An insatiable appetite for ancient and modern tongues

Classification: Albanian is the only modern representative of a distinct branch of the Indo-European family. It shows no close affinity to any other Indo-European language. The ancient Illyrian has been tentatively considered its ancestor or nearest relative.

Overview. Albanian is a southeastern European language with no close relatives that appeared in record quite late (mainly from the 15th century onwards). It has several general features characteristic of other Indo-European languages, like declension of nouns and conjugation of verbs by means of personal endings, and also more specific features associated with languages of the Balkans, like postposition of the definite article and formation of the future tense with an auxiliary verb. Besides, it shows innovations in phonology, morphosyntax and lexicon, that separate it from other European languages.

Distribution. The core of Albanian speakers is found in Albania, Kosovo, northwestern Macedonia, some districts of southern Serbia and Montenegro and the region of Chameria in northwestern Greece. As a result of ancient migrations (in 14th-16th centuries), Albanian is also spoken in pockets of southern Greece (the Peloponnese, Attica, and the Aegean islands) and southern Italy (Calabria, Apulia, Basilicata, Molise, Sicily). Due to emigration in the 20th century, Albanian speakers are also found in the United States, Canada, Turkey, Germany and Switzerland.

Speakers. There are about 6.5 million native speakers in the following countries:


































Status. After the proclamation of independence of Albania in 1912, Albanian became the official language of the country. It is also the official language of Kosovo, and it is a recognized minority language in Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, Romania and Italy.

Varieties. There are two Albanian dialectal groups, Gheg, north of the Shkumbin river that divides Albania in two halfs, and Tosk, south of that river. Gheg and Tosk have important phonological differences, while morphologically the only important one is the loss of the infinitive in Tosk which uses constructions with the subjunctive, instead. Gheg and Tosk have diverged at least for a millennium, and are mutually intelligible, in general.

    Gheg dialects are spoken mainly in north Albania, Kosovo, Macedonia, Serbia and Montenegro. Tosk dialects are spoken not only in the south of Albania but also in enclaves in Turkish Thrace, northern Greece and near Melitopol in Ukraine. Two other important, divergent, dialects, Arbereshe and Arvanitika, are spoken, respectively, in southern Italy and southern Greece. The standard language was based on Gheg from the beginning of the Albanian state until World War II and since then it has been modeled on Tosk constituting the Modern standard.

Oldest Documents

  1. 1210.A theological book by Teodor Shkodrani (discovered recently in the Vatican).

  1. 1462.A baptismal formula.

  1. 1555.Meshari (The Missal) by the priest Gjon Buzuku.                               


Vowels (7). Albanian has seven vowels. There is as contrast between rounded [y]  and unrounded [i]. [ə] is lost when preceded by a stressed syllable. The Indo-European diphthongs have been lost.


Consonants (29).  Phonetically similar consonants have formed pairs of:

  1. voiceless and voiced stops, affricates and fricatives.

  2. weak and strong r-sounds [ɾ] and  [r], respectively.

  3. velarized and non-velarized l-sounds [ɫ] and [l], respectively.


Stress: it falls more frequently on the penultimate syllable.

Script and Orthography

Until the early 20th century, Albanian has been written in the Greek, Latin, Arabic and Cyrillic scripts. In 1908 the Latin alphabet was adopted for all dialects of Albanian. The present Albanian alphabet contains 36 characters, including a number of digraphs (equivalents in the International Phonetic Alphabet are shown between brackets):

Morphology. Albanian morphology is partly synthetic and partly analytic.

  1. Nominal. Nouns are inflected for gender, number, case, and definiteness. Adjectives are inflected for gender and number, but never for case and rarely for definiteness.

  1. gender: masculine, feminine, neuter (rare). Some nouns are masculine in the singular and feminine in the plural. All nouns ending in a consonant are masculine except for some ending in -ër, -ël, -ur, and -ull.

  1. number: singular and plural. Plural formation is quite irregular.

