The official language, written in a standard
roman-style orthography adopted in 1909, was based on the south Gheg dialect
of Elbasan from the beginning of the Albanian state until World War II,
and since has been modeled on Tosk. Albanian speakers in Kosova and in
Macedonia speak eastern varieties of Gheg but since 1974 have widely adopted
a common orthography with Albania. Before 1909, the little literature
that was preserved, was written in local makeshift Italianate or Hellenizing
orthographies, or even in Turko-Arabic characters.
A few brief written records are preserved from the 15th century, the first being a baptismal formula from 1462. The scattering of books produced in the 16th and 17th centuries originated largely in the Gheg area (often in Scutarene north Gheg) and reflect Roman Catholic missionary activities. Much of the small stream of literature in the 19th century was produced by exiles. Perhaps the earliest purely literary work of any extent is the 18th-century poetry of Jul Variboba, of the enclave at S.Giorgio, in Calabria. Some literary production continued through the 19th century in the Italian enclaves, but no similar activity is recorded in the Greek areas. All these early historical documents show a language that differs little from the current language. Because these documents from different regions and times exhibit marked dialect peculiarities, however, they often have a value for linguistic study that greatly outweighs their literary merit.