Albanian Grammar

The grammatical categories of Albanian are much like those of other European languages. Nouns show overt gender, number, and three or four cases. An unusual feature is that nouns are further inflected obligatorily with suffixes to show definite or indefinite meaning; e.g., buk‘ “bread,” buka “the bread.” Adjectives–except numerals and certain quantifying expressions–and dependent nouns follow the noun they modify; and they are remarkable in requiring a particle preceding them that agrees with the noun. Thus, in nj‘ burr‘ i madh, meaning “a big man,” burr‘ “man” is modified by madh “big,” which is preceded by i, which agrees with the term for “man”; likewise, in dy burra t‘ m‘dhenj”two big men,” m‘dhenj, the plural masculine form for “big,” follows the noun burra “men” and is preceded by a particle t‘ that agrees with the noun. Verbs have roughly the number and variety of forms found in French or Italian and are quite irregular in forming their stems. Noun plurals are also notable for the irregularity of a large number of them. When a definite noun or one taken as already known is the direct object of the sentence, a pronoun in the objective case that repeats this information must also be inserted in the verb phrase; e.g., i-a dhash‘ librin atij is literally “him-it I-gave the-book to-him,” which in standard English would be “I gave the book to him.” In general, the grammar and formal distinctions of Albanian are reminiscent of Modern Greek and the Romance languages, especially of Romanian. The sounds suggest Hungarian or Greek, but Gheg with its nasal vowels strikes the ear as distinctive. Although Albanian has a host of borrowings from its neighbors, it shows exceedingly few evidences of contact with ancient Greek; one such is the Gheg moken; (Tosk mok‘r) “millstone,” from the Greek mekhane’. Obviously close contacts with the Romans gave many Latin loans; e.g., mik “friend,” from Latin amicus; k‘ndoj “sing, read” from cantare. Furthermore, such loanwords in Albanian attest to the similarities in development of the Latin spoken in the Balkans and of Romanian, a Balkan Romance tongue. For example, Latin paludem “swamp” became padulem, and then padure in Romanian and pyll in Albanian, both with a modified meaning, “forest.”

Conversely, Romanian also shares some apparently non-Latin indigenous terms with Albanian; e.g., Romanian brad, Albanian bredh “fir.” Thus these two languages reflect special historical contacts of early date. Early communication with the Goths presumably contributed tirq “trousers, breeches” (from an old compound “thigh-breech”), while early Slavic contacts gave gozhd‘ “nail.” Many Italian, Turkish, Modern Greek, Serbian, and Macedonian-Slav loans can be attributed to cultural contacts of the past 500 years with Venetians, Ottomans, Greeks (to the south), and Slavs (to the east).

A fair number of features–e.g. the formation of the future tense and of the noun phrase–are shared with other languages of the Balkans but are of obscure origin and development; Albanian or its earlier kin could easily be the source for at least some of these. The study of such regional features in the Balkans has become a classic case for research on the phenomena of linguistic diffusion.

Albanian

Grammar Sketch

Alphabet & Pronunciation

A

-father

I

-bee

RR

-borrow (rolled)

B

boy

J

year

S

sun

C

-bats

K

kite

SH

shall

Ç

charm

L

light

T

tell

D

deck

LL

-balloon

TH

thick

DH

they

M

mine

U

-spook

E

estuary

N

nine

V

very

Ë

-duck

NJ

-onion

X

-adz

F

fleet

O

-post

XH

judge, jug

G

game

P

pencil

Y

-new

GJ

-legion (soft g)

Q

-mature (soft ch)

Z

zoo

H

hotel

R

remember

ZH

-treasure

Albanian finite verbs has morphological subject indexing and, in most cases, object indexing by clitic pronouns resulting in doubling, cf. the examples already glossed above:

Studenti merr librin.

‘The student takes the book.’

Unë shkrova nënës.

‘I wrote to [my] mother.’

