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ALBANIAN LANGUAGE








































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A door; Actual size=180 pixels wide

History of Albanian

The official language, written in a standard roman-style orthography adopted in 1909, was based on the south Gheg dialect of Elbasan from the beginning of the Albanian state until World War II, and since has been modelled on Tosk. Albanian speakers in Kosova and in Macedonia speak eastern varieties of Gheg but since 1974 have widely adopted a common orthography with Albania. Before 1909, the little literature that was preserved, was written in local makeshift Italianate or Hellenizing orthographies, or even in Turko-Arabic characters.

A few brief written records are preserved from the 15th century, the first being a baptismal formula from 1462. The scattering of books produced in the 16th and 17th centuries originated largely in the Gheg area (often in Scutarene north Gheg) and reflect Roman Catholic missionary activities. Much of the small stream of literature in the 19th century was produced by exiles. Perhaps the earliest purely literary work of any extent is the 18th-century poetry of Jul Variboba, of the enclave at S.Giorgio, in Calabria. Some literary production continued through the 19th century in the Italian enclaves, but no similar activity is recorded in the Greek areas. All these early historical documents show a language that differs little from the current language. Because these documents from different regions and times exhibit marked dialect peculiarities, however, they often have a value for linguistic study that greatly outweighs their literary merit.






The Albanian Language

Albanian is an Indo-European language spoken by about 6,400,000 inhabitants of the eastern Adriatic coast in Albania and also in neighbouring Yugoslavia, principally in Kosova and Macedonia, west of a line from near Leskovac to Lake Ohri. There are perhaps 300,000 more speakers in isolated villages in southern Italy (Abruzzi, Molise, Basilicata, Puglia, and Calabria), and Sicily, and southern Greece (in Voiota, Attica, vvoia, ndros, and the Pelopnnesos)

The origins of the general name Albanian, which traditionally referred to a restricted area in central Albania, and of the current official name Shqip or Shqipri, which may well be derived from a term meaning "pronounce clearly, intelligibly," are still disputed. The name Albanian has been found in records since the time of Ptolemy. In Calabrian Albanian the name is Arbresh, in Modern Greek Arvantis, and in Turkish Arnaut; the name must have been transmitted early through Greek speech.

The classification of Albanian

That Albanian is of clearly Indo-European origin was recognized by the German philologist, Franz Bopp, in 1854; the details of the main correspondences of Albanian with Indo-European languages were elaborated by another German philologist, Gustav Meyer, in the 1880s and 1890s. Further linguistic refinements were presented by the Danish linguist Holger Pedersen and the Austrian Norbert Jokl. The following etymologies illustrate the relationship of Albanian to Indo-European (an asterisk preceding a word denotes an unattested, hypothetical Indo-European parent word, which is written in a conventionalized orthography): pes "five" (from *pnk e); zjarm "fire" (from *g hermos); nat "night" (from *nok t-); dhndr "son-in-law" (from * gem ter-); gjarpr "snake" (from *srpon-); bjer "bring!" (from *bhere); djeg "I burn" (from *dheg ho); kam "I have" (from *kapmi); pata "I had" (from *pot-); pjek "I roast" (from * peko); thom, thot "I say, he says" (from *k'emi, *k'et . . .).

The verb system includes many archaic traits, such as the retention of distinct active and middle personal endings (as in Greek) and the change of a stem vowel e in the present to o (from *e) in the past tense, a feature shared with the Baltic languages. For example, there is mbledh "gathers (transitive)" as well as mblidhet "gathers (intransitive), is gathered" in the present tense, and mblodha "I gathered" with an o in the past. Because of the superficial changes in the phonetic shape of the language over 3,000 years and because of the borrowing of words from neighbouring cultures, the continuity of the Indo-European heritage in Albanian has been underrated.

