Albanian: The Language without Accents

December 8th, 2013

Albanian may not be the most practical language in the world for a translation pro to study, but it’s a fascinating language with a unique Latin influence.

Albanian: The Language without Accents  | One Hour Translation

Albanian is another language that gets short shrift in the modern world; you simply don’t hear too many translation students declaring proudly that they plan to study Albanian.

Albanian isn’t a minor language, though; roughly 8 million people speak it as a native language, and it’s quite widely spread around the world, being found in Kosovo, Turkey, Macedonia, Greece, Italy, the United Kingdom, the United States, Germany, the Netherlands, and Switzerland. Still, just because a few million people speak a language doesn’t mean it’s worth your time to study it if you’re seeking to establish some sort of living, and Albania has never had the economic, cultural, or political influence to play a big role in the world.

That doesn’t mean it’s not worth studying, especially if you love languages like I do. Albanian has some interesting facets, not the least of which is its status as a case study of long-term influence by another language.

Albanian Features

Albanian is an Indo-European language that sits alone on its ‘branch’ of the language tree. There are some theories that it ultimate stems from an ancient Paleo-Balkan language (Illyrian or Thracian are usually floated as the prime suspects) but there’s no clear connection. That’s not unusual in older languages, however, as the language tree gets quite tangled the further back you go, and the failure of ancient man to write his thoughts down in a clear and permanent manner complicates things. For the moment, Albanian stands alone.

The first time we hear mention of Albanian as a language is in the 13th Century, though certainly it existed for centuries beforehand – it’s just that no one thought to mention it, which gives you an idea that Albanian’s relative import in the world hasn’t changed much over time, I’m sad to say. It’s a language of three gendered nouns, three major dialects, no accents, and no definite or indefinite articles. As a language it’s actually quite standard and relatively easy to learn. What really makes it interesting is the Latin.

Albanian and Latin

Albania is a Latin word for the country and people; the people themselves call their country Shqipëria. This hints at the influence that Latin had over the language as the Roman arrived in the 2nd Century BCE and stayed until about the Fifth Century CE, a course of seven centuries during which to affect the language.

What I find interesting about the Latin loanwords in Albanian is that they retain their pronunciation from the original Latin of the early Roman Empire and Late Republic periods, including the hard consonant C’s and Q’s that were rounded off in other languages.

What’s also fascinating is the lengthy list of Latin words imported into Albanian that don’t appear in any Romance language – Latin loanwords that are essentially unique to Albanian. There are about 85 of these unique loans, and as a translation professional I wish I could trace exactly how that happened.

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