Monday, July 18, 2016

Country Profile: The Languages of Albania

Last Monday we discussed the fascinating languages of Mongolia, which include Mongolian, Kazakh, and Uyghur. This week we'll be focusing on Albania, a small country in Southeast Europe.

The Official Language

Himara, a region of Albania located along the Ionian Sea.
You might have have guessed that the sole official language of Albania is Albanian. However, you might not be aware that Albanian is an independent branch of the Indo-European language family.

Over 98% of Albanians speak Albanian as a native language, although they are often divided into two different dialect groups: Tosk and Gheg. Standard Albanian is based on the Tosk dialect, which is spoken by over 1.5 million Albanians, primarily in the south. Gheg, on the other hand, is used by about 1.2 million Albanians, and is more common in the north. While there are distinctions between the two dialects, they are mutually intelligible.

Other Languages

The most spoken minority language in Albania is Greek, the official language of neighboring Greece. There are approximately 15,000 native Greek speakers in Albania, primarily in the southernmost areas of the country. However, instead of speaking Standard Modern Greek, most use a southern Greek dialect which retains archaic terms that are no longer used by most Greek speakers.

Ethnologue lists four other native languages that are spoken in Albania. Three of the four have about 4,000 native speakers: Macedonian, Vlax Romani, and Aromanian. Macedonian is a Slavic language that is so closely related to Bulgarian that it may even be a dialect. Vlax Romani, on the other hand, is the most spoken Romani language in the world, while Aromanian is a Romance language closely related to Romanian. Finally, there's Serbian, which is the native language of less than 100 Albanians.

It's also worth mentioning that Albania is well-known for being a polyglot nation, since most Albanians speak at least two languages! The three most popular foreign languages are Italian, Greek, and English. Italian is more widely used by older generations since Albania used to be an Italian protectorate, while English is becoming increasingly popular with younger generations.