We take a short ride from the land of Czechs to Albania, home of the next language on my list. Albania, the land of … hmm. What exactly is Albania known for?
Before I began this post, the only thing I really knew about Albania was its unique red flag with the two-headed eagle. And also that Albanian had its own branch within the Indo-European family. But to be honest, not much else.
REGIONAL HISTORY: Modern-day Albania was the home of the Illyrians, a southeastern European ethnic group that existed around the Classical Greek era. Much later, Illyria became part of the ever powerful Roman Empire for almost 600 years. After that empire crumbled, Illyria was annexed to Byzantium. During the Middle Ages, Illyria was invaded by neighboring tribes (notably Slavs), which contributed to the modern demographics of Albania. Its namesake was coined by a Byzantine scholar in 1079, who referred to the land as Albanoi.
Like the other territories in the Balkans, Albania was snatched up by the Ottoman Empire. But not without a fight. Albania was one of the few countries who put up a forceful resistance, led by Albanian hero Gjergj Kastrioti Skanderbeg in the mid 15th century. After Skanderbeg’s death, the Ottomans captured Albania, leading to a mass emigration.
The Albanian language, meanwhile, had undergone great progress. During the Middle Ages, Greek and Latin were the official languages used. The first documents in Albanian appeared in the early 1400s and the first book (a liturgical one) was published in the 1550s, written by Gjon Buzuku. The subsequent takeover by the Ottomans, would give way to a heap of Turkish, Farsi and Arabic vocabulary.
Albania finally reformed its alphabet in 1908 (going with Latin) and a little later gained independence. It would be short-lived as the country was continuously attacked by its neighbors until the end of WWII. Albania became an isolated communist state for 50 years before reforming its government and economy.
WRITING SYSTEM: Latin-based and fairly simple. There are 7 vowels and 29 consonants. As usual, the ones that differ from English are highlighted:
A a – a as in bar
C c – a soft c as in cymbal
Ç ç – ch as in chair
D d – d as in drop
DH dh – th as in the
E e – e as in enter
Ë ë – the schwa or “uh” sound; uh as in huh
Gj gj – a soft j sound (no similarities in English)
I i – e as in he
J j – sound like the English y
LL ll – ll as in balloon
NJ nj – n as in onion
O o – o as in post
Q q – a soft version of ç/ch (no similarities in English)
RR rr – a strong, rolled R (like the Spanish version)
SH sh – sh as in shoe
T t – t as in trespass
TH th – th as in thin
U u – oo as in mood
X x – dz as in adz
XH xh – J as in Jupiter
Y y – a rough “ew” sound (no English equivalent)
ZH zh – su as in pleasure
FIRST IMPRESSIONS: Interesting! I thought Albanian would seem really remote because it has its own language family and some of the consonant combos are different, but it seems pretty straightforward. I admire how the language has a certain tenacity, despite influences from Greek, Latin and Turkish. I can definitely spot its distinctiveness, but how, I’m not really sure. Maybe it’s the “schwa” sound, and how it’s one of the few non-Slavic language in the Balkans. It reminds me a little of Slovenian, but just a tad.
This video was VERY helpful: