The Proto-Albanian language is the unattested language from which Albanian later developed. Albanian has evolved from an ancient Paleo-Balkan language, traditionally thought to be an Illyrian idiom, or otherwise a totally unattested Balkan Indo-European language that was closely related to Illyrian and Messapic.
Proto-Albanian is reconstructed by way of the compartive method between the Tosk and Gheg dialects, as well as the treatment of loanwords, the most important of which are those from Latin (dated by De Vaan to the period 167 BCE to 400 CE) and from Slavic (dated from 600 CE onward). The evidence from loanwords allows linguists to construct in great detail the shape of native words at the points of major influxes of loans from well-attested languages.
Proto-Albanian is broken up into different stages which are usually delimited by the onset of contact with different well-attested languages. Its earliest stages are dated to the early Roman Empire, just before the period of intense Latin-Albanian contact, while in its late stages it experienced contact with Slavic languages. The Tosk-Gheg split is known to predate Slavic contact circa 600 CE, as evidenced by the fact that Latin and ancient Greek loanwords are treated like native words with regard to taxonomical differences between Gheg and Tosk, but the same is not true of Slavic loans.
Vladimir Orel distinguishes the following periods of Proto-Albanian:
However, another periodization paradigm does exist, and is used by some scholars in the field, such as Ranko Matasovi?:
Demiraj, like Matasovi? and unlike Orel, observes the 5th/6th centuries as a boundary between stages, but instead places the "emergence of Albanian" from its parent after this point, rather than the 14th.
In an Albanian chapter penned by Michiel de Vaan within Klein, Joseph and Fritz' 2018 Handbook of Comparative and Historical Indo-European Linguistics, Demiraj's periods are adhered to. Orel's "Later Proto-Albanian", which is for them also definitively placed before Slavic contact, is referred to as simply "Proto-Albanian" (PAlb) or, in German, Uralbanisch, reflecting the terminology of earlier writing in German. What is for Orel "Early Proto-Albanian" (EPA), dated definitively before the onset of Latin contact, is for De Vaan, "Pre-Proto-Albanian" (PPAlb); in German, this stage is called Voruralbanisch or Frühuralbanisch. De Vaan also discusses the possibility of breaking Pre-Proto-Albanian into two stages: one before the first Greek loanwords, and one that is after the first Greek loanwords, but before contact with Latin.
This page at present is using the paradigm of Orel.
Vladimir Orel is one of the main modern international linguists to have dealt with the passage from Proto-Indo-European to Proto-Albanian to Modern Albanian. According to Orel, the study of Proto-Albanian syntax remains in its infancy so there are some limitations to the work. However, there have been developments in the understanding of the historical development of phonetics and vocabulary. Other major work has been done by Eqrem Çabej and Shaban Demiraj as well as by major scholars in the field of Romanian historical linguistics as it relates to Albanian (see Albanian-Romanian linguistic relationship) as well as other Balkan linguists. A large amount of work done on Proto-Albanian is published in German, rather than English.
Extensive recent studies on Proto-Albanian phonology have been published by Huld (1984), Beekes (1995), Shaban Demiraj (1996), Bardhyl Demiraj (1997), Orel (2000), Hock (2005), Matzinger (2006), Vermeer (2008), Schumacher (2013), and De Vaan (2018).
At present, this page follows Orel's paradigm for periods of Proto-Albanian, and presents the relationship between the synchronic phonologies of both "EPA" and "LPA" with diachronic relationships to each other and to ancestral Indo-European forms as well as descendant Albanian forms.
In Early Proto-Albanian, stress was paradigmatic, and behaved according to morphological class, with a base on the first syllable. In different paradigms, the stress pattern was varyingly barytonic, oxytonic, and mobile. Unstressed vowels lost one mora -- long vowels were shortened, already short vowels were often deleted. In Later Proto-Albanian, however, a new system of unstressed vowel reduction emerged where *a reduced to *ë while all others were simply deleted (except for post-tonic inlaut vowels, which became *ë). Orel gives the following examples:
|High||*i o *i:||*u o *u:|
|Mid||*e o *e:||o *o:|
|Low||*a o *a:|
Early Proto-Albanian possessed four distinctive short vowels: *a, *e, *i and *u. Proto-Indo-European *o and *? had merged into *a by the Early Proto-Albanian stage. A five-way distinction was maintained for long vowels: *a:, *e:, *i:, *o: and *u:. Early Proto-Albanian also had four diphthongs: *ei, *ai, *eu and *au.
