Albanian language

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Albanian (gjuha shqipe /ˈɟuˌha ˈʃciˌpɛ/) is a language spoken by over 6 million people primarily in Albania, but also by smaller numbers of ethnic Albanians in other parts of the southern Balkans, along the eastern coast of Italy and in Sicily, as well as by emigrant groups in Scandinavia, Germany, the UK and the USA. The language forms its own distinct branch of the Indo-European language family.

Albanian (Shqip)
Spoken in: Albania, Serbia and Montenegro, Republic of Macedonia, Greece, Turkey, Italy, and other countries
Region: Eastern Europe
Total speakers: 6,169,000 (Ethnologue, 2000)
Ranking: Not in top 100
Genetic classification: Indo-European


Official status
Official language of: Albania, Serbia and Montenegro (Kosovo), parts of the Republic of Macedonia
Regulated by: -
Language codes
ISO 639-1 sq
ISO 639-2 sqi
See also: LanguageList of languages



Albanian was proven to be an Indo-European language 1854 by the German philologist Franz Bopp. The Albanian language is its own independent branch of the Indo-European language family with no living close relatives. There is no scholarly consensus over its origin. Most scholars maintain that it derives from the Illyrian language, but there is a minority claiming that it derives from Thracian. The former group don't exclude a relationship with Thracian, however it should be added that this question is often loaded with political implications.

How Albanian compares with other languages

Albanian muaj iri nënë natë hundë tre
Other Indo-European languages
English month new mother night nose three
French mois nouveau mère nuit nez trois
Latin mensis novus mater nox nasus tres
German Monat neu Mutter Nacht Nase drie
Dutch maand nieuw moeder nacht neus three
Swedish månad ny moder natt näsa tre
Icelandic mánudur nýr módir nótt nef brir
Irish nua máthair oíche srón trí
Welsh mis newydd mam nos trwyn tri
Russian mesyats novy mat noch nos tri
Polish miesiac nowy matka noc nos trzy
Romanian luna nou mama noapte nas trei
Greek mēn neos mētēr nyx rhis treis
Lithuanian menuo naujas motina naktis nosis trys
Armenian amis nor mayr kisher kit yerek
Persian mãh nau mãdar shab bini se
Sanskrit mãs nava matar nakt nãs trayas
Non-Indo-European languages
Finnish kuukausi uusi äiti nenä kolme
Hungarian hónap új anya ëjszaka orr három
Turkish ay yeni anne gece burun üç
Basque hilabethe berri ama gai sãdãr hirur

Geographic distribution

Albanian distribution and dialects
Albanian distribution and dialects

Albanian is spoken by about 6 million people mainly in Albania and Kosovo but also in many other countries, including the Republic of Macedonia, Belgium, Egypt, Germany, Greece, Italy, Sweden, Turkey (Europe), Ukraine, the UK and USA.

Official status

Albanian in the Tosk dialect is the official language of the Republic of Albania. Albanian is also one of the official languages of Kosovo, and the Republic of Macedonia.


There are two principal dialects, Tosk and Gheg, which have been diverging for at least a millennium, and their less extreme forms are mutually intelligible. The geographical border of the two dialects has traditionally been the Shkumbin River in Albania, with Gheg being spoken north of the river, and Tosk south of the river. The two dialects have phonological as well as lexicological differences. Lexicological

Tosk is the dialect spoken by most members of the large Albanian immigrant communities that have recently arrived in these two countries, and in smaller Albanian communities in Ukraine, Turkey, Egypt, and United States.

Gheg (or Geg) is spoken in northern Albania and by the Albanians of Serbia and Montenegro (Southern Montenegro and Southern Serbia), the UN protectorate of Kosovo, as well as those of the Republic of Macedonia.

Since after World War II there have been efforts to create a Standard or Literary Albanian that borrows most heavily from the Tosk dialect (at the behest of the dictator Enver Hoxha, himself a Tosk speaker). The Congress on the Orthography of Albanian, held in 1972 with the additional participation of delegates from the Yugoslav territories of Kosovo, Macedonia and Montenegro and Calabria (Italy), established a unified literary language. The resulting orthographic rules were codified in such tomes as Drejtshkrimi i gjuhës shqipe (1973) (The Orthography of the Albanian Language) and Fjalori drejtshkrimor i gjuhës shqipe (1976) (The Orthographic Dictionary of the Albanian Language).

Notable lexicological differences between Tosk and Gheg

Standard form Tosk form Gheg form Translation
është është âsht is
bëj bëj bâj do
emër emër êmën name
pjekuri pjekuri pjekuni maturity
gjendje gjëndje gjêndje situation
zog zok zog bird
mbret mbret mret king
për të punuar për të punuar me punue to work
rërë rërë rânë sand

(ˆ) denotes nasal vowels, which are a common feature of Gheg.