  1. definiteness: there is an indefinite article identical to the number one (një) equivalent to English a/an e.g. një bukë (a/one bread). To express a plural indefinite ca ('some') or disa ('several') may be used. Definiteness is expressed by adding a postpositive article i.e. a suffix to the noun. Thus, every noun has an indefinite and a definite form. Most masculine nouns make their definite form with -i, but those that end in, k, g, h, or in a stressed vowel take the definite article -u. Feminine nouns ending in ë form their definite by dropping this vowel and taking a; those that end in i make their definite by suffixing -a, and the remaining ones by adding -ja. These suffixes are inflected for number and case (see declension below).

  2. For example:

  3. a) masculine

  4. korp (‘body’) → korpi (‘the body’)

  5. mal (‘mountain’) → mali (‘the mountain’)

  6. mik (‘friend’) → miku (‘the friend’)

  7. (‘ox’) → kau (‘the ox’)

  1. b) feminine

  2. gjuhë (‘language’) → gjuha (‘the language’)

  3. sthëpi (‘house’) → sthëpia (‘the house’)

  4. kalá (‘castle’) → kalája (‘the castle’)

  5. nuse (‘bride’) → nusja (‘the bride’)1

  1. 1. When the noun ends in an unstressed e, this is elided.

  1. case: nominative, vocative, accusative, genitive, dative, ablative.

  1. The vocative is almost always the same as the nominative and is rare. The genitive case is formed with the prepositions i, e, , së, added to the dative form. Albanian has separate declensions for masculine and feminine nouns, and has for each case indefinite and definite forms. The declensions of the masculine noun mal (‘mountain’), and of the feminine noun vajzë (‘girl’) are shown in the table.

  1. Declension endings are marked in red.

  1. When the final sound of the noun stem is k, g, h or a stressed vowel, all of the singular suffixes in -i are replaced with -u.

  1. pronouns: personal, demonstrative, possessive, interrogative, reflexive.

  1. Personal pronouns are declined in five cases. Accusative and dative have fused for 1st and 2nd person singular. The genitive is the same as the dative but preceded with the preposition i.

  2. Third person pronouns are identical to the remote demonstrative pronouns.

  1. Demonstrative pronouns mark two deixis: near and remote. The remote demonstrative pronouns are used also as third person pronouns. For proximal deixis the same stems are preceded by  -.

  1. Possessive pronouns follow the noun possessed:


libri im (my book)

librat e mi (my books)

libri ynë (our book)

librat tanë (our books)

libri yt (your book)

librat e tu (your books)

libri juaj (your pl. book)

librat tuaj  (your pl. books)

libri i tij (his book)

librat e tij (his books)

libri i tyre (their book)

librat e tyre (their books)

  1. Interrogative pronouns: kush (‘who?’), cili (‘which’), ç(ë) (‘what?’), se (‘what?’), sa (‘how much?, how many?’). Interrogative adverbs are: ku (‘where?’), kur (‘when?’), nga (‘whence?’), si (‘how?’), pse (‘why?’), etc.

  1. Reflexive pronouns: the feminine nouns vetja and vetvetja (‘self’) serve as such. They are declined like other definite feminine nouns.

  1. adjectives: follow the noun they modify and agree with it in gender, number, case and definiteness by means of a “preposed article” preceding them. The preposed article is inflected for gender, number and case, but it has only four forms: i, e,, .

  2. oblique = ablative, genitive, dative

  3. For example:

  1. nominative: djali i mirë (‘the good boy’)

  2. accusative: djalin e mirë (‘the good boy’)

  3. dative: vajzës shkretë (‘to the poor girl’)

  4. definite: vazat e mira (‘the good girls’)

  5. indefinite: vaza mira (‘good girls’)

  1. Verbal. There are two main conjugational classes: class 1 includes verbs  with a vowel-final stem, class 2 those with a consonant-final stem.

  1. person and number: 1s, 2s, 3s; 1p, 2p, 3p.

  1. tense: present, future, and five past tenses, namely present perfect, definite past, imperfect, past perfect, pluperfect.

  2. Albanian has developed some analytical features, such as the formation of perfect and future tenses with auxiliary verbs. The present perfect describes events that took place and were completed in the past but have some connection with the present. The definite past refers to a single event in the past. There is a general tendency to replace the definite past with the past perfect.

  3. The present and imperfect have the same basic stem while the stem of the definite past is different. The perfect tenses (present perfect, past perfect, pluperfect) and the future are formed with auxiliary verbs.