Early Proto-Albanian's vowel inventory began to change as a result of Latin contact. Initially Albanian was resistant to the restoration of short *o as a separate phoneme, with Latin unstressed *o being replaced by *a, and stressed Latin *o being replaced by *u. However, in later loans, Latin *o is maintained in Albanian as *o. Additionally, some Latin loans with short *u saw Latin *u replaced by *o, as well as *? specifically in unstressed positions before sonorants. In two cases, Orel argues that Latin short /u/ was lengthened in Albanian to /u:/, ultimately to render /y/. On the other hand, whatever effect Ancient Greek loanwords had at their time of absorption is unclear, but diachronically the vowels always agree with regular internal Albanian developments.
Late Proto-Albanian exhibited *a, *i and *u throughout its development as distinctive short vowels. *o was restored to the phonemic inventory as a result of loanwords where it was increasingly maintained instead of replaced. Although *e was eliminated by breaking to *ie (which would render je and ja), it was restored by the leveling of /ai/ to /e/ and other phenomena that replaced /a/, /ie/, and /ue/ with /e/. The only long vowel preserved in its original form was *i:. *o: was replaced by *ue, *e: was merged into *a: and both were rounded and eventually raised to *o, while *u: merged with the diphthong *ui, ultimately rendering *y. By Late Proto-Albanian, all the original Indo-European diphthongs had now leveled, but new diphthongs were absorbed in loans, and were also innovated by breaking phenomena: *ie, *ue and *ui. *ai in Latin words with AE shared the fate of inherited Early Proto-Albanian *ai, becoming *e, while Latin AU similarly shared the fate of inherited *au and became *a.
Phonemically nasal vowels emerged in Late Proto-Albanian. First, all vowels standing before nasal consonants were nasalized. The following nasal consonant was then lost in certain morphological contexts, while the vowel remained nasalized, resulting in the emergence of LPA phonemes denoted *â, *ê, *î, and *û. Except in certain Gheg varieties, *ê merged into *â. The traditional view presented by Orel and Desnickaja is that distinctive nasalization was lost by Tosk but retained by Gheg and that this is a taxonomical difference between the two. However this has now been challenged, after Sheper and Gjinari discovered Lab dialects (Lab is a subdialect of Tosk) in the Kurvelesh region that still had distinctive nasal vowels, and Totoni likewise found that the Lab speech of Borsh also still has nasal vowel phonemes. This means that, instead of the traditional view, it is possible that denasalization happened in most Tosk dialects only after the split from Gheg.
Slavic *u: appears to still have been back and round when it was loaned into Albanian, but it is after the diphthongization and resulting fronting of the original Early Proto-Albanian *u: to *y was no longer absorbing new *u: segments, as they are, with only three exceptions, reflected as *u. Slavic *o had already become *a in the Slavic languages that contacted Albanian by the time of contact, and was loaned as *a for the most part; as is reflected also in other non-Slavic languages absorbing these words. After /v/, this *a became *o again in two attested cases: kos ("yogurt", from Proto-Slavic *kvas?) and vorbë ("clay pot").
It was at the end of the LPA period that length became no longer distinctive in Albanian, although many Gheg and some Lab dialects preserved it and/or re-innovated it. Furthermore, by Old Albanian, all diphthongs had been lost: those ending in -i were all leveled, the -u was lost in those ending in -u, and those ending in -e were converted to glide + vowel sequences; further changes including the frequent effacement of the former first element or otherwise its hardening into an occlusive (typically /v/ for former u-, and gj /?/ for former i-) rendering the former presence of a diphthong rather opaque in many reflexes.
|High||*i o *y||*u|
Note that this table differentiates short vowels form long vowels with the IPA symbol <:> being applied to the long vowels.
