Republika e Shqipërisë (Republic of Albania). The short form is Shqipëria (Albania). The name derives from the Albanian word Shqiptonjë, which means "eagle". Albanians so to say refer to themselves as Sons of the Eagles.
Almost everywhere outside Albania, the country is called "Albania" or something similar to that. This name probably derives from an old Illyrian tribe known as the Albanoi. This again might derive from the pre-Celtic word stem "alb" (which means "hill, mountains" as to be found in the word "Alps" for example) or from the Indo-Germanic word "alb" (meaning "white", hence the word Albino). In medieval times, the area was rather referred to as "Illyria".
Area & Population
|Clickable Map of Albania|
28.748 km² (slightly smaller then Belgium or almost the same size as Hawaii).
3.563 million * (2005, estimate). The population is growing steadily, despite the still ongoing emigration wave. At least the same number of Albanians live abroad - many of them in →Kosova (Kosovo), →Macedonia, Greece, Germany, Italy, the U.S. etc.
Albania has one of the most homogeneous populations of entire Europe - but there doesn't seem to be a recent census. An estimated 95% of the population are ethnic Albanians. Apart from that, there is a Greek minority (in the South), Macedonians (around the Lake Prespa area), Vlachs, Serbs, Roma and others.
Same as with the population, there are no detailed figures available. Until 1990, practising religion was strictly forbidden - Albania was, by law, the one and only strictly atheistic country. According to recent estimates, some 70% are Muslims, 20% are Albanian-Orthodox. Roman-Catholic have a rough 10% share. * Christianity seems to play an increasingly important role. Although the majority believes in Islam, most people do not seem to be really strict about it. Don't expect veiled women. Pork as well as alcohol are sold almost everywhere.
GMT +01 hr (Central Europe Time), with daylight-saving time (+1 hour) in summer.
Albanian, which is originally called Shqip. The language belongs to the large Indo-European language family. Albanian forms its own branch inside this family - with Albanian as the only member of that branch. The language features many loanwords from Latin, Greek, Turkish and Slavic languages.
Albanian is characterized by two sexes (male and female), a very complex plural form, defined and undefined infinitives, the lack of a genuine verb infinitive etc. The word order is not very common for an Indo-European language: In most languages of that family, the common order is (article) + adjective + noun. In Albanian it's noun + article + adjective, as for example in malet e larta (mountain - the - high). Most place names have two variations which are both in use - for example "Kukës" and "Kukësi" - both are correct.
There are two main dialects - the dialect also makes a difference when it comes to culture and politics. In the North and in Kosovo (in Albanian: Kosova), the Gheg dialect is common, whereas the South is characterized by the Tosk dialect. A subdialect of Tosk is considered Standard Albanian - at least by law. One of the main differences between the dialect are nasalized letters, which are abundant in Gheg but not used in Tosk. Many Gheg speakers feel themselves discriminated by Tosk speakers - I heard this many times when I talked to Albanians in the North.
Since 1908, the Roman alphabet only is used for Albanian - prior to that, sometimes the Arabian alphabet, sometimes the Greek alphabet was used. The fact that Albanian is spoken the same way it is spelled (except for the letter ë) makes it easy to learn how to read. Quite often, though not always, the syllable before the last syllable is being stressed. There are only two diacritic symbols, but there are some letter combinations (some of them treated as a single letter when it comes to listings) that are worth memorizing in order to be able to make oneself understable. Below is a list of letters and combinations which are widely different to the English pronunciation:
- C (c) is read as the "ts" in "tsar".
- Ç (ç) is read as the "ch" in [ macho ].
- Dh is prononced as the voiced English "th" ( ð ), as in [ that ] for example.
- Ë (ë) is mostly the same as the schwa ( ə ), similar to the [ e ] in [ the bus ]. Usually, the "schwa" is toneless - but Albanian has a voiced version as well, so the same latter is sometimes pronounced as the "ea" in [ heard ]. Not seldomly, this letter is completely omitted in pronunciation - mainly when it's at the end of a word, but sometimes also in the middle of a word: [ Kukës ] for example is rather pronounced [ Kuks ].
- Gj is similar to the [ j ] ( ʤ ) in [ jet ].
- Q (q) sounds a little bit like the [ tch ] in [ sketch ].
- Th is similar to the toneless English [ th ] ( θ )
- X (x) is very often used and pronounced like the [ ds ] in [ hudson ]
- Xh is similar to the voiced [ dsh ], as for example the [ g ] in [ Gin ], making it softer then the Albainian [ gj ].
- Y (y) is a clear German [ ü ], or the French "u" as in [ tu ]
- Zh is close to the [ xh ] but much softer - similar to the [ s ] in [ fusion ].
Some Albanian words are easy to figure out - "train station" in Albanian for example is "Stacioni Trenit" - but many important words are simply to different. "...please" for example is "ju lutem" or "Goodbye" "Lamtumirë" - no matter which language you speak - these words will sound ... well, Albanian, to everyone. English is not very helpful outside the capital - chances are higher that you'll meet someone who speaks German or sometimes Italian.