Albanian alphabet

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The Albanian alphabet (Albanian : alfabeti shqip) is a variant of the Latin alphabet used to write the Albanian language. It consists of 36 letters: [1]


Capital letters
Lower case letters
IPA value
a, ä b t͡s t͡ʃ d ð e, ɛ ə, ʌ, ɜ f ɡ ɟ h i j k l ɫ m n ɲ o, ɔ p c / t͡ɕ ɾ r s ʃ t θ u v d͡z d͡ʒ y z ʒ

Note: The vowels are shown in bold. Loudspeaker.svg Listen   to the pronunciation of the 36 letters.


The earliest known mention of Albanian writings comes from a French Catholic church document from 1332. [2] [3] Written either by archbishop Guillaume Adam or the monk Brocardus Monacus the report notes that Licet Albanenses aliam omnino linguam a latina habeant et diversam, tamen litteram latinam habent in usu et in omnibus suis libris ("Though the Albanians have a language entirely their own and different from Latin, they nevertheless use Latin letters in all their books"). [2] [3] Scholars warn that this could mean Albanians also wrote in the Latin language, not necessarily just Albanian with a Latin script. [4]

The history of the later Albanian alphabet is closely linked with the influence of religion among Albanians. The writers from the North of Albania used Latin letters under the influence of the Catholic Church, those from the South of Albania under the Greek Orthodox church used Greek letters, while others used Arabic letters under the influence of Islam. There were also attempts for an original Albanian alphabet in the period of 1750–1850. The current alphabet in use among Albanians is one of the two variants approved in the Congress of Monastir held by Albanian intellectuals from 14 to 22 November 1908, in Monastir (Bitola, North Macedonia).

Alphabet used in early literature

The first certain document in Albanian is the "Formula e pagëzimit" (1462) (baptismal formula), issued by Pal Engjëlli (1417–1470); it was written in Latin characters. [5] :3 It was a simple phrase that was supposed to be used by the relatives of a dying person if they could not make it to churches during the troubled times of the Ottoman invasion.

Also, the five Albanian writers of the 16th and 17th centuries (Gjon Buzuku, Lekë Matrënga, Pjetër Budi, Frang Bardhi and Pjetër Bogdani) who form the core of early Albanian literature, all used a Latin alphabet for their Albanian books; this alphabet remained in use by writers in northern Albania until the beginning of the 20th century.

The Greek intellectual Anastasios Michael, in his speech to the Berlin Academy (c. 1707) mentions an Albanian alphabet produced "recently" by Kosmas from Cyprus, bishop of Dyrrachium. It is assumed that this is the alphabet used later for the "Gospel of Elbasan". Anastasios calls Kosmas the "Cadmus of Albania". [6]

National awakening 19th-century endeavours

In 1857 Kostandin Kristoforidhi, an Albanian scholar and translator, drafted in Istanbul, Ottoman Empire, a Memorandum for the Albanian language. He then went to Malta, where he stayed until 1860 in a Protestant seminary, finishing the translation of The New Testament in the Tosk and Gheg dialects. He was helped by Nikolla Serreqi from Shkodër with the Gheg version of the New Testament. Nikolla Serreqi was also the propulsor for the use of the Latin script for the translation of the New Testament, which had already been used by the early writers of the Albanian literature; Kristoforidhi enthusiastically embraced the idea of a Latin alphabet. [7]

In November 1869, a Commission for the Alphabet of the Albanian Language was gathered in Istanbul. One of its members was Kostandin Kristoforidhi and the main purpose of the commission was the creation of a unique alphabet for all the Albanians. In January 1870 the commission ended its work of the standardization of the alphabet, which was mainly in Latin letters. A plan on the creation of textbooks and spread of Albanian schools was drafted. However this plan was not realized, because the Ottoman government would not finance the expenses for the establishment of such schools. [8]

Although this commission had gathered and delivered an alphabet in 1870, the writers from the North still used the Latin-based alphabet, whereas in southern Albania writers used mostly the Greek letters. In southern Albania, the main activity of Albanian writers consisted in translating Greek Orthodox religious texts, and not in forming any kind of literature which could form a strong tradition for the use of Greek letters. As the albanologist Robert Elsie has written: [9]

The predominance of Greek as the language of Christian education and culture in southern Albania and the often hostile attitude of the Orthodox church to the spread of writing in Albanian made it impossible for an Albanian literature in Greek script to evolve. The Orthodox church, as the main vehicle of culture in the southern Balkans, while intent on spreading Christian education and values, was never convinced of the utility of writing in the vernacular as a means of converting the masses, as the Catholic church in northern Albania had been, to a certain extent, during the Counter-Reformation. Nor, with the exception of the ephemeral printing press in Voskopoja, did the southern Albanians ever have at their disposal publishing facilities like those available to the clerics and scholars of Catholic Albania in Venice and Dalmatia. As such, the Orthodox tradition in Albanian writing, a strong cultural heritage of scholarship and erudition, though one limited primarily to translations of religious texts and to the compilation of dictionaries, was to remain a flower which never really blossomed.

