"Moreover, you scorned our people, and compared the Albanese to sheep, and according to your custom think of us with insults. Nor have you shown yourself to have any knowledge of my race. Our elders were Epirotes, where this Pirro came from, whose force could scarcely support the Romans. This Pirro, who Taranto and many other places of Italy held back with armies. I do not have to speak for the Epiroti. They are very much stronger men than your Tarantini, a species of wet men who are born only to fish. If you want to say that Albania is part of Macedonia I would concede that a lot more of our ancestors were nobles who went as far as India under Alexander the Great and defeated all those peoples with incredible difficulty. From those men come these who you called sheep. But the nature of things is not changed. Why do your men run away in the faces of sheep?"
Letter from Skanderbeg to the Prince of Taranto ▬ Skanderbeg, October 31 1460

Albanian Dialects: Phonological Differences and Issues

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Albanian Dialects: Phonological Differences and Issues


Post by jay_albania_fan » Thu Jun 18, 2009 6:46 pm

Part I : Phonological Differences among Albanian Dialects

Albanian has three major dialects: Gheg, Transitional, and Tosk.

1. Gheg:

Conservative Features:
1. Gheg dialects retain Proto-Albanian *-n-: râna
2. Nasal vowels are retained: râna
3. Retention of additional nasals in some dialects: pês, sŷ

Innovative features:
1. Consonant clusters vary widely by subdialect. For example Proto-Albanian *nd- can be nd-, nd-, nd-, d-, n-, or a velarized n-: nder, nder, nder, der, ner, ṉer; sh for fsh: shîj for fshij (Shkodër)
2. Final (and often unstressed) –ë drops but often lengthens the preceding vowel: shtat
3. Palatal stops q and gj vary greatly by subdialect: q/gj often merge with ç/xh (postalveolar affricate) or develop into various other articulations (alveolo-palatal affricate or alveolo-palatal fricative): q becomes ç, ć,ś, gj becomes xh, dź, ź; xhasht, źasht, dźasht, etc. for gjashtë
4. Widely innovative vowels in some subdialects: dhei/dhoi/dhêi/dhai/dhoei/dhëi for dhi (various Central Gheg dialects); sø for sy (Mat, Krujë, Fushë-Krujë); dў for dy (Mat, Krujë); dhojot for dhjetë (Dibër); ôn for hanë (Dibër); rrush, rraush, rroush, rrosh for rrush; âo for ë in some words such as nâon for nënë in some subdialects; ó (closed o vowel) in words such as tóf for tufë (Krujë)
5. Loss of h in some subdialects: gûa for gjuha (Dibër)
6. ll for dh in some words in some subdialects: llom for dhomë (Shkodër)
7. tj- and dj become q- and gj- in some subdialects (Kosova, Dibër, Mirditë, etc.)
8. pl-, bl-, and fl- become pj-, bj-, and fj- in some subdialects

Distinctive features:
1. Proto-Albanian *ō yields vo.

2. Transitional:

Conservative Features:
1. Nasal vowels are retained in some subdialects: râra

Innovative Features:
1. 1. Proto-Albanian *-n- becomes –r-: râra
2. Nasal vowels denasalize in some subdialects: rora for rëra (Sulovë)

3. Tosk:

Conservative Features:
1. Consonant clusters are often retained: nderr
2. In some Tosk subdialects final –ë is retained: pes-ë for pesë
3. The palatal stops q and gj are retained: gjashtë
4. The retention of kl- and gl- in some Tosk subdialects: klumësht for qumësht; gluhë for gjuhë, etc.

Innovative Features:
1. Proto-Albanian *-n- becomes –r-: rëra
2. Nasal vowels reduce to ë: rëra
3. Derounding of the y vowel in some Tosk subdialects: di for dy (Labërisht, Çam, Arvanitika, Arbëreshë)
4. Loss of h in some subdialects: sho for shoh; ëna for hëna (Berat, Korçë)
5. dh for ll in some words in some subdialects: modha for molla (Gjirokastër)
6. rr becomes r in some subdialects

Distinctive features:
1. Proto-Albanian *ō yields va.

Part II : Brief Description

Geographically, the Gheg dialects are spoken in the north, the Transitional dialects are spoken in a small strip in the center, and the Tosk dialects are spoken in the south. What the sound changes of the dialects show is that the *-n- to *-r- change happened in the Transitional dialect zone in the middle of the Albanian speaking areas and spread south, but not north. The denasalization of the nasal vowels in Albanian happened in some of the dialects in the Transitional dialect zone and the Tosk dialects further innovated by reducing these denasalized vowels into ë.

Although traditionally Albanian is divided into two dialects, the implications of a transitional dialect zone show clearly that Albanian did not simply divide into two dialects, but that the dialects transition into each other. Often, the Albanian Urheimat is likely placed somewhere in the Gheg areas as the conservative Gheg features gradually alter due to small innovations as one goes south, a few innovations in Transtional and more in Tosk. Although one should remember that even in the Gheg dialects, there have been many innovations while the Tosk have conserved features.

Part III : Albanian Urheimat: North, Central, or South?

Generally, there is much more dialect diversity within Gheg areas than in the Tosk areas. Does the greater diversity in Gheg dialects demonstrate that the Albanian Urheimat (homeland) was in the north? Dialect diversity in general is used by linguists to show where a possible Urheimat is located. If we take the English dialects of the United States, we find a lot more diversity in the east than in the west. This shows that American dialects came from the east and not the west. We have the added advantage of knowing the historical settling patterns of the United States though. One counter argument is that northern Albania is more mountainous and inaccessible and thus communities of speakers in more isolated communities tend to develop more distinctive features. Across the world, distinct dialects and languages are found in mountainous regions due to the isolation of the speakers from others.

Tosk in general is more uniform and there is not quite the diversity one finds in the north. This may be due to the lesser time depth of the diverging dialects, but also one needs to consider that southern Albania in general is a lot flatter and speakers in various locations are not as isolated. Often, dialect distinctions level out when the speakers are in contact with each other. So just because Tosk dialects are a bit more uniform, its time depth may be just as old, but the long contact between speakers of different sub-dialects have made the dialects more uniform over time. This leveling of dialects is found across the world.

Linguistic innovations and retentions can happen in both older and newer areas and this makes finding an Albanian Urheimat a bit more tricky. Just because the Transitional and Tosk areas innovated in phonology, this doesn’t mean they haven’t been spoken in their areas just as long as the areas which did not innovate. Consider two possible scenarios in explaining the movement of *-n- to –r-. First scenario, sound changes often travel, so the *-n- to –r- change which started in the Transitional area simply made its way south town by town, but did not for whatever reason make its way north. Second scenario, did the *-n- to –r- change occur in the Transitional area early on before any speakers of Albanian lived in the south? Thus, as Albanian speakers moved south, they had –r and not *-n by that time. I put more stock in the first scenario as Albanian was spoken in the south before the -*n- to –r- sound change occurred.

Although if I had to choose an Urheimat for Albanian, I would put it around Krujë. The Albanian dialects do seem to radiate out of the area around Krujë. As well, there is a lot of dialect diversity in this area.

1. Gjinari, Jorgji. Dialektologjia shqiptare. Prishtinë: Universiteti, 1970.

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