macron below the letter: [i̠], [e̠], [o̠], [ɔ̠], [u̠] and [a̠] and their corresponding long variants.


Labial Dental Alveolar Lateral Dorsal
Palatal Velar
Stop Voiceless p [p] [t̪] t [t] k [k]
Voiced b [b] [d̪] d [d] g [g]
Fricative s [s]
Affricate Voiceless c [t͡ʃ]
Voiced j [d͡ʒ]
Nasal m [m] [n̪] n [n] ɲ [ɲ] ŋ [ŋ]
Liquid r [r] l [l]
Approximant w [w] y [j]


Shilluk has a rich inventory of tones, with at least seven distinctive tone patterns or tonemes.[5]

There are three level tonemes: Low, Mid and High. In addition, there are four contours – the Rise and three falling configurations: Fall, High Fall and Late Fall. These are denoted by the following diacritics:

Tone description Diacritic Tone bars
Level Low cv̀c (grave accent)
Mid cv̄c (macron)
High cv́c (acute accent)
Contoured Rising cv̌c (caron) ꜖꜔
Falling cv̂c (circumflex) ꜔꜖
High Falling cv̂́c (circumflex with acute accent) ꜒꜖
Late Falling cv́c̀ (acute accent followed by grave accent) ꜒꜒꜖


A Latin alphabet was developed for Shilluk by Christian missionaries in the early 20th century.[6] There are 29 characters in Shilluk orthography; 10 vowels and 19 consonants.[7]

a áà ä aa bcd dhdhh e éèëeeg
í ì ï ii j k l m ng ngg nh nhh ny nyy o
ó ö ø oo p r t th u ú ù uu v w y

Syllable structureEdit

Uninflected native stem syllables are overwhelmingly monosyllabic. With few exceptions, these monosyllabic stems typically consist of an onset, a vowel (nucleus), and a coda. Their structure is as follows:[5]

C (Cj/w) V (V) (V) C



Monosyllabic stems give rise to polysyllabic words through processes of derivation or inflection. For verbs and nouns alike, the most common prefixes are /a- ʊ-/, and the most common suffixes are /-Cɪ -ɪ -a (-ɔ)/.[5] Further, alternations of vowel length and tone play an important part in inflectional morphology.[8]


Transitive verb classesEdit

Shilluk transitive verbs have a phonological root that consists of a single closed syllable of the form /C(j/w)V(V)C/. "That is, the root vowel is either short or long, and clustering of consonants is restricted to the onset, where either of the semivowels /w,j/ may follow another consonant."[8] There are seven classes distinguished by alternations in terms of vowel length and tone.

The difference in tone and vowel length between the seven classes of transitive verbs, illustrated by Subject voice Past, Past 2nd singular, and Object voice Imperfective.[8]


Fixed short Short with grade Long
Low Low fall Low Low fall Low Low fall High fall
Example {ŋɔ̀l} ‘cut’ {lɛ̂ŋ} {lɛ̂ŋ} ‘drum’ {càm} ‘eat’ {mʌ̂l} ‘roast’ {lɛ̀ɛŋ} ‘throw’ {mâat̪} ‘drink’ {mấal} ‘praise’
SV past á-ŋɔ̀l á-lɛ̂ŋ á-càm á-mʌ̂l á-ɛ̀ɛŋ á-mâat̪ á-mấal
Past 2sg á-ŋɔ̀l á-lɛ̂ŋ á-càaam á-mʌ̂ʌʌl á-ɛ̀ɛɛŋ á-mâaat̪ á-mấaal
OV impf ʊ̀-ŋɔ̀l-ɔ̀ ʊ̀-lɛ̂ŋ-ɔ̀ ʊ̀-càaam-ɔ̀ ʊ̀-mʌ̂ʌʌl-ɔ̀ ʊ̀-ɛ̀ɛɛŋ-ɔ̀ ʊ̀-mâaat̪-ɔ̀ ʊ̀-mấaal-ɔ̀


Noun inflection is characterised by head marking: pertensive and construct-state are both inflections that mark the head, not the dependent. For example, English has a person's rodent, where the head is rodent and the possessive marking is on the dependent person's. In contrast, Shilluk has a pertensive affix on the head (e.g., dúup = "rodent", dû́uup = "rodent belonging to").[9]

Number is marked, but no predictable system has been identified. Instead, there are over 140 different patterns of number marking on nouns.[9]

Numerals in Shilluk are nouns.[9]

Sample textEdit


  1. ^ Shilluk (Chollo) at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. ^ "Chollo (Dhøg Cøllø)". Retrieved 26 March 2015.
  3. ^ Gilley, Leoma G. (1992). Summer Institute of Linguistics (ed.). An autosegmental approach to Shilluk phonology (revised text of a thesis, University of London). Dallas, Texas. p. 214. ISBN 0-88312-106-9.
  4. ^ Miller, Cynthia L.; Gilley, Leoma G. (2001). "Evidence for ergativity in Shilluk". Journal of African Languages and Linguistics. 22 (1): 33–68. doi:10.1515/jall.22.1.33. S2CID 144811223.
  5. ^ a b c d Remijsen, Bert; Ayoker, Otto G.; Mills, Timothy (2011). "Illustrations of the IPA – Shilluk". Journal of the International Phonetic Association. 41 (1). doi:10.1017/s0025100310000289.
  6. ^ "Shilluk language and pronunciation". Retrieved 2017-05-29.
  7. ^ "Cøllø (aka Shilluk) Dictionary » Alphabet". Retrieved 2017-05-29.
  8. ^ a b c Remijsen, Bert; Ayoker, Otto Gwado (2018-10-22). "LD&C SP14: A Descriptive Grammar of Shilluk". Language Documentation & Conservation. Retrieved 2020-12-24.
  9. ^ a b c Remijsen, Bert; Ayoker, Otto Gwado (2017). "Shilluk noun morphology and noun phrase morphosyntax". Research gate.