The turning point was the aftermath of the League of Prizren (1878) events when in 1879 Sami Frashëri and Naim Frashëri formed the Society for the Publication of Albanian Writings. Sami Frashëri, Koto Hoxhi, Pashko Vasa and Jani Vreto created an alphabet.[ citation needed ] This was based on the principle of "one sound one letter" (although the revision of 1908 replaced the letter ρ by the rr digraph to avoid confusion with p). This was called the "Istanbul alphabet" (also "Frashëri alphabet"). In 1905 this alphabet was in widespread use in all Albanian territory, North and South, including Catholic, Muslim and Orthodox areas.

One year earlier, in 1904 had been published the Albanian dictionary (Albanian : Fjalori i Gjuhës Shqipe) of Kostandin Kristoforidhi, after the author's death. The dictionary had been drafted 25 years before its publication and was written in the Greek alphabet. [10]

The so-called Bashkimi alphabet was designed by the Society for the Unity of the Albanian Language for being written on a French typewriter and includes no diacritics other than é (compared to ten graphemes of the Istanbul alphabet which were either non-Latin or had diacritics).

Congress of Manastir

In 1908, the Congress of Manastir was held by Albanian intellectuals in Bitola, Ottoman Empire, modern-day Republic of North Macedonia. The Congress was hosted by the Bashkimi ("unity") club, and prominent delegates included Gjergj Fishta, Ndre Mjeda, Mit'hat Frashëri, Sotir Peçi, Shahin Kolonja, and Gjergj D. Qiriazi. There was much debate and the contending alphabets were Istanbul, Bashkimi and Agimi. However, the Congress was unable to make a clear decision and opted for a compromise solution of using both the widely used Istanbul, with minor changes, and a modified version of the Bashkimi alphabet. Usage of the alphabet of Istanbul declined rapidly and it was essentially extinct over the following decades.

During 1909 and 1910 there were movements by Young Turks supporters to adopt an Arabic alphabet, as they considered the Latin script to be un-Islamic. In Korçë and Gjirokastër, demonstrations took place favoring the Latin script, and in Elbasan, Muslim clerics led a demonstration for the Arabic script, telling their congregations that using the Latin script would make them infidels. In 1911, the Young Turks dropped their opposition to the Latin script; finally, the Latin Bashkimi alphabet was adopted, and is still in use today.

The modifications to the Bashkimi alphabet were made to include characters used in the Istanbul and Agimi alphabets. Ç was chosen over ch since c with cedilla could be found on every typewriter, given its use in French. Other changes were more esthetic and as a way to combine the three scripts.

Alphabetical order:123456789101112131415161718192021222324252627282930313233343536
IPA:[a ɑ ɒ][b][ts][tʃ][d][ð][e ɛ][ə][f][g][ɟ][h ħ][i][j][k q][l][ɫ][m][n][ɲ][o ɔ][p][c tɕ][ɾ][r][s][ʃ][t][θ][u][v][dz][dʒ][y][z][ʒ]
Bashkimi alphabet: A a B b Ts ts Ch ch D d Dh dh É é E e F f G g Gh gh H h I i J j K k L l Ll ll M m N n Gn gn O o P p C c R r Rr rr S s Sh sh T t Th th U u V v Z z Zh zh Y y X x Xh xh
Istanbul alphabet: A a B b C c Ç ç D d Б δ E ε ♇ e F f G g Γ γ H h I i J j K k L l Λ λ M m N n И ŋ O o Π p Q q R r Ρ ρ S s Ϲ σ T t Θ θ U u V v X x X̦ x̦ Y y Z z Z̧ z̧
Manastir alphabet (modified Bashkimi, current alphabet): A a B b C c Ç ç D d Dh dh E e Ë ë F f G g Gj gj H h I i J j K k L l Ll ll M m N n Nj nj O o P p Q q R r Rr rr S s Sh sh T t Th th U u V v X x Xh xh Y y Z z Zh zh

A second congress at Monastir (Bitola) was held in April 1910, which confirmed the decision taken in the first congress of Monastir. After Albanian independence in 1912, there were two alphabets in use. Following the events of the Balkan wars and World War I, the Bashkimi variant dominated. The Bashkimi alphabet is at the origin of the official alphabet of the Albanian language in use today.

