Albanian 101

Albanian is spoken by nearly 6 million people mainly in Albania, Kosovo, Italy, Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro, Greece, Turkey, and by immigrant communities in many countries such as Belgium, Egypt, Germany, Greece, Italy, Sweden, Turkey (Europe), Russia, Ukraine, United Kingdom, Canada, United States, Switzerland and Australia.

Official Status

Albanian in a revised form of the Tosk dialect is the official language of Albania and Kosovo; and is official in the municipalities where there are more than 22% ethnic Albanian inhabitants in the Republic of Macedonia. It is also an official language of Montenegro where it is spoken in the municipalities with ethnic Albanian populations.


Albanian can be divided into two main dialects, Gheg and Tosk.

The Shkumbin river is roughly the dividing line, with Gheg spoken north of the Shkumbin and Tosk south of it. The Gheg literary language has been documented since 1462. Until the Communists took power in Albania, the standard was based on Gheg. Although the literary versions of Tosk and Gheg are mutually intelligible, many of the regional dialects are not. Tosk is divided into many sub-dialects. The main groups are Northern Tosk (Berat, Pojan, Vlorë, Struga) and Labërisht (Labëria). In Greece, the Çam and the Arvanites speak different Tosk sub-dialects. The sub-dialect of the Arvanites is only partially intelligible with other Tosk sub-dialects, such that it can be regarded as a separate language, Arvanitika. A distinct Tosk sub-dialect has been preserved in the Albanian-founded village of Mandritsa in southern Bulgaria. Tosk sub-dialects related to Arvanitika and called Arbërisht are spoken by the Arbëreshë, descendants of 15th and 16th century immigrants in southeastern Italy, in small communities in the regions of Sicily, Calabria, Basilicata, Campania, Molise, Abruzzi, and Puglia. Tosk sub-dialects are spoken by most members of the large Albanian immigrant communities of Ukraine, Turkey, Egypt, and the United States.

Gheg is spoken in Northern Albania, Macedonia, Kosovo, and in parts of Montenegro. Each area of Northern Albania has its own sub-dialect: Tiranë, Durrës, Elbasan and Kavaja; Kruja and Laçi; Mati, Dibra and Mirdita; Lezhë, Shkodër, Krajë, Ulqin; etc. Malësia e Madhe, Rugova, and villages scattered alongside the Adriatic Coast form the northmost sub-dialect of Albania today. There are many other sub-dialects in the region of Kosovo and in parts of southern Montenegro, and in Republic of Macedonia. The sub-dialects of Malsia e Madhe and Dukagjini near Shkodra are being lost because the younger generations prefer to speak the sub-dialect of Shkodra.

Gheg and Tosk differ mainly by:

  1. rhotacism - Gheg has n where Tosk has r
  2. late Proto-Albanian ā + tautosyllabic nasal > Gheg low-central or low-back vowel; > Tosk mid-central, or low-front-to-central vowel
  3. Proto-Albanian ō > uo > Gheg vo , Tosk va
  4. infinitival use of verbal adjective preceded in Gheg by me and in Tosk by për
  5. difference in lexemes, noun plurals, suppletion of the aorist system of the verb

Subdialects may vary based on:

  1. retention or loss of final schwa (-ë)
  2. devoicing of final voiced segments
  3. treatment of intervocalic and final nj
  4. treatment of clusters of nasal + voiced stop
  5. development of anaptyctic homorganic stops after nasals that follow a stressed vowel and precede unstressed -ël or -ër
  6. treatment of vowel clusters ie , ye , and ua
  7. treatment of stressed /e/ before a nasal

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