Gheg Albanian

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RegionAlbania, Kosovo, North Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia
Native speakers
4.1 million (2012–2021)[1]
Early form
Language codes
ISO 639-3aln
A map showing Gheg speakers in green.
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters. For an introductory guide on IPA symbols, see Help:IPA.

Gheg (also spelled Geg; Gheg Albanian: gegnishtja, Standard Albanian: gegërishtja) is one of the two major varieties of Albanian, the other being Tosk. The geographic dividing line between the two varieties is the Shkumbin River, which winds its way through central Albania.[2][3] Gheg is spoken in northern and central Albania, Kosovo, northwestern North Macedonia, southeastern Montenegro and southern Serbia by the Albanian dialectal subgroup known as Ghegs.[3]

Gheg does not have any official status as a written language in any country. Publications in Kosovo and North Macedonia are in Standard Albanian, which is based on Tosk. However, some authors continue to write in Gheg.


Before World War II, there had been no official attempt to enforce a unified Albanian literary language; both literary Gheg and literary Tosk were used.[3] The communist regime in Albania imposed nationwide a standard that was based on the variant of Tosk spoken in and around the city of Korçë.[3]

With the warming of relations between Albania and Yugoslavia starting in the late 1960s, the Kosovo Albanians—the largest ethnic group in Kosovo—adopted the same standard[4] in a process that began in 1968 and culminated with the appearance of the first unified Albanian orthographic handbook and dictionary in 1972.[3] Although they had until then used Gheg and almost all Albanian writers in Yugoslavia were Ghegs, they chose to write in Tosk for political reasons.[5]

The change of literary language has had significant political and cultural consequences because the Albanian language is the main criterion for Albanian self identity.[6] The standardization has been criticized, notably by the writer Arshi Pipa, who claimed that the move had deprived Albanian of its richness at the expense of the Ghegs.[7] He referred to literary Albanian as a "monstrosity" produced by the Tosk communist leadership, who had conquered anti-communist northern Albania and imposed their own dialect on the Ghegs.[8]

Kosovan language[edit]

In post-WWII Yugoslavia there was a project to create a Kosovan language, which would have been largely Gheg. This was in line with Josip Broz Tito's reorganization of the country into a federation of ethnolinguistically defined nations, which relied heavily on language policy to create or reinforce separation of these nations from such neighbors as Bulgaria, and it built on efforts by communist Albania to unite with Yugoslavia. The idea of union was dropped though, in the aftermath of the split between Stalin and Tito in 1948, as Albania sided with Moscow. As a result of this rupture and other factors, no such Kosovan language was ever created. Indeed, in 1974 the Tosk-based standard Albanian was adopted as an official language of Kosovo.[9]


The Gheg dialect is divided by four sub-dialects: Central Gheg, Southern Gheg, Northwestern Gheg (or Western Gheg), and Northeastern Gheg (or Eastern Gheg).

Southern Gheg[edit]

Southern Gheg is spoken in the ethno-geographic regions of central and, areas of, north-central Albania; among these being: 1) Durrës, which includes its surrounding villages and environs and municipal units of Ishëm and Shijak; 2) Tirana, including the surrounding villages and environs under the municipal units of Petrelë, Dajt, Vorë, Pezë, Ndroq, Zall-Herr, Zall-Bastar, Shëngjergj, Kavajë, and Rrogozhinë (the last two traditionally being grouped with the Durrës region); 3) Elbasan, including its surrounding villages and the settlements under the municipal units of Labinot-Mal, Labinot-Fushë, Bradashesh, Funarë, Krrabë, and Peqin (the last two regions generally speak dialects closer to that of the Durrës and Tirana region); and 4) Librazhd, including the surrounding settlements and those under the ethnographic regions and municipal units of Çermenikë, Qukës, Prrenjas, Hotolisht; and 5) small sub-regions of the Dibër County such as Martanesh; and 6) northern Pogradec.

Southern Gheg can be further broken down into two major groupings: Southwestern Gheg and Southeastern Gheg. The first group includes the dialects spoken in the regions of Durrës, Tirana, and sections of Elbasan such as Peqin and the western villages of Krrabë. The latter group, on the other hand, is spoken in the regions of Elbasan, Librazhd, and Martanesh. The spoken dialects of Shëngjergj, in Tirana, and Krrabë, in Elbasan, act as transitional dialects between the two groups, although the former is closer to the Southwestern group and the eastern villages of the latter with the Southeastern group.