Other alphabets used for written Albanian

The modern Latin-based Albanian alphabet is the result of long evolution. Before the creation of the unified alphabet, Albanian was written in several different alphabets, with several sub-variants:

Derived alphabets

Latin-derived alphabet

Greek-derived alphabet

Ottoman-derived alphabet

Arabic-derived alphabet

Original alphabets

The letters of the Vithkuqi alphabet matched to their modern Albanian equivalents. VithkuqiScript.png
The letters of the Vithkuqi alphabet matched to their modern Albanian equivalents.

Older versions of the alphabet in Latin characters

Before the standardisation of the Albanian alphabet, there were several ways of writing the sounds peculiar to Albanian, namely ⟨c⟩, ⟨ç⟩, ⟨dh⟩, ⟨ë⟩, ⟨gj⟩, ⟨ll⟩, ⟨nj⟩, ⟨q⟩, ⟨rr⟩, ⟨sh⟩, ⟨th⟩, ⟨x⟩, ⟨xh⟩, ⟨y⟩, ⟨z⟩ and ⟨zh⟩. Also, ⟨j⟩ was written in more than one way.

⟨c⟩, ⟨ç⟩, ⟨k⟩, and ⟨q⟩

The earliest Albanian sources were written by people educated in Italy, as a consequence, the value of the letters were similar to those of the Italian alphabet. The present-day c was written with a ⟨z⟩, and the present-day ç was written as ⟨c⟩ as late as 1895. Conversely, the present-day k was written as ⟨c⟩ until 1868. c was also written as ⟨ts⟩ (Reinhold 1855 and Kristoforidis 1872), ⟨tz⟩ (Rada 1866) and ⟨zz⟩. It was first written as ⟨c⟩ in 1879 by Frashëri but also in 1908 by Pekmezi. ç was also written as ⟨tz⟩ (Leake 1814), ⟨ts̄⟩ (Reinhold 1855), ⟨ci⟩ (Rada 1866), ⟨tš⟩ (Kristoforidis 1872), ⟨tç⟩ (Dozon 1878), ⟨č⟩ (by Agimi) and ⟨ch⟩ (by Bashkimi). ç itself was first used by Frasheri (1879).

The present-day q was variously written as ⟨ch⟩, ⟨chi⟩, ⟨k⟩, ⟨ky⟩, ⟨kj⟩, k with dot (Leake 1814) k with overline (Reinhold 1855), k with apostrophe (Miklosich 1870), and ⟨ḱ⟩ (first used by Lepsius 1863). ⟨q⟩ was first used in Frashëri's Stamboll mix-alphabet in 1879 and also in the Grammaire albanaise of 1887.

⟨dh⟩ and ⟨th⟩

The present-day dh was originally written with a character similar to the Greek xi (ξ). This was doubled (ξξ) to write 'th'. These characters were used as late as 1895. Leake first used ⟨dh⟩ and ⟨th⟩ in 1814. dh was also written using the Greek letter delta (δ), while Alimi used ⟨đ⟩ and Frasheri used a ⟨d⟩ with a hook on the top stem of the letter.


This letter was not usually differentiated from ⟨e⟩, but when it was, it was usually done by means of diacritics: ⟨ė⟩ (Bogdani 1685, da Lecce 1716 and Kristoforidis 1872), ⟨e̊⟩ (Lepsius 1863), ⟨ẹ̄⟩ (Miklosich 1870) or by new letters ⟨ö⟩ (Reinhold 1855), ⟨υ⟩ (Rada 1866), ⟨œ⟩ (Dozon 1878), ⟨ε⟩ (Meyer 1888 and 1891, note Frasheri used ⟨ε⟩ for ⟨e⟩, and ⟨e⟩ to write ⟨ë⟩; the revision of 1908 swapped these letters) and ⟨ə⟩ (Alimi). Rada first used ⟨ë⟩ in 1870.