Specifically contextualized reflex results are placed in parentheses.
|Proto-Indo-European||developments before Proto-Albanian||Early Proto-Albanian||Late Proto-Albanian||Tosk Albanian||Gheg Albanian||Example|
|Latin short /a/ merges with EPA /a/||/a/||/a/||/a/||/a/||PIE *kap- "to seize" > EPA *kapa > kap "to grasp";
Latin APTUM > Alb aftë "capable";
PIE *n?b?(u)lo- > EPA *abula > Alb avull
PIE *septm? > EPA *septati > Alb shtatë "seven"
|*a||Proto-Indo-European *n? and *m? merge with result of *a|
|*a||> /e/ under umlaut and subsequent analogy||/e/||/e/||EPA *alb? > elb "barley";
Latin GALBINUS "yellow" > Alb gjelbër "green";
PIE *um?t? > EPA *w?d?at? > Alb zet "twenty";
PIE *n?- > EPA *a- > Alb e- (private prefix)
|>// before nasals||/?/ <ë>||// <â, an>||EPA *ksanda > Alb hënë ("moon", Gheg: hanë);
Latin CANTICUM > Alb këngë "song"
|/?/||deleted after a stressed syllable||IE *bhol?tom > EPA *balta: > Alb baltë "swamp"|
|> /e/ after absorption of following laryngeal H_e||/e/||/ie/
(> /e/ before *ts, *dz, *nd, *nt, *mb)
|IE *dheHi "to suck"> dhe:i > EPA dela > Alb djalë "boy"|
|> /o/ elsewhere||/a/||/a/||/a/
||IE *apo "away", "off" > EPA *apa > Alb pa "without"|
|>// before nasals||/?/ <ë>||// <â, an>||IE *sont-s "being" > EPA *san(s) > Alb gjë "thing" (Gheg: gjâ)|
|(/e/ under umlaut and subsequent analogy)||/e/||/e/||IE *g'horios > EPA *darja > Alb derr "pig";
IE *kw?p- "smoke"(?) > EPA *kapna > Alb kem "incense"
|> // before nasal||/?/||//||IE *sont-s "being" > EPA *san(s) > Alb gjë|
|/e/||/e/||/e/||IE *lent- > EPA *lenta: > Alb lëndë "timber" (Gheg: landë)|
||/ie/||/ie/||IE *bher- "to bring, carry" > EPA *berja > Alb bie "to bring"|
|/je/||/je/||IE *smek'ru > EPA smekra: > Alb mjekër "beard"|
|je > e after affricates, palatals, and liquids||je > e after affricates, palatals, and liquids||Alb fle "to sleep"|
|/ja/||/ja/||IE *esmi > EPA *esmi > Alb jam;
|ja > a after affricates, palatals and liquids||ja > a after affricates, palatals and liquids||IE *seks + ti > EPA *seksti > Alb gjashtë "six"|
|/ie/ > /e/ before *ts, *dz, *nd, *nt, *mb||/e/||/e/||IE *en per en tod > EPA *(en) per en ta > Alb brenda|
|/ie/ + /i/||/i/||/i/||IP *gwedijos > EPA dedija > Alb zi "black"|
|/e/ before *m followed by sibilant or affricate||/i/||/i/||/i/||IE *sem-g'ho > EPA *semdza > Alb gjithë "all"|
|Classical Latin /e/ > EPA /ie/ in "usual" layer||> /ie/ in EPA for "usual layer" (not identical to development of inherited /e/ which also went through /ie/)||/je/||/je/||Lat VERSUM > Alb vjershë "verse"|
|>/e/ in various contexts after sh, before ng/nd, etc.||/e/||Lat CONVENTUS > Alb kuvend|
|/ja/||/ja/||Lat HEBDOMAS > Alb javë "week"|
|/ja/ > /a/ after palatals||/a/||Lat SELLA > Alb shalë "saddle"|
