Albanian language

Source: Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

  • Shqipja
  • Gjuha shqipe
Native to
Native speakers
6.1 million in the Balkans (2017)[1]
Early form
Diffusione Lingua Albanese.png
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Albanian (endonym: shqipja [ʃcipja] or gjuha shqipe [ˈɟuha ˈʃcipe]) is an Indo-European, Paleo-Balkan language[7][8][9][10][11] and an independent branch of that language family. It is the official language of Albania and Kosovo,[a] and a co-official language in North Macedonia and Montenegro, as well as a recognized minority language of Italy, Croatia, Romania and Serbia. It is also spoken in Greece and by the Albanian diaspora, which is generally concentrated in the Americas, Europe and Oceania.[12][13] With perhaps as many as 7.5 million speakers,[12] it comprises an independent branch within the Indo-European languages and is not closely related to any other modern language.[14]

Albanian was first

Daco-Moesian, other ancient languages spoken farther east than Illyrian.[14][18]
Too little is known of these languages to prove or disprove completely the various hypotheses.[19]

The two main

Christianisation of the region (4th century AD),[25][26] and most likely not later than the 5th–6th centuries AD,[27][28][29] hence possibly occupying roughly their present area divided by the Shkumbin river since the Post-Roman and Pre-Slavic period, straddling the Jireček Line.[30][31][32]

Centuries-old communities speaking Albanian dialects can be found scattered in

Ethnic Albanians constitute a large diaspora, with many having long assimilated in different cultures and communities. Consequently, Albanian-speakers do not correspond to the total ethnic Albanian population, as many ethnic Albanians may identify as Albanian but are unable to speak the language.[37][38][39]

Standard Albanian is a standardised form of spoken Albanian based on Tosk

Geographic distribution

The language is spoken by approximately 6 million people in the Balkans, primarily in Albania, Kosovo, North Macedonia, Serbia, Montenegro and Greece.[1] However, due to old communities in Italy and the large Albanian diaspora, the worldwide total of speakers is much higher than in Southern Europe and numbers approximately 7.5 million.[1][12]


The Albanian language is the official language of

minority in Greece, specifically in the Thesprotia and Preveza regional units and in a few villages in Ioannina and Florina regional units in Greece.[33]
It is also spoken by 450,000 Albanian immigrants in Greece, making it one of the commonly spoken languages in the country after Greek.

Albanian is the third most common mother tongue among foreign residents in Italy.[42] This is due to a substantial Albanian immigration to Italy. Italy has a historical Albanian minority of about 500,000, scattered across southern Italy, known as Arbëreshë. Approximately 1 million Albanians from Kosovo are dispersed throughout Germany, Switzerland and Austria. These are mainly immigrants from Kosovo who migrated during the 1990s. In Switzerland, the Albanian language is the sixth most spoken language with 176,293 native speakers.

Albanian became an official language in North Macedonia on 15 January 2019.[43]


There are large numbers of Albanian speakers in the United States, Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, and

Canada. Some of the first ethnic Albanians to arrive in the United States were the Arbëreshë. The Arbëreshë have a strong sense of identity and are unique in that they speak an archaic dialect of Tosk Albanian called Arbëresh

In the United States and Canada, there are approximately 250,000 Albanian speakers. It is primarily spoken on the East Coast of the United States, in cities like New York City, Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia, and Detroit, as well as in parts of the states of New Jersey, Ohio, and Connecticut.[citation needed]

In Argentina, there are nearly 40,000 Albanian speakers, mostly in Buenos Aires.[44][need quotation to verify]

Asia and Africa

Approximately 1.3 million people of Albanian ancestry live in

culture. There are other estimates, however, that place the number of people in Turkey with Albanian ancestry and or background upward to 5 million. However, the vast majority of this population is assimilated and no longer possesses fluency in the Albanian language, though a vibrant Albanian community maintains its distinct identity in Istanbul
to this day.


Wāli, and self-declared Khedive of Egypt and Sudan. In addition to the dynasty that he established, a large part of the former Egyptian and Sudanese aristocracy
was of Albanian origin. In addition to the recent emigrants, there are older diasporic communities around the world.


Albanian is also spoken by Albanian diaspora communities residing in Australia and New Zealand.


