A History of the Albanian Language

Albanian is spoken by just 7.4 million people in the world, but has a rich and diverse history.

Small but Powerful

Albanian is spoken by slightly less than eight million people in the world, mainly in Albania and nearby Kosovo. Albania itself is a small country with a colourful history: A Roman province, then the heart of empires for centuries, providing generals and a military elite, then an independent country following the fall of the Ottoman Empire in the early 20th-century, invaded by Italy and ruled by the Nazis in World War II, then independent again and going through several forms of government until stabilising today as a democracy and one of the fastest-growing nations in the Balkan area.

The Albanian Mystery

Albanian as a language has a chaotic, lengthy, and poorly understood history. For one thing, Albanian is one of a very few languages that sits on a branch of the language tree by itself, with no clear relationship to any other language. For another, while it is a very old language – there is clear evidence of plenty of Latin influence on the language, indicating that it was spoken while the Roman Empire dominated the region and survived – the first mention of Albanian as a distinct language doesn’t surface in the historical record until the 13th century. And over the years Albanian has used basically whatever alphabet or script was handy to write itself down, not settling on a modified version of the Latin alphabet until 1908.

In some ways, the survival of Albanian in the face of empires, time, and population disruptions may have something to do with the pragmatic approach its speakers took throughout history, adapting other vocabularies and writing systems as needed, going with the flow as they say but as a result surviving in the face of adversity.

Today Albanian is a stable language in a stable country, which was not always a given. It’s survival is a testament to both the perseverance of a culture and the mysteries that still surround so much of our mutual history.