Search for resources by:

Definitions of materials Definitions of levels Advanced Search


Albanian Citations   Albanian Links   Select a New Language

Number of Speakers: 5 million

Geographical Center: Albania

Standard Albanian or Gjuha Shqipe, is the official language of Albania and is spoken by 3,202,000 in the country (including bilingual Gheg) or 98% of the population (1989). Small populations of speakers are also in: Turkey (15,000 first language speakers (1980), out of 65,000); Belgium (3,000); Germany (25,000); Sweden (4,000); and Ukraine (5,000). The Cheg dialect is spoken by 1,372,750 to 1,800,000 people in Yugoslavia (1992) as ethnic Albanians are 90% of Kosovo's 2,000,000 population (1998, Los Angeles Times). It is also spoken in the USA (17,382), Bulgaria (1,000) and Macedonia ((242,250). The Arvanitika dialect is spoken in Greece and has approximately 50,000 to 140,000 speakers. The Arbëreshë dialect is spoken in Italy and has between 80,000 and 100,000 speakers.

The Albanian language belongs to the eastern group of the Indo-European family, along with the Indo-Iranian languages, Balto-Slavonic languages and the Armenian language. It is the sole member of its group with two main subgroups: Tosk (ALN) and Cheg (ALS).

The official and spoken literary dialect is Standard Albanian . Tosk has been the basis of the official language for Standard Albanian since 1952. Gheg and Tosk have been diverging for a long time, and they include sub-dialects in less extreme forms that are mutually intelligible. The two Albanian dialects spoken in Italy and Greece are of the Tosk variety, and are partially intelligible to this dialect as spoken in the extreme south of Albania. These dialects resulted from population movements of the 13th and 15th centuries.

Before 1909, the little literature that was preserved, was written in local makeshift Italianate or Hellenizing orthographies, or even in Turko-Arabic characters. The Romanized alphabet that is used today in mainland Albania and by the populations in Kossovo and Macedonia was standardized in 1908 at the Congress of Monastir (Bitola) in which Albanian scholars and writers took part. It consists of 36 letters of the Latin script from which 7 are vowels and 29 consonants.

Contemporary Albanian has only masculine and feminine gender markers as the neuter gender has almost disappeared. There is a six case system that includes nominal affixes for nominative, genitive, dative, accusative and ablative. As an inflectionally fussive language Albanian includes suffixes that denote at the same time, case, gender and number features. Every noun in Albanian has an indefinite and a definite declension. Definiteness is expressed through the definite article or a definiteness affix that plays also the role of marking the case of the declension. Adjectives can also have articles or not. Adjectives with an article are placed after the noun in attributive function and mark the gender by prefixing the article. Comparative forms of the adjective are constructed by means of the particle ‘ma’. Pronouns, with a few exceptions are also inflected for gender, number and case. The language has also a number of weak pronouns (clitics) placed in a preverbal position except in the case of imperatives.

Adverbs, prepositions and conjunctions are not inflected. The adverb is usually situated in a postverbal position, while the prepositions appear before the verb. Adverbs have periphrastic comparative and superlative forms like adjectives.

The active and medio-passive voices are present in Albanian verbal categories. The verb can have nine moods including indicative, subjunctive, conditional, optative, admirative, imperative, participial, infinitive and gerundive. Tense morphology can be either synthetic resulting in eight tense categories: present, imperfect, aorist, perfect, pluperfect I, pluperfect II, future, and future perfect, with the last five being realized also in analytic form with the use of the auxiliary verbs ‘jam’ and ‘kam; (‘be’, ‘have’) and modal verbs such as ‘due’ and ‘mund’ (‘want’, ‘can’). Person and number, marked in the conjugation, play an important role in verb morphology.

Albanian is an SVO language. Subjects are marked usually with nominative case (and in certain occasions with ablative) and occupy, in neutral sentences, the first position in the sentence. The verb agrees with the nominal subject in number and person features. Direct objects are marked with accusative case and indirect objects with dative.

Subordinate clauses are divided into subject, object and attributive clauses with a further division into temporal, causal, conditional, modal, subordinate concessive, purposive, and comparative clauses. Each type of clause is introduced by a number of different particles.