The Albanian language has two distinct dialects,

Shkumbin River is the rough dividing line between the two dialects.[47]

Upper Reka dialect, which is however classified as Central Gheg. There is also a diaspora dialect in Croatia, the Arbanasi dialect

Arvanitika is spoken by the Arvanites in southern Greece. In addition, Arbëresh is spoken by the Arbëreshë people, descendants of 15th and 16th century migrants who settled in southeastern Italy, in small communities in the regions of Sicily and Calabria.[49][50]
These settlements originated from the (Arvanites) communities probably of Peloponnese known as Morea in the Middle Ages. Among them the Arvanites call themselves Arbëror and sometime Arbëresh. The Arbëresh dialect is closely related to the Arvanites dialect with more Italian vocabulary absorbed during different periods of time.


The Albanian language has been written using many alphabets since the earliest records from the 15th century. The history of Albanian language orthography is closely related to the cultural orientation and knowledge of certain foreign languages among Albanian writers.

Ottoman Turkish version of the Arabic script, Cyrillic, and some local alphabets (Elbasan, Vithkuqi, Todhri, Veso Bey, Jan Vellara and others, see original Albanian alphabets). More specifically, the writers from northern Albania and under the influence of the Catholic Church used Latin letters, those in southern Albania and under the influence of the Greek Orthodox church used Greek letters, while others throughout Albania and under the influence of Islam used Arabic letters. There were initial attempts to create an original Albanian alphabet during the 1750–1850 period. These attempts intensified after the League of Prizren and culminated with the Congress of Manastir held by Albanian intellectuals from 14 to 22 November 1908, in Manastir (present day Bitola), which decided on which alphabet to use, and what the standardised spelling would be for standard Albanian. This is how the literary language remains. The alphabet is the Latin alphabet with the addition of the letters <ë>, <ç>, and ten digraphs
: dh, th, xh, gj, nj, ng, ll, rr, zh and sh.

According to Robert Elsie:[52]

The hundred years between 1750 and 1850 were an age of astounding orthographic diversity in Albania. In this period, the Albanian language was put to writing in at least ten different alphabets – most certainly a record for European languages. ... the diverse forms in which this old Balkan language was recorded, from the earliest documents to the beginning of the twentieth century ... consist of adaptations of the Latin, Greek, Arabic, and Cyrillic alphabets and (what is even more interesting) a number of locally invented writing systems. Most of the latter alphabets have now been forgotten and are unknown, even to the Albanians themselves.[52]


Albanian within Indo-European language family tree based on "Ancestry-constrained phylogenetic analysis of Indo-European languages" by Chang et al. (January 2015).[53]

Albanian constitutes one of the eleven major branches of the

satem language is less significant.[54]

The hypothesis of the "Balkan Indo-European" continuum posits a common period of prehistoric coexistence of several Indo-European dialects in the Balkans prior to 2000 BC. To this group would belong Albanian, Ancient Greek, Armenian, Phrygian, fragmentary attested languages such as Macedonian, Thracian, or Illyrian, and the relatively well-attested Messapic in Southern Italy. The common features of this group appear at the phonological, morphological, and lexical levels, presumably resulting from the contact between the various languages. The concept of this linguistic group is explained as a kind of language league of the Bronze Age (a specific areal-linguistics phenomenon), although it also consisted of languages that were related to each other.[60] A common prestage posterior to PIE comprising Albanian, Greek, and Armenian, is considered as a possible scenario. In this light, due to the larger number of possible shared innovations between Greek and Armenian, it appears reasonable to assume, at least tentatively, that Albanian was the first Balkan IE language to branch off. This split and the following ones were perhaps very close in time, allowing only a narrow time frame for shared innovations.[61]

Albanian represents one of the core languages of the Balkan Sprachbund.[54]

Glottolog and Ethnologue recognize four Albanian languages. They are classified as follows:[62][63]

  • Indo-European
    • Paleo-Balkan
      • Albanian
        • Albanian-Tosk
          • Arbëreshë Albanian
          • Arvanitika Albanian
          • Northern Tosk Albanian
        • Gheg Albanian


Historical documentation

The first attested written mention of the Albanian language was on 14 July 1284 in

Latin: Audivi unam vocem, clamantem in monte in lingua albanesca).[64][65]

The Albanian language is also mentioned in the Descriptio Europae Orientalis[66] dated in 1308:

Habent enim Albani prefati linguam distinctam a Latinis, Grecis et Sclauis ita quod in nullo se intelligunt cum aliis nationibus. (Namely, the above-mentioned Albanians have a language that is different from the languages of Latins, Greeks and Slavs, so that they do not understand each other at all.)