Albanian has 7 vowels and 29 consonants. Gheg has a set of nasal vowels which are absent in Tosk. Another peculiarity is the mid-central vowel "ë" reduced at the end of the word. Two dental fricatives exist (/ð/ and /θ/) and the sounds r and l can be weak or strong. The original Indo-European phonetic system was destroyed in Albanian after diphthongs disappeared, and unstressed vowels were dropped. The stress is fixed mainly on the penultimate syllable.


  bilabial labio-
dental alveolar post-
palatal velar glottal
plosive p  b     t  d   c  ɟ k  g  
nasal m     n   ɲ    
flap       ɾ  r        
fricative   f  v θ  ð s  z ʃ  ʒ     h
affricate       ts  dz tʃ  dʒ      
approximant           j    
lateral approximant       l     ɫ  
IPA Description Written as Pronounced as in
p Voiceless bilabial plosive p pen
b Voiced bilabial plosive b bat
t Voiceless alveolar plosive t tan
d Voiced alveolar plosive d debt
c Voiceless palatal plosive q similar to keep
ɟ Voiced palatal plosive gj similar to geek
k Voiceless velar plosive k car
g Voiced velar plosive g go
ts Voiceless alveolar affricate c hats
dz Voiced alveolar affricate x goods
Voiceless postalveolar affricate ç chop
Voiced postalveolar affricate xh jet
θ Voiceless dental fricative th thin
ð Voiced dental fricative dh this
f Voiceless labiodental fricative f far
v Voiced labiodental fricative v van
s Voiceless alveolar fricative s son
z Voiced alveolar fricative z zip
ʃ Voiceless postalveolar fricative sh show
ʒ Voiced postalveolar fricative zh vision
h Voiceless glottal fricative h hat
m Bilabial nasal m man
n Alveolar nasal n not
ɲ Palatal nasal nj new
l Alveolar lateral approximant l law
j Palatal approximant j yes
ɫ Velarized alveolar lateral approximant ll milk
r Alveolar trill rr Spanish hierro
ɾ Alveolar tap r Spanish aro


  • The affricates are pronounced as one sound (a stop and a fricative at the same point).
  • The palatal stops q and gj are completely unknown to English, so the pronunciation guide is approximate. Palatal stops can be found in other European languages, for example, in Hungarian (where these sounds are spelt ty and gy respectively).
  • The palatal nasal nj corresponds to the sound of the Spanish ñ or the French or Italian digraph gn (as in gnocchi). It is pronounced as one sound, not a nasal plus a glide.
  • The ll sound is a velarised lateral, close to English "dark L".
  • The contrast between flapped r and trilled rr is the same as in Spanish. English does not have any of the two sounds phonemically (but tt in butter is pronounced as a flap r in most American dialects).
  • (1) The letter ç can be spelt ch on American English keyboards, both due to its English sound, but more importantly, due to analogy with Albanian xh, sh, zh. (Usually, however, it's spelt simply c, which may cause confusion; however, meanings are usually understood).


IPA Description Written as Pronounced as in
i Close front unrounded vowel i bead
ɛ Open-mid front unrounded vowel e bed
a Open front unrounded vowel a Spanish la
ə Schwa ë alone
ɔ Open-mid back rounded vowel o four
y Close front rounded vowel y French du
u Close back rounded vowel u doom


Albanian nouns are inflected by gender (masculine, feminine and neuter) and number (singular and plural). There are 4 types of declension with 6 cases (nominative, genitive, dative, accusative, ablative and vocative, although genitive and dative coincide and the vocative can be used only in some words). They apply to both definite and indefinite nouns and there are also numerous cases of synchretism.

The following shows the declension of the masculine noun mal (mountain):

Indefinite Singular Indefinite Plural Definite Singular Definite Plural
Nominative mal (mountain) male (mountains) mali (the mountain) malet (the mountains)
Accusative mal male malin malet
Genitive i/e/të/së mali i/e/të/së maleve i/e/të/së malit i/e/të/së maleve
Dative mali maleve malit maleve
Ablative mali maleve/malesh malit maleve

The following table shows the declension of the feminine noun vajzë (girl)

Indefinite Singular Indefinite Plural Definite Singular Definite Plural
Nominative vajzë (girl) vajza (girls) vajza (the girl) vajzat (the girls)
Accusative vajzë vajza vajzën vajzat
Genitive i/e/të/së vajze i/e/të/së vajzave i/e/të/së vajzës i/e/të/së vajzave
Dative vajze vajzave vajzës vajzave
Ablative vajze vajzave/vajzash vajzës vajzave

The article can be posited either before or after the noun as in many other Balkan languages, for example Romanian and Bulgarian.

