Differences between Gheg and Tosk - the two Albanian Language Dialects
Albanian has two major, mutually intelligible dialects, called Gheg and Tosk.
North and South
There are, actually, two major dialects of Albanian spoken in Albania, known as Gheg and Tosk. Mutually intelligible, of course, but still strikingly different in many ways and enjoying different histories. The dividing line is the Shkumbin River, neatly slicing the country into North and South. Gheg is spoken in the north and Tosk in the South.
For centuries, Gheg was the dominant dialect in Albania, a literary language used by the educated and the elite since the 15th century. This changed in the 20th century when the Communists took power in Albania, and put their support behind the Tosk dialect in the south, which was seen as less elitist and more of the working class. Whether this was true or not remains up for debate, but for decades the sponsorship of the government placed Tosk at a superior position to Gheg.
Gheg survived perfectly well, and today both dialects flourish. The main differences between the two dialects are found in pronunciation and sentence structure, which is why it is perfectly easy for speakers of both dialects to understand each other.
In pronunciation, the major difference is in the rhotacism of each dialect – Tosk is much more rhotic than Gheg. For Americans, a symbolic way to imagine this difference is to think of the classic Boston accent, where the “R” sound is distorted and emphasised.
There are also some spelling differences, and regionally within each dialect you will find odd stress differences, with some Gheg speakers trailing off at the end of sentences where Tosk speakers hit a definitive stress point on the final syllable.
As time goes on, the two dialects are slowly being mixed together. This process likely began under the Communist regime when educated Albanians took up the Tosk dialect in order to blend in better, resulting in a slurry of language that continues to advance today. This is, of course, a good thing, a healthy way for a single culture to deal with regional dialect differences like these. Towards the goal of a single, united Albanian, every citizen of this beautiful country could do worse than to make an attempt to combine the two dialects into one unified language.