The oldest attested document written in Albanian dates back to 1462,[14] while the first audio recording in the language was made by Norbert Jokl on 4 April 1914 in Vienna.[67]

However, as Fortson notes, Albanian written works existed before this point; they have simply been lost. The existence of written Albanian is explicitly mentioned in a letter attested from 1332, and the first preserved books, including both those in Gheg and in Tosk, share orthographic features that indicate that some form of common literary language had developed.[68]

During the five-century period of the

Congress of Dibra decided that Albanian schools would finally be allowed.[69]

Linguistic affinities

Albanian is considered an isolate within the Indo-European language family; no other language has been conclusively linked to its branch. The only other languages that are the sole surviving members of a branch of Indo-European are Armenian and Greek.[70]

The Albanian language is part of the Indo-European language group and is considered to have evolved from one of the Paleo-Balkan languages of antiquity,[71][72][73] although it is still uncertain which particular Paleo-Balkan language represents the ancestor of Albanian, or where in southern Europe that population lived.

Illyrian languages or Thracian and Dacian.[75] Among these possibilities, Illyrian is typically held to be the most probable, though insufficient evidence still clouds the discussion.[76]

Although Albanian shares lexical isoglosses with Greek, Germanic, and to a lesser extent Balto-Slavic, the vocabulary of Albanian is quite distinct. In 1995, Taylor, Ringe and Warnow, using quantitative linguistic techniques, found that Albanian appears to comprise a "subgroup with Germanic". However, they argued that this fact is hardly significant, as Albanian has lost much of its original vocabulary and morphology, and so this "apparently close connection to Germanic rests on only a couple of lexical cognates – hardly any evidence at all".[77]

Historical presence and location

The place and the time that the Albanian language was formed are uncertain.[78] American linguist Eric Hamp stated that during an unknown chronological period a pre-Albanian population (termed as "Albanoid" by Hamp) inhabited areas stretching from Poland to the southwestern Balkans.[79] Further analysis has suggested that it was in a mountainous region rather than on a plain or seacoast. The words for plants and animals characteristic of mountainous regions are entirely original, but the names for fish and for agricultural activities (such as ploughing) are borrowed from other languages.[71][80]

A deeper analysis of the vocabulary, however, shows that could be a consequence of a prolonged Latin domination of the coastal and plain areas of the country, rather than evidence of the original environment in which the Albanian language was formed. For example, the word for 'fish' is borrowed from Latin, but not the word for 'gills' which is native. Indigenous are also the words for 'ship', 'raft', 'navigation', 'sea shelves' and a few names of fish kinds, but not the words for 'sail', 'row' and 'harbor'; objects pertaining to navigation itself and a large part of sea fauna. This rather shows that Proto-Albanians were pushed away from coastal areas in early times (probably after the Latin conquest of the region) and thus lost a large amount (or the majority) of their sea environment lexicon. A similar phenomenon could be observed with agricultural terms. While the words for 'arable land', 'wheat', 'cereals', 'vineyard', 'yoke', 'harvesting', 'cattle breeding', etc. are native, the words for 'ploughing', 'farm' and 'farmer', agricultural practices, and some harvesting tools are foreign. This, again, points to intense contact with other languages and people, rather than providing evidence of a possible linguistic homeland (also known as a Urheimat).[citation needed]

The centre of Albanian settlement remained the

Slavic migration to the Balkans,[47][26][82] which means that in that period (the 5th to 6th centuries AD), Albanians were occupying nearly the same area around the Shkumbin river, which straddled the Jireček Line.[83][80]

References to the existence of Albanian as a distinct language survive from the 14th century, but they failed to cite specific words. The oldest surviving documents written in Albanian are the "formula e pagëzimit" (Baptismal formula), Un'te paghesont' pr'emenit t'Atit e t'Birit e t'Spertit Senit. ("I baptize thee in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit") recorded by Pal Engjelli, Bishop of Durrës in 1462 in the Gheg dialect, and some New Testament verses from that period.