Petriti ia jep librin Markut.

‘Petrit gives the book to Mark.’

Subject indexing is fused with the TAM inflections, as in the following indicative paradigm (after Zymberi 1991: 250) of laj ‘wash (tr.)’ (in Albanian verbs are cited by the first person singular of the present tense):

sample indicative paradigm: laj

 

present

perfective past

imperfect

1 sg

la-j

la-va

la-ja

2 sg

la-n

la-ve

la-je

3 sg

la-n

la-u

la-nte

1 pl

la-jmë

la-më

la-nim

2 pl

la-ni

la-të

la-nit

3 pl

la-jnë

la-në

la-nin

[V2] There is an active and a medio-passive voice. The latter has “passive and reflexive” uses, and is to a large extent realized inflectionally, e.g. (lahem ‘to get washed’, medio-passive of laj):

medio-passive indicative paradigm: lahem

 

present

perfective past

imperfect

1 sg

la-he-m

u la-va

la-he-sha

2 sg

la-he-sh

u la-ve

la-he-she

3 sg

la-he-t

u la

la-he-j

1 pl

la-he-mi

u la-më

la-he-shim

2 pl

la-he-ni

u la-të

la-he-shi

3 pl

la-he-n

u la-në

la-he-shin

In the present and imperfect the medio-passive is characterized by the morpheme -he- and special subject suffixes in the singular; in the perfective past, by the clitic u and a zero-form in the third-person-singular (compare the active). In the periphrastic perfect, the auxiliary is kam ‘have’ for the active but jam ‘be’ for the medio-passive. There are “deponent” verbs with no active voice.

[V3] Verbs are negated by nuk or s’ preceding them: Nuk flas anglisht ‘I don’t speak English’.

[V4] There is a single non-finite form, the participle, which usually ends in -ur-r(ë), or -në. There are a number of verbs with a completely irregular or suppletive stem for the participle and the perfective past tense, e.g. vij ‘come’, perfectiveerdha, participle ardhurjap ‘give’, perfective dhashë, participle dhënë, etc. etc. (see also jam and kam below). The participle has a wide range of uses. It has an adjectival use with a passive or medio-passive, resultative meaning:

Jam

i

lodh-ur.

am

LIG

get.tired-PPL

‘I am tired.’

(from lodhem ‘get tired’), and is a component of the perfect tenses. Preceded by one of several particles, the same form functions as a verbal noun: duke larë‘while washing’, pa larë ‘without washing’, për të larë ‘(in order) to wash’ (Zymberi 1991: 226-7):

Ata

dol-ën

për

shëtit-ur

pak.

they

go.out-PST.PSI3p

for

LIG

walk-PPL

little

‘They went out to walk to walk a little.’

In this function, the medio-passive participle-cum-verbal-noun is preceded by u:

Ato

shku-an

për

t’

u

la-rë

lumë.

they (f.)

go.-PST.PSI3p

for

LIG

MED

wash-PPL

in

river

‘They went to bathe in the river.’ (Zymberi 1991: 226-7)

[V5] The copula, jam (participle qenë), is irregular. [V6] For possessive predicates there is a ‘have’-type verb, kam (participle pasur). Their paradigms are as follows:

copula

 

present

perfective past

imperfect

1 sg

jam

qeshë

isha

2 sg

je

qe

ishe

3 sg

është

qe

ishte

1 pl

jemi

qemë

ishim

2 pl

jeni

qetë

ishit

3 pl

janë

qenë

ishin

‘have’

 

present

perfective past

imperfect

1 sg

kam

pata

kisha

2 sg

ke

pate

kishe

3 sg

ka

pati

kishte

1 pl

kemi

patëm

kishim

2 pl

keni

patët

kishit

3 pl

kanë

patën

kishin

[V7] These have auxiliary uses in the formation of the perfect tenses.