The dialects of Ishëm, Vorë, Zall-Herr, and Zall-Dajt represent the northernmost extensions of Southern Gheg (specifically Southwestern Gheg), and as such, they show direct influences from Central Gheg (spoken in neighbouring Krujë, Mat, and Bulqizë); thus they can be labelled as transitional dialects.[10]

Certain settlements to the extreme south of the Southern Gheg dialect zone, which are included in the largely Southern Gheg-speaking units, speak transitional dialects depicting both characteristics of Gheg and Tosk Albanian. These include villages such as Dars in Peqin, the coastal villages of southernmost Kavajë, and a number of settlements in Qukës and Hotolisht.[11]

Central Gheg[edit]

Central Gheg is a sub-dialect of Gheg spoken in much of north-central Albania, including: Krujë, Mati, Dibër, Luma, and Mirdita.[12] Central Gheg is also spoken outside of Albania, with the majority of Albanians from North Macedonia speaking dialects of Central Gheg[13] - including the divergent idiom spoken in Upper Reka.[14] According to linguists such as Jorgji Gjinari and Xhevat Lloshi, the Central Gheg dialect group represents a sub-group of the larger Southern Gheg zone.[12][15]

Northern Gheg[edit]

The Italian linguist Carlo Tagliavini puts the Gheg of Kosovo and North Macedonia in Eastern Gheg.[19]

Northeastern Gheg[edit]

Northeastern Gheg, sometimes known as Eastern Gheg, is a variant or sub-dialect of Gheg Albanian spoken in Northeastern Albania, Kosovo, and Serbia.

The Northeastern Gheg dialectal area begins roughly down from the eastern Montenegrin-Albanian border, including the Albanian districts (Second-level administrative country subdivisions) of Tropojë, Pukë, Has, Mirditë and Kukës; the whole of Kosovo[a], and the municipalities of Bujanovac and Preševo in Serbia. The tribes in Albania speaking the dialect include Nikaj-Merturi, Puka, Gashi, and Tropoja.

The Albanian speech in roughly around Tetovo and Karadak, in North Macedonia, is sometimes regarded part of Northeastern Gheg.[citation needed]

Calques of Serbian origin are evident in the areas of syntax and morphology.[20] The Northeastern Gheg slightly differs from Northwestern Gheg (spoken in Shkodër),[3] as the pronunciation is deeper and more prolonged[clarification needed]. Northeastern Gheg is considered to be the autonomous branch of Gheg Albanian[21] in turn, the Northeastern Gheg dialects themselves differ greatly among themselves.[22]

The dialect is also split in a few other minority dialects, where the phoneme [y] of standard Albanian is pronounced as [i], i.e. "ylberi" to "ilberi" (both meaning rainbow); "dy" to "di" (both meaning two).[citation needed] In Northeastern Gheg, the palatal stops of standard Albanian, such as [c] (as in qen, "dog") and [ɟ] (as in gjumë, "sleep"), are realised as palato-alveolar affricates, [t͡ʃ] and [d͡ʒ] respectively.[23]

Northwestern Gheg[edit]

Northwestern Gheg, sometimes known as Western Gheg, is a sub-dialect of Gheg Albanian spoken in Northwestern Albania, Southern Montenegro, and Western Kosovo. The tribes that speak this dialect are the Malësor, Dukagjin and other highlander tribes which include (Malësia): Hoti, Gruda, Triepshi, Kelmendi, Kastrati, Shkreli, Lohja, etc., (Dukagjin) : Shala, Shoshi, Shllaku, Dushmani, etc., etc..(Lezhë),...(see Tribes of Albania).

The main contrast between Northwestern Gheg and Northeastern Gheg is the slight difference in the tone and or pronunciation of the respective dialects. Northwestern Gheg does not have the more deeper sounding a's, e's, etc. and is considered by some to sound slightly more soft and clear in tone compared to Northeastern Gheg, yet still spoken with a rough Gheg undertone compared to the Southern Albanian dialects. Other differences include different vocabulary, and the use of words like "kon" (been), and "qysh" (how?) which are used in Northeastern Gheg, and not often used in Northwestern Gheg. Instead Northwestern Gheg speakers say "kjen or ken" (been), and use the adverb "si" to say (how?). For example in Northeastern Gheg to say "when I was young", you would say, "kur jam kon i ri", while in Northwestern Gheg you would say "kur kam ken i ri, kur jam ken i ri.".[citation needed] Although there is a degree of variance, Northwestern Gheg and Northeastern Gheg are still very much similar, and speakers of both sub-dialects have no problem understanding and having a conversation with one another.

The Northwestern Gheg subdialect encompasses three main Albanian ethnographic regions: Malësia e Madhe, Shkodër and Lezhë. Within the Northwestern Gheg, the area of Malësia e Madhe shows different phonological, syntactic, and lexical patterns than the areas of Shkodër and Lezhë. For this reason, Malësia e Madhe Albanian can be considered a distinct variety of Northwestern Gheg. The different features of this variety can be traced to the historical and geographic isolation of the muntainous region of Malësia e Madhe (Albanian for 'Great Highlands').[24]


Assimilations are common in Gheg but are not part of the Albanian literary language, which is a standardized form of Tosk Albanian.[25]



IPA Spelling
[a] a (mas: 'after')
[ɑ] â (prâpë: 'back')
[ɒ] ä (knäqët: 'having fun')
[e] e (dere: 'door')
[ɛ] ê (mênôj: 'I think')
[ə] ë (nër: 'under')
[i] i (dritë: 'light')
[o] o (kos: 'yoghurt')
[ɔ] ô (dôrë: 'hand')
[u] u (kur: 'when')
[y] y (ylli: 'star')