The linguists Stefan Schumacher and Joachim Matzinger (University of Vienna) assert that the first literary records of Albanian date from the 16th century.

Roman Catholic cleric. In 1635, Frang Bardhi wrote the first Latin–Albanian dictionary. The first Albanian school is believed to have been opened by Franciscans in 1638 in Pdhanë

One of the earliest Albanian dictionaries was written in 1693; it was the Italian manuscript Pratichae Schrivaneschae authored by the Montenegrin sea captain Julije Balović and includes a multilingual dictionary of hundreds of the most frequently used words in everyday life in Italian, Slavic, Greek, Albanian, and Turkish.[86]

Pre-Indo-European substratum

Pre-Indo-European (PreIE) sites are found throughout the territory of Albania. Such PreIE sites existed in Maliq, Vashtëm, Burimas, Barç, Dërsnik in the

Kolonja, Kolsh in the Kukës District, Rashtan in Librazhd, and Nezir in the Mat District.[87] As in other parts of Europe, these PreIE people joined the migratory Indo-European tribes that entered the Balkans and contributed to the formation of the historical Paleo-Balkan tribes. In terms of linguistics, the pre-Indo-European substrate language spoken in the southern Balkans probably influenced pre-Proto-Albanian, the ancestor idiom of Albanian.[87] The extent of this linguistic impact cannot be determined with precision due to the uncertain position of Albanian among Paleo-Balkan languages and their scarce attestation.[88] Some loanwords, however, have been proposed, such as shegë 'pomegranate' or lëpjetë 'orach'; compare Pre-Greek λάπαθον, lápathon 'monk's rhubarb').[89][87]

Proto-IE features

Although Albanian has many words that do not correspond to IE cognates, it has retained many proto-IE features: for example, the demonstrative pronoun *ḱi- is ancestral to Albanian ky/kjo, English he, and Russian sej but not to English this or Russian etot.

Albanian is compared to other Indo-European languages below, but note that Albanian has exhibited some notable instances of

semantic drift
, such as motër meaning "sister" rather than "mother".

Vocabulary of Albanian and other Indo-European languages
Albanian muaj ri nënë motër natë hundë tre / tri zi kuq verdhë kaltër ujk
Proto-Indo-European *meh1ns- *neu-(i)o- *méh2tēr *swésōr *nókʷts *neh2-s- *treies *kʷr̥snós
*h1reudʰ-ó- ~
*ǵʰelh3- *bʰléh1-uo- *wĺ̥kʷos
English month new mother sister night nose three black red yellow blue wolf
mēnsis novus māter soror noct- nāsus trēs āter, niger ruber helvus caeruleum lupus
Lithuanian mė́nuo / mėnesis naũjas motė / motina sesuõ naktìs nósis trỹs júodas raűdas / raudonas gel̃tas / geltonas mė́lynas vil̃kas
Old Church Slavonic мѣсѧць
три, триѥ
tri, trije
Ancient Greek μην-
Armenian ամիս
Irish nua máthair deirfiúr oíche srón trí dubh dearg/rua buí gorm faolchú
Sanskrit मास

Albanian–PIE phonological correspondences

Phonologically, Albanian is not so conservative. Like many IE stocks, it has merged the two series of voiced stops (e.g. both *d and * became d). In addition, voiced stops tend to disappear in between vowels. There is almost complete loss of final syllables and very widespread loss of other unstressed syllables (e.g. mik 'friend' from Lat. amicus). PIE *o appears as a (also as e if a high front vowel i follows), while *ē and *ā become o, and PIE *ō appears as e.

The palatals, velars, and labiovelars show distinct developments, with Albanian showing the three-way distinction also found in

centum nor satem, despite having a "satem-like" realization of the palatal dorsals in most cases.[91]
Thus PIE *, *k, and * become th, q, and s, respectively (before back vowels * becomes th, while *k and * merge as k).

