Albanian orthography

John Wells’s blog of 2009-10-26 was about the digraph sh and its use in English as the most common way of writing ʃ. I commented that Albanian does the same. Then I got to wondering how long this has been the case.

Modern Albanian orthography has the following noteworthy correspondences:

c=ts ç=tʃ dhëgjllnjq̩̩=c
rrr=r shthx=dz xh=dʒ y=y zh

The orthography is perfectly regular except for the fact that word-final ë is often (but not always) silent and is used to indicate that the preceding vowel is long, so for example fjalë (word)=[fjaːl].

Albanian Flag

The earliest known Albanian text is a short baptismal formula using the Latin alphabet in a manuscript written in Latin dating from 1462. However, Albanian has been written using the Greek alphabet, the Cyrillic alphabet, and Arabic script. There were also at least two invented scripts, Elbasan (18th century) and Beitha Kyuku (19th century), neither of which had much success.

In the 1870s an organisation called The Association for Albanian Publications launched a scheme called the Istanbul Alphabet, which avoided the use of digraphs. In this alphabet, ʃ was represented by Σ/σ. A rival scheme was launched in 1908 at a congress in Manastir. This was called the Bashkimi (“unity”) alphabet after the name of the club which hosted the congress. This used digraphs liberally, but avoided the drawbacks of the Istanbul alphabet, namely the mixing of Latin and other alphabets and the use of diacritics, which made the use of the alphabet difficult for typesetters and also required specially constructed typewriters. In this alphabet ʃ is written sh.

The modern alphabet is the result of a compromise between the two rivals, using digraphs from Bashkimi, but also c, ç and q from the Istanbul scheme, with values given above. The modern scheme is called the Manastir alphabet and was finally agreed upon in 1910 at a second congress there.

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