|Unstressed /ei/ in Latin loans||/e/||/e/||Lat DEBITU:RA > Alb detyrë "duty"|
|Latin /e/ via an unknown different intermediary||/e/||/e/||Lat INFERNUM > Alb ferr "hell"; Lat COMMERCIUM > Alb kumerq "toll, duty"|
|Latin /e/ loaned into Late Proto-Albanian while it lacked any short /e/ phoneme||/i/||/i/||IE *ambhi > EPA *ambi > Alb mbi "on, upon"; Lat PARENTEM > Alb prind "parent"|
|> /?/ before nasals||/i/||/?/ <î>||EPA *rinja > Alb rij "to make humid" (Gheg: rî)|
|/u/||/u/||/u/||/u/||/u/||/u/||IE *bhugh > EPA *bugta > Alb butë "smooth"|
|> /?/ before nasals||/u/||/?/ <û>||IE *g'enu "knee" > EPA *ganuna > LPA glûna > Alb gju "knee" (Gheg: gjû)|
|/a:/||/a:/||/a:/||/?:/||/o/||/o/||IE ma:ter "mother > EPA ma:ter > Alb motër "sister"|
|/e:/||/e:/||/e:/||everywhere except gliding to /j/ in clusters: /?:/||/o/||/o/||IE *me:-kwe > LPA m?:ts > Alb mos "don't"|
|/o:/||/o:/||/o:/||/we/||/e/||/e/||IE *bhlo:ros > EPA blo:ra > Alb blertë "green"|
|/i:/||/i:/||/i:/||/i:/||/i/||/i/||IE *pi:- "to drink" > EPA *pi:ja > Alb pi "to drink"|
|/u:/||/u:/||/u:/||/ui/||/y/||/y/, /i/ in certain conditions||EPA *su:sa > Alb gjysh "grandfather|
|/wi/ > /i:/ at word coda after loss of nominative final s||/i/||/i/||IE *su:s "pig" > EPA *tsu:s > LPA t?ui > Alb thi "pig"|
|/wi/ > /i:/ after labial||/i/||/i/||IE *bhu:- "to grow" > EPA enbu:nja > Alb mbij "to thrive"|
|/wi/ > /i/ before labial||/i/||/i/||IE *kreup > EPA kru:pa: > LPA krwipa > Alb kripë "salt"|
|/wi/ > /i/ before j, i, other palatal elements||/i/||/i/||IE *dreu "tree" > EPA dru:nja: > drinjë "brushwood"|
|/ai/||/ai/||/ai/||> /?/ > // before nasal||/?/ <ë>||// <â, an>||EPA *laidna > Alb lë ("to let"; Gheg: lâ)|
|/e/||/e/||/e/||IE *aidhos > EPA *aida > Alb ethe "fever"|
|/oi/||/oi/||IE *k'loitos > EPA *klaita: > Alb qetë "jagged rock"|
|/ei/||/ei/||/ei/||/i/||/i/||/i/||IE *g'heimen- "winter" > EPA *deimena > Alb dimër "winter"|
|Diphthongs of long vowel +j||j elided, long vowel develops regularly|
|/au/||/au/||/au/||>// before nasals||/?/ <ë>||// <â, an>||IE *dreu- "tree" > EPA *draunja: > Alb drënjë|
|/a/||/a/||/a/||*IE aug- > EPA *auga > Alb ag "dusk"|
|/a/ > /e/||/e/||/e/||EPA *ausra > Alb err "darkness"|
|/ou/||/ou/||/a/||/a/||/a/||IE *poujo- > EPA *pauja > Alb pah "scab, dust"|
|/a/ > /e/||/e/||/e/||EPA *gaura > Alb ger|
|/eu/||/eu/||/eu/||> /?/ > // before nasal||/?/ <ë>||// <â, an>||IE *new? "nine" > EPA *neunti > Alb nëntë ("nine", Gheg: nand)|
|/e/||/e/||/e/||IE *skeud- "to throw" > EPA *skeuda > Alb hedh|
The nasal sonorants *n? and *m? both rendered Early Proto-Albanian *a, which remains *a in modern Albanian (PIE *g'hn?ta: "goose" > EPA *gata: > modern Albanian gatë "heron"). Like EPA *a elsewhere, in some cases it was raised to *e, as seen in PIE *ln?gwh- > EPA *laga > Albanian lehtë (suffixed with -të).