A minority of scholars reconstruct a fourth laryngeal *h4 allegedly surfacing as Alb. h word-initially, e.g. Alb. herdhe 'testicles' presumably from PIE *h4órǵʰi-[92] (rather than the usual reconstruction *h3erǵʰi-), but this is generally not followed elsewhere, as h- has arisen elsewhere idiosyncratically (for example hark < Latin arcus).[93][94]

Reflexes of PIE bilabial plosives in Albanian
PIE Albanian PIE Albanian
*p p *pékʷ- 'to cook' pjek 'to bake'
*bʰ / b b *sro-éi̯e- 'to sip, gulp' gjerb 'to sip'
Reflexes of PIE coronal plosives in Albanian
PIE Albanian PIE Albanian
*t t *túh2 'thou' ti 'you (singular)'
*d d *dih2tis 'light' ditë 'day'
dh[* 1] *pérd- 'to fart' pjerdh 'to fart'
g *dl̥h1-tó- 'long' gjatë 'long' (Tosk dial. glatë)
*dʰ d *égʷʰ- 'burn' djeg 'to burn'
dh[* 1] *gʰóros 'enclosure' gardh 'fence'
  1. ^ a b Between vowels or after r
Reflexes of PIE palatal plosives in Albanian
PIE Albanian PIE Albanian
*ḱ th *éh1smi 'I say' them 'I say'
s[* 1] *upo- 'shoulder' sup 'shoulder'
k[* 2] *sme-r̥ 'chin' mjekër 'chin; beard'
ç/c[* 3] *entro- 'to stick' çandër 'prop'
dh *ǵómbʰos 'tooth, peg' dhëmb 'tooth'
*ǵʰ dh *ǵʰed-ioH 'I defecate' dhjes 'I defecate'
d[* 4] *ǵʰr̥sdʰi 'grain, barley' drithë 'grain'
  1. ^ Before u̯/u or i̯/i
  2. ^ Before sonorant
  3. ^ Archaic relic
  4. ^ Syllable-initial and followed by sibilant
Reflexes of PIE velar plosives in Albanian
PIE Albanian PIE Albanian
*k k *kágʰmi 'I catch, grasp' kam 'I have'
q *kluH-i̯o- 'to weep' qaj 'to weep, cry' (dial. kla(n)j)
*g g *h3gos 'sick' ligë 'bad'
gj *h1reug- 'to retch' regj 'to tan hides'
*gʰ g *órdʰos 'enclosure' gardh 'fence'
gj *édn-i̯e/o- 'to get' gjej 'to find' (Old Alb. gjãnj)
Reflexes of PIE labiovelar plosives in Albanian
PIE Albanian PIE Albanian
*kʷ k *eh2sleh2 'cough' kollë 'cough'
s *élH- 'to turn' sjell 'to fetch, bring'
q *ṓd që 'that, which'
*gʷ g *r̥H 'stone' gur 'stone'
*gʷʰ g *dʰégʷʰ- 'to burn' djeg 'to burn'
z *dʰogʷʰéi̯e- 'to ignite' ndez 'to kindle, light a fire'
Reflexes of PIE *s in Albanian
PIE Albanian PIE Albanian
*s gj[* 1] *séḱstis 'six' gjashtë 'six'
h[* 2] *nosōm 'us' (gen.) nahe 'us' (dat.)
sh[* 3] *bʰreusos 'broken' breshër 'hail'
th[* 4] *suh1s 'swine' thi 'pig'
h1ésmi 'I am' jam 'I am'
*-sd- th *gʷésdos 'leaf' gjeth 'leaf'
*-sḱ- h *sḱi-eh2 'shadow' hije 'shadow'
*-sp- f *spélnom 'speech' fjalë 'word'
*-st- sht *h2osti 'bone' asht 'bone'
*-su̯- d *su̯eíd-r̥- 'sweat' dirsë 'sweat'
  1. ^ Initial
  2. ^ Between vowels
  3. ^ Between u/i and another vowel (ruki law)
  4. ^ Dissimilation with following s
Reflexes of PIE sonorants in Albanian
PIE Albanian PIE Albanian
*i̯ gj[* 1] *éh3s- 'to gird' (n)gjesh 'I gird; squeeze, knead'
j[* 2] *uH 'you' (nom.) ju 'you (plural)'
[* 3] *trees 'three' (masc.) tre 'three'
*u̯ v *os-éi̯e- 'to dress' vesh 'to wear, dress'
*m m *meh2tr-eh2 'maternal' motër 'sister'
*n n *nōs 'we' (acc.) ne 'we'
nj *eni-h1ói-no 'that one' një 'one' (Gheg njâ, njo, nji )
∅ (Tosk) ~ nasal vowel (Gheg) *pénkʷe 'five' pe 'five' (vs. Gheg pês)
r (Tosk only) *ǵʰeimen 'winter' dimër 'winter' (vs. Gheg dimën)
*l l *h3lígos 'sick' ligë 'bad'
ll *kʷélH- 'turn' sjell 'to fetch, bring'
*r r *repe/o 'take' rjep 'peel'
rr *u̯rh1ḗn 'sheep' rrunjë 'yearling lamb'
*n̥ e *h1men 'name' emër 'name'
*m̥ e *u̯iḱti 'twenty' (një)zet 'twenty'
*l̥ li, il[* 4] / lu, ul *u̯ĺ̥kʷos 'wolf' ujk 'wolf' (Chamian ulk)
*r̥ ri, ir[* 4] / ru, ur *ǵʰsdom 'grain, barley' drithë 'grain'
  1. ^ Before i, e, a
  2. ^ Before back vowels
  3. ^ Between vowels
  4. ^ a b Before C clusters, i, j
Reflexes of PIE laryngeals in Albanian
PIE Albanian PIE Albanian
*h1 *h1ésmi 'I am' jam 'to be'
*h2 *h2r̥tḱos 'bear' ari 'bear'
*h3 *h3ónr̥ 'dream' ëndërr 'dream'
*h4[b] h *h4órǵʰi 'testicles' herdhe 'testicles'
Reflexes of PIE vowels in Albanian
PIE Albanian PIE Albanian
*i i *sínos 'bosom' gji 'bosom, breast'
e *dwigʰeh2 'twig' de 'branch'
*ī < *iH i *dih2tis 'light' di 'day'
*e e *pénkʷe 'five' pe 'five' (Gheg pês)
je *wétos 'year' (loc.) vjet 'last year'
o *ǵʰēsreh2 'hand' do 'hand'
*a a *bʰaḱeh2 'bean' bathë 'bean'
e *h2élbʰit 'barley' elb 'barley'
*o a *gʰórdʰos 'enclosure' gardh 'fence'
e *h2oḱtōtis 'eight' te 'eight'
*u u *súpnom 'sleep' gju 'sleep'
*ū < *uH y *suHsos 'grandfather' gjysh 'grandfather'
i *muh2s 'mouse' mi 'mouse'
Reflexes of PIE diphthongs in Albanian[95]
PIE Albanian PIE Albanian
*ey, *h1ey i *g'heymōn dimër
*ay, *h2ey e
*oy, *h3ey e *stoygho- shteg
*ew, *h1ew a
*aw, *h2ew a *h2ewg- agim
*ow, *h3ew a, ve-