⟨gj⟩ and ⟨g⟩

These two sounds were not usually differentiated. They were variously written as ⟨g⟩, ⟨gh⟩ and ⟨ghi⟩. When they were differentiated, g was written as ⟨g⟩ or (by Liguori 1867) as ⟨gh⟩, while gj was written as ⟨gi⟩ (Leake 1814), ⟨ḡ⟩ (Reinhold 1855), ⟨ǵ⟩ (first used by Lepsius 1863), ⟨gy⟩ (Dozon 1878) and a modified ⟨g⟩ (Frasheri). The Grammaire albanaise (1887) first used gj, but it was also used by Librandi (1897). Rada (1866) used ⟨g⟩, ⟨gh⟩, ⟨gc⟩, and ⟨gk⟩ for g, and ⟨gki⟩ for ⟨gj⟩.


The older versions of the Albanian alphabet differentiated between two “h” sounds, one for [h] one for the Voiceless velar fricative [x]. The second sound was written as ⟨h⟩, ⟨kh⟩, ⟨ch⟩, and Greek khi ⟨χ⟩.


This sound was most commonly written as ⟨j⟩, but some authors (Leake 1814, Lepsius 1863, Kristoforidis 1872, Dozon 1878) wrote this as ⟨y⟩.

⟨ll⟩ and ⟨l⟩

Three “l” sounds were distinguished in older Albanian alphabets, represented by IPA as /l ɫ ʎ/. l/l/ was written as ⟨l⟩. ll/ɫ/ was written as ⟨λ⟩, italic ⟨l⟩, ⟨lh⟩ and ⟨ł⟩. Blanchi (1635) first used ll. /ʎ/ was written as ⟨l⟩, ⟨li⟩, ⟨l’⟩ (Miklosich 1870 and Meyer 1888 and 1891), ⟨ĺ⟩ (Kristoforidis 1872), ⟨lh⟩, ⟨gl⟩, ⟨ly⟩ and ⟨lj⟩.


This sound was most commonly written as ⟨gn⟩ in Italian fashion. It was also written as italic ⟨n⟩ (Leake 1814), ⟨n̄⟩ (Reinhold 1855), ⟨ń⟩ (first used by Lepsius 1863), ⟨ṅ⟩ (Miklosich 1870), ⟨ñ⟩ (Dozon 1878). The Grammaire albanaise (1887) first used nj.


Blanchi first used ⟨rr⟩ to represent this sound. However, also used were Greek rho (ρ) (Miklosich 1870), ⟨ṙ⟩ (Kristoforidis 1872), ⟨rh⟩ (Dozon 1878 and Grammaire albanaise 1887), ⟨r̄⟩ (Meyer 1888 and 1891), ⟨r̀⟩ (Alimi) and ⟨p⟩ (Frasheri, who used a modified ⟨p⟩ for [p]).

⟨sh⟩ and ⟨s⟩

These two sounds were not consistently differentiated in the earliest versions of the Albanian alphabet. When they were differentiated, s was represented by ⟨s⟩ or ⟨ss⟩, while sh was represented by ⟨sc⟩, ⟨ſc⟩, ⟨s̄⟩ (Reinhold 1855), ⟨ç⟩ (Dozon 1878) and ⟨š⟩. sh was first used by Rada in 1866.


Frasheri first used ⟨x⟩ to represent this sound. Formerly, it was written variously as ⟨ds⟩ (Kristoforidis 1872), ⟨dz⟩, ⟨z⟩, and ⟨zh⟩.


The Grammaire albanaise (1887) first used ⟨xh⟩. Formerly, it was written variously as ⟨gi⟩, ⟨g⟩, ⟨dš⟩ (Kristoforidis 1872), ⟨dž⟩, ⟨x⟩ and ⟨zh⟩.


This sound was written as ⟨y⟩ in 1828. Formerly it was written as ȣ (Cyrillic uk), italic ⟨u⟩ (Leake 1814), ⟨ü⟩, ⟨ṳ⟩, and ⟨ε⟩.


Leake first used ⟨z⟩ to represent this sound in 1814. Formerly, it was written variously as a backward 3, Greek zeta (ζ) (Reinhold 1855), ⟨x⟩ (Bashkimi) and a symbol similar to ⟨p⟩ (Altsmar).


This sound was variously written as an overlined ζ (Reinhold 1855), ⟨sg⟩ (Rada 1866), ⟨ž⟩, ⟨j⟩ (Dozon 1878), underdotted z, ⟨xh⟩ (Bashkimi), ⟨zc⟩. It was also written with a backward 3 in combination: 3gh and 3c.