Nominal System

[N1] There are two genders, masculine and feminine; gender affects agreement throughout the nominal system, including the ligature morpheme (see below).[N2] There are two numbers, singular and plural; although noun inflections do not distinguish gender in the plural, adjective and demonstrative inflections differentiate masculine and feminine plural. Some nouns change gender between singular and plural (Zymberi 1991: 45).

Plural formation for nouns is irregular, as a few examples show (Zymberi 1991: 85):

noun plurals

singular plural meaning
fshatar fshatarë ‘villager’
bari barinj ‘shepherd’
baba baballarë ‘father’
bri brirë ‘horn’
prind prindër ‘parent’
vajzë vajza ‘girl’

 

singular plural meaning
shtëpi shtëpi ‘house’
mik miq ‘friend’
bir bij ‘son’
breg brigje ‘hill’
dorë duar ‘hand’
dash desh ‘ram’

 

Nonetheless, “the typical masculine endings are  and -a, and the typical feminine endings are -e and -a. Many nouns… have the same form in the singular and plural” (Zymberi 1991: 45).

[N3] There are five morphological cases. Both inflectional and ligature paradigms (cf. below) work in terms of variation for gender, number and case simultaneously, with a great deal of syncretism. Some sample paradigms for indefinite nouns follow (adapted from Zymberi 1991: 51):

indefinite noun paradigms

  singular: plural:
  ‘student’ (m.) ‘friend’ (m.) ‘girl’ (f.) ‘student’ (f.) ‘students’
nominative / accusative student shok vajzë studente student-ë
genitive / dative student-i shok-u vajz-e studentej-e student-ë-ve
ablative student-i shok-u vajz-e studentej-e student-ë-ve orstudent-ë-sh

For these indefinite forms, nominative and accusative are not distinct. The ablative (mainly used with prepositions) is not distinct from the dative except optionally in the plural. The definite declension is discussed below.

[N4] Subject and object are differentiated by word order, case marking, and person-number indexing on verbs (by inflection for subjects, and through the use of obligatory clitic pronouns for objects):

Student-i e merr libr-i-n.
student-DEF-[NOM] OPI3 take.PRS.SPI3 book-DEF-ACC
‘The student takes the book.’

For indefinite direct objects there is zero case inflection which is not distinct from the subject (see the above paradigms), and clitic pronoun doubling is not obligatory for indefinite direct objects either; but even then word order and subject indexing differentiate the subject and the object, e.g.

Unë ble-va libër.
I buy-PST.SPI1 book
‘I bought a book.’

Indirect objects are distinguished from direct objects by use of the dative case and distinct pronoun clitics in the third person (these are always obligatory for indirect objects):

Unë i shkro-va nënë-s.
I.NOM DPI3 write-PST.SPI1 mother-DAT.DEF
‘I wrote to [my] mother.’

[N5] Other relations are expressed by prepositions, most of which govern the ablative case, while some take the accusative, and two the nominative (Zymberi 1991: 186).

[N6] Definitelness is highly grammaticalized: nouns, including even proper names (Zymberi 1991: 45), have contrasting indefinite and definite case paradigms. (Indefinite forms of proper names are used as vocatives and in the sentence ‘My name is X’.) The definite paradigms corresponding to the indefinite forms tabulated above are as follows:

definite noun paradigms

  singular: plural:
  ‘student’ (m.) ‘friend’ (m.) ‘girl’ (f.) ‘student’ (f.) ‘students’
nominative student-i shok-u vajz-a studentj-a student-ë-t
accusative student-i-n shok-u-n vajzë-n studente-n student-ë-t
genitive / dative / ablative student-i-t shok-u-t vajzë-s studente-s student-ë-ve

Indefinite NPs may or may not include the determiner and numeral një ‘one’ (and in the plural, ca ‘some’) in an indefinite article function, hence there is a contrast between Unë bleva libër ‘I bought a book’ (non-specific) and:

Unë e ble-va një libër.
I OPI3 buy-PST.SPI1 one book
‘I bought a [specific] book.’