The speakers of the Tosk dialect constitute the dominant speech community in Albania. The unified national literary language (standard language) is the language used in government, law, administration and education. It was mostly based on the literary variant of the south, especially with regard to the phonetic system, but it also encompasses elements from the literary variant of the north. Until 1960 the prevailing view was that Standard Albanian was purely Tosk. However, later work assumes that the Albanian Standard is a mixed variety with segments from both dialects.

Byron (1976) mentions that although the official government policy was that of multilingualism in reality there was a tendency to reinforce the use of standard Albanian in all aspects of everyday life aiming in the gradual disappearance of all local registers.

Other languages spoken by minorities in Albania include Greek, Macedonian, Romani (Vlax), Romanian (Macedo) and Serbo-Croatian. Minority languages are restricted in use between members of the minority groups and in the houses and public places of areas where minority populations are concentrated.

The origins of the Albanian language have been the target of controversy for a long time. The dominant view now is that the roots of the language are found in one of the ancient languages of the Balkan Peninsula, Illyrian. Written records of the language date back only to the 15th century. The first written record in the Albanian language is what the “Formula of Baptism” of 1462 AD. It is a short sentence in Albanian which is found in a circular (pamphlet) written in Latin.

The formation of the unified national literary language (standard language), as the most elaborated variant of the Albanian language, has gone through a long process, which began in 16th and 17th centuries with the cultivation of Albanian writing in the north and in the Albanophone regions of Italy. This process entered a new stage in the 19th century, during the Albanian nationalist movement (Albanian Revival). During the period of National Renaissance, two literary variants of the Albanian language emerged, the southern and the northern. There was a preliminary attempt to bring the two variants together and unify the literary language and especially the alphabet. This issue was resolved at the Congress of Manastir, held in November 14-22, 1908, in the town of Manastir, which is currently situated in Macedonia. The Congress decided on the introduction of a new alphabet based entirely on the Latin alphabet.

Further steps towards the unification of the Albanian literary language were taken by the “Albanian Literary Committee”, which met in Shkodër in 1916. The committee emphasized the priority of establishing a unified Albanian literary language and developing a national Albanian literature. The committee decided on a median literary variant, which would serve as a bridge for the two dialects and would set rules for its orthography.

However, up to 1944 Albanian continued to have a bi-dialectal literary tradition which was supplanted by a single variant since then. In 1967, the Institute of History and Linguistics published the new draft on “Orthography Rules of the Albanian Language“. This draft was applied in all the Albanian territories, the Republic of Albania, Kosovo and Montenegro. Meanwhile, efforts were also made in Kosovo for the unification of the literary language and its orthography.

In 1968, a linguistic conference was held in Prishtina, Kosovo, guided by the principle “one nation-one literary language“. It decided that once the orthography draft was approved and took official form, it would be applied in Kosovo as well. The decisions taken in this conference were of great significance for the unification of the national literary language.

Following a public debate, the draft on “Orthography Rules of the Albanian Language“ of 1967 was submitted for discussion to the Congress on orthography of the Albanian language held in Tirana in 1972. It has gone down in the history of the Albanian language and culture as the congress of the unification of the national literary language.

Byron, Janet. 1976. Selection among alternates in language standardization: the case of Albanian. The Hague : Mouton.

Camaj Martin. 1984. Albanian grammar: with exercises, chrestomathy and glossaries. Collaborated on and translated by Leonard Fox. Wiesbaden: O. Harrassowitz.

Campbell, G. L. 1991. Compendium of the World's Languages, Vol. 1 -2. London and New York: Routledge.

Grimes, B. F., ed. 1992. Ethnologue, Languages of the World. Dallas, TX: Summer Institute of Linguistics.

Linguistic Society of America. 1992. Directory of Programs in Linguistics in the United States and Canada. Washington, DC.

Mann Stuart E. 1977. An Albanian historical grammar. Hamburg: Buske.

Ruhlen, M. 1987. A Guide to the World's Languages, Vol. 1: Classification. London: Edward Arnold.

Return to the list of language portals


 This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

  • You may use and modify the material for any non-commercial purpose.
  • You must credit the UCLA Language Materials Project as the source.
  • If you alter, transform, or build upon this work, you may distribute the resulting work only under a license identical to this one.

Creative Commons License