|Proto-Indo-European||Intermediate developments||Early Proto-Albanian||Later Proto-Albanian||Old Albanian||Tosk Albanian||Gheg Albanian||Example|
|*m?||*a||continue regular developments of *a from EPA in vowel chart.|
|*l?||*il before consonant clusters, *i or *j||il, li|
|*ul elsewhere||ul, lu|
|*r?||*ir before consonant clusters, *i or *j||ir, ri|
|*ur elsewhere||ur, ru|
|Plosive||*d o *t||*dz o *ts||*d? o *t?||*g o *k||*b o *p|
|Fricative||o *s||o *?||o *x|
|Plosive||*d o *t||o *t?s||*d o *t||*g o *k||*b o *p|
|Fricative||*ð o *?||o *?||o *x||o *f|
|Proto-Indo-European||Pre-Proto-Albanian||Early Proto-Albanian||Later Proto-Albanian||Modern Alb (Tosk/Gheg)||Examples|
|PIE *s||*s||*s||> *j||? ~ d <gj>||IE *serp- "to crawl" > EPA *serpena > Alb gjarpër "snake"|
|> *? after *i:, *u: or -i, -u dipthhongs||? <sh>||IE *dhouso- > EPA *dausa > Alb dash ("ram")|
|> t?s (if next consonant was *s)||> *?||? <th>||IE *su:s ("pig") > EPA *t?su:s > Alb thi ("pig")|
|>*x intervocalically or between EPA sonorant and vowel||h||IE *golso- ("sound") > EPA *gulxa|
|effaced||IE *nosom > EPA *naxa > Alb na ("us")|
|*s from Greek, Latin loanwords||*?||? <sh>||Lat summus > Alb shumë "more", "much"|
|PIE *p||*p||*p||*p||p||IE *e:p ("to take") > EPA *e:pa > Alb jap ("to give")|
|PIE *b, *bh||*b||*b||*b||b||IE *serbh- ("to suck in") > EPA *serba > Alb gjerb ("to gulp")|
|*w between a vowel and *u||v||EPA *abula > Alb avull ("vapor")|
|PIE *t||*t||*t||*t||t||IE *trejes ("three") > EPA *treje > Alb tre ("three")|
|PIE *d, *dh||*d||*d||*d||d||IE *dhegwh- ("to burn") > EPA *dega > Alb djeg ("to burn")|
|> *ð intervocalically or between r and vowel,
in 5th or 6th centuries
|ð <dh>||IE *skeudV- ("to throw, shoot") > Alb hedh ("to throw, shoot")|
|PIE *k' (*c?)||*k' (*c?)||>*t?s||> *?||? <th>||IE *k'i-k'er- ("pea"? cf Latin: cicer) > EPA *tsera > Alb thjerrë ("lentil")|
|> *t > *s before i, j, u, or w||s||IE *k'upo- ("shoulder") > Alb sup ("shoulder");
IE *k'i? d?ti > EPA tsja(i) diti > Alb sot ("today")
|*t?s retained, conditions unclear||t?s <c>||IE *ak'- ("sharp") > EPA *atsara > Alb acar "steel
(but doublet: > athët ("sour")
|> *t, conditions unclear||t <ç>||IE *k'entro- ("to stick") > Alb çandër ("prop")|
|> *k before sonorant||*k||k||IE *smek'r- ("chin") > Alb mjekër ("chin, beard")|
Albanian has a large number of isoglosses that are common to Albanian, Germanic, Baltic and Slavic, as part of a "North Eastern" lexical grouping, with a large number of these referring to wood or objects made out of wood. Common vocabulary specifically shared between Albanian and Baltic is common, but there are fewer restrictively Germanic/Albanian or Slavic/Albanian lexemes inherited from Proto-Indo-European.
Orel identifies only one Albanian/Italic/Celtic isogloss, blertë ("green"), cognate to Latin fl?rus ("bright") and Irish blár ("gray"). Specifically Celtic/Albanian vocabulary was previously thought to be limited although including at least one core vocabulary item (hënë "moon", cognate to Welsh cann "white" and Breton cann "full moon"), but recent work by Trumper in 2018 has proposed a larger though still not overwhelming set, with the notable addition of dritë ("light").
Orel argues for an "intermediary" position for Albanian between Balto-Slavic and the "Southeastern" Indo-European languages, i.e. Greek, Indo-Iranian and Armenian. Isoglosses connecting Albanian to the whole "Southeastern" block are rare but include the notable core vocabulary item njeri ("man" - cf Greek aner, Armenian ayr, Sanskrit nár). Orel argues many Southeastern/Albanian isoglosses are "secondary", and attributable to "later linguistic contact between Proto-Albanian and (in particular) Proto-Greek occurring between the two in "northern part of the Balkans". Specifically Indo-Iranian/Greek/Albanian and Greek/Armenian/Albanian isoglosses are both relatively rare, examples including ndaj (to divide; Indo-Greek-Albanian) and ëndërr ("dream"; Greek/Armenian/Albanian). On the other hand, the amount of specific Greek-Albanian isoglosses is "surprisingly high", much higher than commonalities with Indo-Iranian or Armenian, and likely attributable again to "intense secondary contacts", a notable example being ujë (water). Whereas Armenian/Albanian isoglosses are "insignificant", there are a considerable number of Indo-Iranian/Albanian isoglosses, which are notably often connected with horses, horse tending, and milk products.