  • The definite article can be in the form of noun suffixes, which vary with gender and case.
    • For example in singular nominative, masculine nouns add -i or -u:
      • mal (mountain) / mali (the mountain);
      • libër (book) / libri (the book);
      • zog (bird) / zogu (the bird).
    • Feminine nouns take the suffix -(j)a:
      • veturë (car) / vetura (the car);
      • shtëpi (house) / shtëpia (the house);
      • lule (flower) / lulja (the flower).
  • Neuter nouns take -t.

Albanian develops an analytical structure of the verb. Its complex system of moods (6 types) and tenses (3 simple and 5 complex constructions) is distinguishing among other Balkan languages. There are two general types of conjugation. In Albanian the Constituent Order is Subject Verb Object and negation is expressed by the particles nuk or s' in front of the verb, for example:

  • Goni nuk flet anglisht "Goni doesn't speak English";
  • s'di "don't know".

In imperative sentences, the particle mos is used:

  • mos harro "don't forget".


Albanian split from the Proto-Indo-European language about 4000 years ago and most of the basic words are derived directly from it. Some of these words have cognates (of non-Latin origin) in Romanian and there is a theory that the language spoken by the Dacians before the Romanization was a language related to proto-Albanian.

It is not certain whether ancient Greek influenced the early Albanian language (there are a few somewhat uncertain examples of possible loanwords). With the expansion of the Roman Empire, Latin, more specifically, the Balkan Latin (which was the ancestor of Romanian and other Balkan Romance languages), would exert a great influence on Albanian. Examples of words borrowed from Latin: qytet < civitas (city), qiell < caelum (sky), mik < amicus (friend).

After the Slavs arrived in the Balkans, another source of Albanian vocabulary were the Slavic languages, especially Bulgarian. As in all other Balkan languages, the rise of the Ottoman Empire meant an influx of Turkish words; this also entailed the borrowing of Persian and Arabic words through Turkish. Some loanwords from Modern Greek also exist.

Writing system

Albanian has been written with many different alphabets since the 15th century. Originally, the Tosk dialect was written with the Greek alphabet and the Gheg dialect was written with the Latin alphabet. They have both also been written with the Ottoman Turkish version of the Arabic alphabet.

The modern Albanian alphabet was standardised in 1909, and is based on the Latin alphabet, with the addition of the letters ë, ç, and nine digraphs.

Albanian has also been written with two other local alphabets: The Elbasan and the Beitha Kukju scripts, local inventions of the 18th and 19th centuries which were never widely used.


The place where the ancestors of today's Albanians lived in ancient Balkans is still uncertain, but they are usually identified with the ancient Illyrians or Thracians. The common vocabulary with Romanian suggests that the ancestors of the Albanians and Romanians lived closed to each other in ancient times. Some scholars support a "theory of continuity", which says that the Albanians lived in the territory of current Albania. However, the low number of Doric Greek words and the high number of Latin borrowings suggests that the Albanians have lived well north of the Jirecek Line, which divided the spheres of influence of Latin and Greek languages.

The oldest surviving document written in Albanian is "Formula e Pagëzimit" (Baptismal formula), written in 1462 in the Gheg dialect, and some New Testament verses from that period. However, Guiliam Adae in 1332 states that "Albanians, even though they have a different language from Latin, they use the Latin letters in their writings."

The oldest known Albanian printed book, Meshari [1] or missal, was written by Gjon Buzuku, a Catholic cleric, in 1555. The first Albanian school is believed to have been opened by Franciscans in 1638 in Pdhanë. In 1635, Frang Bardhi wrote the first Latin-Albanian dictionary.


Albanian shqip /ʃkʲip/ (shkEEp) listen
hello tungjatjeta /tun ɟat jɛ ta/ (tUhn-ngIAt-IEta) listen
good-bye mirupafshim /mi ru paf ʃim/ (mEEr-Uh-pA-fshEEm) listen
please ju lutem /ju lu tɛm/ (iU LU-tehm) listen
thank you faleminderit /fa ɫɛ min dɛ rit/ (fAh-leh-mEE-nde-rEEt) listen
that one atë /a tə/ (ATEH) listen
how much? sa është? /sa əʃ tə/ (sAh ush-te) listen
English anglisht /an gliʃt/ (ahn-GLEE-sht) listen
yes po /po/ (POE) listen
no jo /jo/ (IOH) listen
sorry më fal /mə fal/ (mUh FAL) listen
I don't understand nuk kuptoj /nuk kup toj/ (nUhk KUP-toi) listen
where's the bathroom? ku është banjoja? /ku əʃ tə ba ɲo ja/ (kuh ush-tEh bA-nio-jA) listen
generic toast gëzuar /gə zu ar/ (gUh-zuh-ar) listen
Do you speak English? flisni Anglisht? /flis ni an gliʃt/ (flee-snEE ahn-GLEE-sht) listen

Note: All the sounds above are in the Ogg Vorbis format.

External links

Samples of various Albanian dialects:

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