IPA Spelling[26]
[ɑ̃] ã (hãna: 'moon')
[ɛ̃] ẽ (mrẽna: 'within')
[ĩ] ĩ (hĩna: 'I entered')
[ɔ̃] õ (fõ: 'satiated', some dialects)
[ũ] ũ (hũna: 'nose')
[ỹ] ỹ (gjỹs: 'half')


Standard Tosk Cham Arbëresh South Gheg Central Gheg Northeastern Gheg Northwestern Gheg English
Shqipëri Shkjipërí Shqiprí Shqipní Shqypní/Shipni Shipní "Albania"
Një Nji, njo Ni Ni, njo/nja Nja, nji "One"
Bëj Bunj Bôj Bâj, boj Bâj "I do"
Qenë Qënë Klënë Qên Kên Kôn, kân Kjen "Been"
Pleqëri Pleqrĩ Plekjërí Pleqni Pleçni "Old age"
Është Është or Ësht' Është Isht or ë Ôsht or ô Osht or o/Âsht or â Âsht or â "Is"
Nëntë Nônt Nôn Non, Nond/Nân Nând "Nine"
Shtëpi Shpi Shpí Shp(e)j Shp(a)j/Shpi,Shpí Shp(e)i "Home"

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Gheg at Ethnologue (25th ed., 2022) Closed access icon
  2. ^ Brown and Ogilvie (2008), p. 23. The river Shkumbin in central Albania historically forms the boundary between those two dialects, with the population on the north speaking varieties of Geg and the population on the south varieties of Tosk.
  3. ^ a b c d e f Joseph 2003, When Languages Collide: Perspectives on Language Conflict, Language Competition, and Language Coexistence, p. 266: "Northeastern Geg"
  4. ^ Tomasz Kamusella. 2016. The idea of a Kosovan language in Yugoslavia's language politics (pp 217-237). International Journal of the Sociology of Language. Vol 242.
  5. ^ Pipa, p. 173: Although the Albanian population in Yugoslavia is almost exclusively Gheg, the Albanian writers there have chosen, for sheer political reasons, to write in Tosk
  6. ^ Telos. Telos Press. 1989. p. 1. Retrieved 16 July 2013. The political-cultural relevance of the abolition of literary Gheg with literary Tosk.... Albanians identify themselves with language...
  7. ^ Canadian review of studies in nationalism: Revue canadienne des études sur le nationalisme, Volume 19. University of Prince Edward Island. 1992. p. 206. Retrieved 10 January 2012.
  8. ^ Canadian review of studies in nationalism: Revue canadienne des études sur le nationalisme, Volume 19. University of Prince Edward Island. 1992. p. 207. Retrieved 10 January 2012.
  9. ^ Tomasz Kamusella. 2016. The Idea of a Kosovan Language in Yugoslavia's Language Politics (pp 217-237). International Journal of the Sociology of Language. Vol 242. DOI: 10.1515/ijsl-2016-0040
  10. ^ Çeliku, Mehmet (2020). Gegërishtja jugperëndimore. Tiranë: Akademia e studimeve albanologjike. pp. 9–10.
  11. ^ Çeliku 2020, p. 223.
  12. ^ a b Çeliku 2020, p. 9.
  13. ^ Lloshi, Xhevat (1999). "Albanian". In Büttner, Uwe & Hinrichs, Uwe (eds.). Handbuch der Südosteuropa-Linguistik. Harrassowitz. p. 285.
  14. ^ Friedman, Victor A (2006). "Balkanizing the Balkan Linguistic Sprachbund" in Aichenwald et al, Grammars in Contact: A Cross-Linguistic Typology. Pages 209.
  15. ^ Lloshi 1999, p. 285.
  16. ^ a b Meniku, Linda (2008). Gheg Albanian Reader. Page 7
  17. ^ Meniku (2008). Gheg Albanian Reader. Page 7
  18. ^ Matasović, Ranka (2012). "A Grammatical Sketch of Albanian for students of Indo-European". Page 42-43
  19. ^ Tagliavini, Carlo (1942). Le parlate albanesi di tipo Ghego orientale: (Dardania e Macedonia nord-occidentale). Reale Accademia d'Italia.
  20. ^ Pipa, p. 56
  21. ^ Pipa, p. 57: Northern Gheg is divided vertically. Later this proved to be appropriate chiefly for methodological reasons, seeing that Eastern Gheg is considered to be an autonomous branch.
  22. ^ Van Coetsem, Frans (1980), Contributions to Historical Linguistics: Issues and Materials, Brill Archive, ISBN 9004061304. p. 274: "Northeastern Geg ... differed greatly among themselves"
  23. ^ Pipa, p. 59
  24. ^ Dedvukaj & Ndoci 2023, pp. 1, 3, 14.
  25. ^ Martin Camaj; Leonard Fox (January 1984). Albanian Grammar: With Exercises, Chrestomathy and Glossaries. Otto Harrassowitz Verlag. p. 4. ISBN 978-3-447-02467-9.
  26. ^ Fialuur i voghel Sccyp e ltinisct[sic] (Small Dictionary of Albanian and Latin), 1895, Shkodër


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