Older versions of the alphabet in Greek characters

Arvanites in Greece used the altered Greek alphabet to write in Albanian. [17] [18]

Albanian written in the Greek alphabet
Modern Albanian

Older versions of the alphabet in Cyrillic characters

Modern Latin: a b c ç d dh e ë f g gj h i j k l ll m n nj ng o p q r rr s sh t th u v x xh y z zh jejujasht
Cyrillic: а б ц ч д δ е ъ ф г гї, гј, ђ х ї, и ѣ, ј к л, љ л м н њ нг о п кї, ћ р рр с ш т ѳ у в дс џ ју, ӱ з ж ѣе, јеѣу, јуѣа, ја щ, шт
Alternate: а б ц ч д ҙ е ә ф г ѓ х и й к л љ м н њ ң о п ќ р р̌ с ш т ҫ у в ѕ џ ү з ж є ю я щ

Sample of Albanian language text, written in Cyrillic characters (central column). From the book "Речник од три језика".

Trijazichnik, Gjorgjiia Pulevski.pdf

See also


  1. Newmark, Hubbard & Prifti (1982 :9–11)
  2. 1 2 Skendi, Stavro (1967). The Albanian national awakening. Princeton: Princeton University Press. p. 111. ISBN   9781400847761.
  3. 1 2 Elsie, Robert (2003). Early Albania: a reader of historical texts, 11th-17th centuries. Harrassowitz. pp. 28–30. ISBN   978-3-447-04783-8.
  4. Brian Joseph, Angelo Costanzo, and Jonathan Slocum. "Introduction to Albanian". University of Texas at Austin . Retrieved 6 June 2017.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  5. Newmark, Leonard; Philip Hubbard; Peter R. Prifti (1982). Standard Albanian: a reference grammar for students. Andrew Mellon Foundation. ISBN   9780804711296 . Retrieved 2010-05-28.
  6. Minaoglou Charalampos, "Anastasios Michael and the Speech about Hellenism", Athens, 2013, p. 37 and note 90 In Greek language.
  7. Lloshi pp.14-15
  8. Lloshi p.18
  9. Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies, Birmingham, 15 (1991), p. 20-34.
  10. Lloshi p. 9.
  11. H. T. Norris (1993), Islam in the Balkans: Religion and Society Between Europe and the Arab World, University of South Carolina Press, p. 76, ISBN   9780872499775
  12. 1 2 3 4 5 Elise, Robert. "The Elbasan Gospel Manuscript (Anonimi i Elbasanit), 1761, and the struggle for an original Albanian alphabet" (PDF). Robert Elise. Retrieved 2016-07-13.
  13. "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2019-06-15. Retrieved 2018-03-23.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  14. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2013-12-15. Retrieved 2013-12-15.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  15. Dhimiter Shuteriqi (1976), Shkrimet Shqipe ne Vitet 1332-1850, Tirana: Academy of Sciences of PR of Albania, p. 151, OCLC   252881121
  16. Straehle, Carolin (1974). International journal of the sociology of language. Mouton. p. 5.
  17. Albanian-Greek
  18. Carl Faulmann (1880), Das Buch der Schrift enthaltend die Schriftzeichen und Alphabete aller Zeiten und aller Völker des Erdkreises (in German), 1 (2nd ed.), Wien: Druck und Verlag der kaiserlich-königlichen Hof- und Staatsdruckerei

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The Congress of Elbasan, also known between Albanians as the Congress of the Albanian schools, was held from 2 to 8 September 1909 in Elbasan, today's Albania, back then part of the Vilayet of Monastir of the Ottoman Empire. The congress, sponsored by the local Bashkimi literary club, was attended by 35 delegates from central and southern Albania.

Vellara alphabet

Vellara script or Vellara alphabet is one of the original Albanian alphabets, encountered for the first time in early 19th century. It is named after the Greek doctor, lyricist and writer Ioannis Vilaras, the author of a manuscript where this alphabet is documented for the first and so far the only time.

Gjirokastër alphabet

The Gjirokastër alphabet also known as Veso Bey alphabet is one of the original Albanian language alphabets of the 19th century. It is named after the town of Gjirokastër in South Albania where it was first encountered by the scholar Johann Georg von Hahn, also after Veso Bey, a rich local bey from the influential Alizoti family who provided it to Hahn. Hahn published in 1854 in his "Albanesische Studien", in Jena.


Cuvendi i arbenit o concilli provintiaalli mbelieδune viettit mije sctat cint e tre ndne schiptarin Clementin XI. pape pretemaδin. E duta sctamp. Conciliun albanum provinciale sive nationale habitum anno MDCCCIII. Clemente XI. pont. max. albano. Editio secunda, posteriorum constitutionum apostolicarum ad Epiri ecclesias spectantium appendice ditata. Romae. Typis s. congregationis de propaganda fide. 1868.