Albanian shows no obvious close affinity to any other Indo-European language; it is plainly the sole modern survivor of its own subgroup. Of ancient languages, both Dacian (or Daco-Mysian) and Illyrian have been tentatively considered its ancestor or nearest relative






Albanian Dialects

The two principal dialects, Gheg in the north and Tosk in the south, are separated roughly by the 41st parallel, which is traditionally symbolized by the Shkumbini river. Gheg and Tosk have been diverging for at least a millennium, and their less extreme forms are mutually intelligible. Gheg has the more marked subvarieties, the most striking of which are the northernmost and eastern types, which include those of the city of Shkodr (Scutari), the neighbouring mountains along the Montenegro border, Kosova, Macedonia, and the isolated village of Arbanasi (formerly Borgo Erizzo) on the Croatian coast of Dalmatia outside Zara (Zadar). Arbanasi, founded in the early 18th century by refugees from near Tivar (formerly Antivari, Bar), has about 2,000 speakers.

All of the Albanian dialects spoken in Italian and Greek enclaves are of the Tosk variety, yet it is thought that Tosk has undergone significant changes since they were seperated, so the dialect spoken in Italy is typically refered to as Arbersh. It seems that it would be related most closely to the dialect of amria in the extreme south of Albania. These dialects resulted from population movements that are not completely understood that occurred during the 13th and 15th centuries. The Italian enclaves of nearly 50 scattered villages-- probably were founded by immigrants that left during Turkish rule in Greece. A few isolated outlying dialects of south Tosk origin are spoken in Bulgaria and the Ukraine but it is unclear as to their departure date from their Tosk ancestors. The language is still in use in Mandritsa, Bulgaria, at the border near Edirne, and in an offshoot of this village surviving in Mndres, near Kilks in Greece, that dates from the Balkan Wars. A Tosk enclave near Melitopol in the Ukraine appears to be of moderately recent settlement from Bulgaria. The Albanian dialects of Istria, for which a text exists, and of Syrmia (Srem), for which there is none, have become extinct.








































Basic Albanian Grammar

The grammatical categories of Albanian are much like those of other European languages. Nouns show overt gender, number, and case within their morphology. An unusual feature is that nouns are further inflected obligatorily with suffixes to show definite or indefinite meaning; e.g., buk "bread," buka "the bread." Adjectives--except numerals and certain quantifying expressions--and dependent nouns follow the noun they modify; which brings about an interesting trait since they require a particle preceding them that agrees with the noun. Thus, in nj burr i madh, meaning "a big man," burr "man" is modified by madh "big," which is preceded by i, which agrees with the term for "man"; likewise, in dy burra t mdhenj"two big men," mdhenj, the plural masculine form of "big," follows the noun burra "men" and is preceded by the particle t that agrees with the noun. Verbs have roughly the number and variety of forms found in French or Italian and are very irregular compared to other indo-european languages with regard to stem formation. Noun plurals are also notable since they tend to be very irregular as well. When a definite noun or a noun that is assumed to be known is the direct object of the sentence, a pronoun in the objective case that repeats this information must also be inserted in the verb phrase; e.g., i-a dhash librin atij is literally "him-it I-gave the-book to-him," which in standard English would be "I gave the book to him." This occurs inspite of the fact that Albanian is a pro-drop language. In general, the grammar and formal distinctions of Albanian are reminiscent of Modern Greek and the Romance languages, especially of Romanian. The sounds suggest Hungarian or Greek, but Gheg with its nasal vowels strikes the ear as distinctive. Although Albanian has a host of borrowings from its neighbours, it shows exceedingly few evidences of contact with ancient Greek; one such is the Gheg moken; (Tosk mokr) "millstone," from the Greek mekhane'. Obviously close contacts with the Romans gave many Latin loans; e.g., mik "friend," from Latin amicus; kndoj "sing, read" from cantare. Furthermore, such loanwords in Albanian attest to the similarities in development of the Latin spoken in the Balkans and of Romanian, a Balkan Romance tongue. For example, Latin paludem "swamp" became padulem, and then padure in Romanian and pyll in Albanian, both with a modified meaning, "forest."