Standard Albanian

Since World War II, standard Albanian used in Albania has been based on the Tosk dialect. Kosovo and other areas where Albanian is official adopted the Tosk standard in 1969.

Elbasan-based standard

Until the early 20th century, Albanian writing developed in three main literary traditions:

Arbëreshë. Throughout this time, a Gheg subdialect spoken around Elbasan served as lingua franca among the Albanians, but was less prevalent in writing. The Congress of Manastir
of Albanian writers held in 1908 recommended the use of the Elbasan subdialect for literary purposes and as a basis of a unified national language. While technically classified as a southern Gheg variety, the Elbasan speech is closer to Tosk in phonology and practically a hybrid between other Gheg subdialects and literary Tosk.

Between 1916 and 1918, the Albanian Literary Commission met in Shkodër under the leadership of Luigj Gurakuqi with the purpose of establishing a unified orthography for the language. The commission, made up of representatives from the north and south of Albania, reaffirmed the Elbasan subdialect as the basis of a national tongue. The rules published in 1917 defined spelling for the Elbasan variety for official purposes. The commission did not, however, discourage publications in one of the dialects, but rather laid a foundation for Gheg and Tosk to gradually converge into one.

When the Congress of Lushnje met in the aftermath of World War I to form a new Albanian government, the 1917 decisions of the Literary Commission were upheld. The Elbasan subdialect remained in use for administrative purposes and many new writers embraced it for creative writing. Gheg and Tosk continued to develop freely and interaction between the two dialects increased.

Tosk standard