  4. The present perfect is formed with the present of kam (‘to have’) plus the past participle. The pluperfect and past perfect are also formed with the auxiliary kam. In the pluperfect, the past definite form of kam is used, and in the past perfect, the imperfect form of kam. The future tense is formed with the auxiliary verb dua (‘to want’) in the fossil form do + the present subjunctive.

  1. The conjugation of the verb laj (‘to wash’) in the indicative mood is as follows:


  1. aspect: imperfect, aorist. perfect. They contribute to distinguish the different past forms. The imperfect aspect represents an ongoing action or an habitual or repeated action, and is expressed in the present and in the imperfect past. The aorist aspect, manifested in the definite past, expresses an action carried out at a single moment in the past. The perfect expresses an action completed before a temporal reference point, and is expressed in the three perfect tenses.

  1. mood: indicative, admirative, subjunctive, conditional, optative, imperative, jussive.

  2. The admirative mood expresses surprise or disagreement. The subjunctive and conditional express potentiality and possibility. The subjunctive can also function as an infinitive. The optative expresses a wish, the jussive a suggestion or proposal, the imperative a command.

  1. There are 7 tenses in the indicative mood, 4 in the admirative (present, imperfect, present perfect, past perfect), 4 in the subjunctive (present, imperfect, present perfect, past perfect), 2 in the conditional (present, past), 2 in the optative (present, present perfect) and 1 in the imperative (present).

  1. The subjunctive uses the subordinator particle . The present indicative and subjunctive differ only in the 2nd and 3rd persons singular. The imperfect subjunctive is identical to that of  the indicative. The present perfect of the subjunctive is formed in the same manner as that of the indicative, except that a present subjunctive form of kam is used. The present conditional is formed in the same way as the future, except that an imperfect subjunctive form of the verb is used. The past conditional is similar but uses a perfect subjunctive form.


  1. voice: active, middle, passive, reflexive.

  1. non-finite forms: infinitive, gerund, past participle.

  1. infinitive: për të larë

  2. gerund: duke larë

  3. past participle: larë


Word order in the sentence is mainly Subject-Verb-Object. The subject agrees with the predicate in gender, person, number, and case. Prepositions are used frequently with inflected nouns and pronouns. To form a yes/no question, the interrogative marker a is placed at its beginning.


Albanian has many borrowings from ancient Greek and Latin, also from medieval and modern Greek, from the Slavic languages of the Balkans, Turkish, French, Italian, and English. There has been a recent dramatic increase in the influence of foreign languages on colloquial Albanian, especially from English and Italian.

Basic Vocabulary

The cardinal numbers are divided into three groups:

a) the numeral një (one).

b) the numbers from two to five (corresponding to the Indo-European numerals).

  1. c)the numbers from six to ten, derived from Indo-European numerals plus the suffix të/dë.

The numbers from eleven to nineteen have the following structure:

një (one)-mbë (on)-dhjetë (ten)

dy (two)-mbë (on)-dhjetë (ten) and so on.

Decades are formed: one-twenty, three-ten, two-twenty, four-ten, five-ten, etc.

Words for hundred and thousand are borrowed from Latin.

one: një

two: dy

three: tre (masculine), tri (feminine)

four: katër

five: pesë

six: gjashtë

seven: sthatë

eight: tetë

nine: nëntë

ten: dhjetë

hundred: njëqind

thousand: mijë

father: atë, baba

mother: nënë/amë

brother: vëlla

sister: motër

son: bir

daughter: bijë

head: kokë/kaptinë

face: fytyrë

eye: sy

hand: dorë

foot: këmbë

heart: zemër

tongue: gjuhë

Key Literary Works (forthcoming)

  1. © 2013 Alejandro Gutman and Beatriz Avanzati                                                                               

Further Reading

  1. -'Albanian'. S. Demiraj. In The Indo-European Languages, 480-500. A. G. Ramat & P. Ramat (eds). Routledge (1998).

  2. -Albanian Grammar. M. Camaj. Otto Harrassowitz (1984).

  3. -Standard Albanian: a reference grammar for students. L. Newmark, P. Hubbard & P. R. Prifti. Stanford University Pres (1982).

  4. -A Concise Historical Grammar of the Albanian Language: Reconstruction of Proto-Albanian. V. Orel. Brill (2000).

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