Conversely, Romanian also shares some apparently non-Latin indigenous terms with Albanian; e.g., Romanian brad, Albanian bredh "fir." Thus these two languages reflect special historical contacts of early date. Early communication with the Goths presumably contributed tirq "trousers, breeches" (from an old compound "thigh-breech"), while early Slavic contacts gave gozhd "nail." Many Italian, Turkish, Modern Greek, Serbian, and Macedonian-Slav loans can be attributed to cultural contacts of the past 500 years with Venetians, Ottomans, Greeks (to the south), and Slavs (to the east).

A fair number of features--e.g., the formation of the future tense and of the noun phrase--are shared with other languages of the Balkans but are of obscure origin and development; Albanian or its earlier kin could easily be the source for at least some of these. The study of such regional features in the Balkans has become a classic case for research on the phenomena of linguistic diffusion.

Albanian contacts and their influence

Although Albanian has a host of borrowings from its neighbours, it shows exceedingly few evidences of contact with ancient Greek; one such is the Gheg mokn (Tosk mokr) "millstone," from the Greek mekhane'. Obviously close contacts with the Romans gave many Latin loans; e.g., mik "friend," from Latin amicus; kndoj "sing, read" from cantare. Furthermore, such loanwords in Albanian attest to the similarities in development of the Latin spoken in the Balkans and of Romanian, a Balkan Romance tongue. For example, Latin paludem "swamp" became padulem, and then padure in Romanian and pyll in Albanian, both with a modified meaning, "forest."


Conversely, Romanian also shares some apparently non-Latin indigenous terms with Albanian; e.g., Romanian brad, Albanian bredh "fir." Thus these two languages reflect special historical contacts of early date. Early communication with the Goths presumably contributed tirq "trousers, breeches" (from an old compound "thigh-breech"), while early Slavic contacts gave gozhd "nail." Many Italian, Turkish, Modern Greek, Serbian, and Macedonian-Slav loans can be attributed to cultural contacts of the past 500 years with Venetians, Ottomans, Greeks (to the south), and Slavs (to the east).

A fair number of features--e.g., the formation of the future tense and of the noun phrase--are shared with other languages of the Balkans but are of obscure origin and development; Albanian or its earlier kin could easily be the source for at least some of these. The study of such regional features in the Balkans has become a classic case for research on the phenomena of linguistic diffusion.

Read a paper on Gegh and Tosk and how language contact caused their differences.

The Albanian Alphabet

The Albanian alphabet consists of 36 letters of the Latin script. The alphabet was standardized in 1909.

Albanian characters are supported by the ISO Latin-1 ASCII character set. Your computer must use this set if the following characters are to be displayed correctly.

A B C D Dh E F G Gj H I J K L Ll M N Nj O P Q R Rr S Sh T Th U V X Xh Y Z Zh

a b c d dh e f g gj h i j k l ll m n nj o p q r rr s sh t th u v x xh y z zh

Pronounciation
a as a in father i as i in machine rr as highly trilled rr in Spanish burro
b as b in Boston j as y in year s as s in see
c as ts in cats k as k in king sh as sh in she
as ch in church l as l in alien t as t in two
d as d in dog ll as ll in all th as th in three
dh as th in this m as m in man u as oo in loom
e as e in set n as n in now v as v in value
as e in term nj as ni in union x as dz in adze
f as f in free o as o in oak xh as j in jester
g as g in go p as p in pencil y as in German Fhrer or u in French du, mur
gj as dg in dodge q as ch in chair z as z in zone
h as h in her r as r in roar zh as si in vision


Note: A letter combination such as gj and nj, constitutes a single phonetic sound. While j is a semi-vowel which may be used before or after a vowel or consonant or between two vowels, it is fused into an inseperable character when it follows g or n. Likewise, when h follows d, s, t, x and z it also is fused into a single alphabetical character producing in each instance a single phonetic sound.

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This page was authored and is maintained by Matthew Coulson
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Last updated on Febuary 5, 1998.