(The object is here indexed by the clitic pronoun e because the object, although indefinite, is specific: Zymberi 1991: 55.)

Demonstrative determiners precede nouns:

Si qy-he-t ky fshat?
how be.called-MED-SPI3 this village
‘What is this village called?’

(Albturist 1969: 70)

The same items can function as pronouns. Their forms are:

demonstratives

  singular: plural:
  ‘this’ (m.) ‘this’ (f.) ‘these’ (m.) ‘these’ (f.)
nominative ky kjo këta këto
accusative këtë këtë këta këto
genitive / dative / ablative këtij kësaj këtyre këtyre
  ‘that’ (m.) ‘that’ (f.) ‘those’ (m.) ‘those’ (f.)
nominative ai ajo ata ato
accusative atë atë ata ato
genitive / dative / ablative atij asaj atyre atyre

[N7] The attributive adjective normally follows the head and is minimally inflected to agree in gender and number (not case). The adjective is in most cases preceded by a clitic particle here referred to as a “ligature”, one of the most salient features of Albianian grammar: një vajzë e mirë ‘a good girl’. A minority of adjectives are used attributively without a ligature (Zymberi 1991: 102), e.g. rruga kryesore ‘the main street’.

The form of the ligature varies for gender, number, case and definiteness, although only a small range of forms (ie) are employed through multiple syncretisms:

ligature

INDEFINITE   singular: plural:
  masc. fem. masc. fem.
nominative i e
accusative
genitive / dative / ablative
DEFINITE   masc. fem. masc. fem.
nominative i e e e
accusative e e e e
genitive / dative / ablative

Although the usual order is noun + ligature + adjective, for stylistic purposes the attributive adjective may also precede the head. In this case the order is ligature + adjective + noun, and case suffixes are added to the adjective rather than the noun. Predicative adjectives also keep the ligature.

[N8] With possessive attributes the pattern is possessum + ligature + possessor, e.g. nëna e Agim-i-t ‘Agim’s mother’, një student i një kolegj-i ‘a college student’. The ligature agrees with the possessed item, and the possessor NP is in the genitive case. Pronominal possessives follow a similar basic pattern but in some forms the ligature and pronoun are fused, e.g. Ky është libri im ‘This is my book’. The nominative definite possessive forms are:

  singular: plural:
  masculine feminine masculine feminine
‘my’ im ime e mi e mia
‘your (sg.)’ yt jote e tu e tua
‘his’ i tij e tij e tij e tij
‘her’ i saj e saj e saj e saj
‘our’ ynë jonë tanë tona
‘your (pl.)’ juaj juaj tuaj tuaja
‘their’ i tyre e tyre e tyre e tyre

 

[N9] Personal pronouns have distinct independent forms in the nominative, accusative, dative and ablative, and clitic accusative and dative forms. The independent forms of the third person pronouns are identical to the remote demonstrative (see above), except that the initial a- is sometimes dropped in the pronoun.

personal pronouns (independent and clitic)

  independent clitic
  nominative accusative dative ablative accusative dative
1 sg. unë mua mua meje
2 sg. ti ty ty teje
3 sg. m. ai atë atij (a)tij e i
3 sg. f. ajo atë asaj (a)saj e i
1 pl. ne ne neve nesh na na
2 pl. ju ju juve jush ju ju
3 pl. m. ata ata atyre (a)tyre i u
3 pl. f. ato ato atyre (a)tyre i u

Ju is also used as polite singular ‘you’. The clitic pronouns precede finite verbs. When dative and accusative clitic pronouns occur together they fuse, e.g.

Petrit-i ia jep libr-i-n Mark-u-t.
Petrit-DEF-[NOM] DPI3.OPI3 give.PRS.SPI3 book-DEF-ACC Mark-DEF-DAT
‘Petrit gives the book to Mark.’