Arbëresh derives from a medieval variety of Tosk, which was spoken in southern Albania and from which the modern Tosk is also derived. It follows a similar evolutionary pattern to Arvanitika, a similar language spoken in Greece. Arbëresh is spoken in Southern Italy in the regions of Abruzzi, Basilicata, Calabria, Campania, Molise, Apulia and Sicily. All the varieties of Arberesh are closely related to each other but are not always entirely mutually intelligible.
Arbëresh retains many features of medieval Albanian from the time before the Ottoman invasion of Albania in the 15th century. It also retains some Greek elements, including vocabulary and pronunciation, most of which it shares with its relative Arvanitika. Many of the conservative features of Arberesh were lost in mainstream Albanian Tosk. For example, it has preserved certain syllable-initial consonant clusters which have been simplified in Standard Albanian (cf. Arbëresh gluhë/ˈɡluxə/ ('language/tongue'), vs. Standard Albanian gjuhë/ˈɟuhə/). Arbëresh most resembles the dialect of Albanian spoken in the south-central region of Albania, particularly that of Çam Albanians.
Arbëresh was commonly called 'Albanese' ("Albanian" in the Italian language) in Italy until the 1990s. Arbëresh speakers used to have only very vague notions about how related or unrelated their language was to Albanian. Until the 1980s Arbëresh was exclusively a spoken language, except for its written form used in the Italo-Albanian Byzantine Church, and Arbëreshë people had no practical connection with the Standard Albanian language used in Albania, as they did not use this form in writing or in media. When a large number of immigrants from Albania began to enter Italy in the 1990s and came into contact with local Arbëreshë communities, the differences and similarities were for the first time made apparent. The Arbëreshë have mixed feelings towards the "new Albanians".
Since the 1980s, some efforts have been organized to preserve the cultural and linguistic heritage of the language.
Arbëresh has been replaced by local Romance languages and by Italian in several villages, and in others is experiencing contact induced language shift. Many scholars have produced language learning materials for communities, including those by Zef Skirò Di Maxho who has written two books 'Udha e Mbarë' and 'Udhëtimi', both used in schools in the village of Piana degli Albanesi, Sicily, Gaetano Gerbino wrote Fjalori Arbëresh (Arberesh dictionary), others include Giuseppe Schirò Di Modica, Matteo Mandalà, Zef Chiaramonte, and the only book written in English for the U.S. and U.K. Arberesh diaspora is ‘Everyday Arberesh’ by Martin H. Di Maggio (2013).
Varieties of Albanian
While the relation between Arbëresh and standard Albanian is close, the two are not 100% mutually intelligible and there are many false friends, for example:
to work in the fields
The varieties of Arberisht largely correspond with the regions where they are spoken, while some settlements have distinctive features that result in greater or lesser degrees of mutual intelligibility.
In some words, Arbëresh has preserved the consonant clusters /ɡl/ and /kl/. In Standard Albanian these have mostly become the palatal stops gj and q. E.g. glet not gjet ('s/he looks like ... '), klumësht not qumësht ('milk'), and klisha instead of kisha ('church').
The letter ⟨H⟩ is pronounced as a voiceless velar fricative[x] (a sound also found in Greek: χαρά[xaˈra], 'joy'). As such, the Albanian word ha ('eat') is pronounced [xɑ], not [hɑ]. Arbëresh additionally has the palatalized counterpart, [ç]. Therefore, the word hjedh ('throw') is pronounced [çɛθ]. The letter combination ⟨HJ⟩ is present in a few standard Albanian words (without a voiceless velar fricative), but is not treated as a separate letter of the alphabet as it is in Arbëresh.
The letters ⟨LL⟩ and ⟨G⟩ are realised as a voiced velar fricative[ɣ] (also found in Greek: γάλα[ˈɣala], 'milk'). The vast majority of these words originate in Sicilian, but the sound also occurs in words of Albanian origin. Often ⟨G⟩ is replaced by ⟨GH⟩ in the Arbëresh orthography. This feature is very strong that it is carried over into the Italian speech of inhabitants of Piana degli Albanesi and Santa Cristina Gela in words such as Grazie, Frigorifero, Gallera, Magro, Gamba etc. which are realised respectively as [ʁratsiɛ], [friɣoˈrifero], [ɣaˈlɛra], [ˈmaɣro], [ˈʁamba] etc. In Piana degli Albanesi the tendency is to treat Italian loanwords differently from Sicilian, which results in the difference between llampjun, pronounced as [ʁampˈjun] (from lampione, 'lamp post'), and lampadhin, pronounced as [lampaˈðin] (from Italian lampadina). In the first example, the ⟨L⟩ becomes ⟨LL⟩ [ʁ] because it comes from Sicilian, whereas in the process of transference from the Italian ampadina to Arbëresh lampadhin, the ⟨l⟩ does not change but the ⟨d⟩ becomes [ð].
Words of Albanian Origin
eat until stuffed
rruga (la strada)
Words of Sicilian Origin
Final devoicing of consonants
In contrast with standard Albanian Arbëresh has retained an archaic system of final devoicing of consonants. The consonants that change when in final position or before another consonant are the voiced stops b, d, g, gj; the voiced affricates x, xh; and the voiced fricatives dh, ll, v, z, zh.
In Arbëresh the first person present indicative (e.g. "I work") is marked by the word ending in NJ, whereas in Albanian this is normally marked by J. So, 'I live' is rrónj in Arbëresh and rroj in standard Albanian.The present continuous or gerund differs from Standard Albanian; Arbëresh uses the form "jam'e bënj" instead of "po bej" (I am doing).
amáhj[aˈmaç] ('war') from Greek μάχη[ˈmaçi] ('battle').
haristís[xaɾiˈstis] ('thank') from Greek ευχαριστώ[e̞fˌxariˈsto̞] ('thank you'). Arvanitika uses fharistisem.
hórë[xɔˈɾə] ('village') from Greek χώρα (Chora: land, main village).
parkalés[paɾkaˈlɛs] ('I plead', 'please') from Greek παρακαλώ[paˌrakaˈlo̞] ('please').
Alongside the Greek component in Arbëresh, there is an extensive vocabulary derived from Sicilian and other southern Italian regional languages. Many of these words have retained their original meanings where Sicilian has given way to Italian in everyday speech amongst the non-Arbëresh Sicilian people.
ghranët ('money') < Sic. granna, meaning 'grains'. It is still used in some contexts by modern Sicilian speakers, but in all situations in Arbëresh. Another Arbëresh word for 'money' is haromë, but is no longer used.
qaca ('square') < Sic. chiazza; used in all Arbëresh dialects as well as Sicilian. The Albanian word sheshi which means 'square' in standard Albanian means 'plateau' in Arbëresh.
rritrenjët ('toilets') < Norman French via Sic. retained in Arbëresh, but no longer in use in modern Sicilian.
rritëratë ('photograph') < Sic. 'picture' (ritrattu), more common in Arbëresh than in modern Sicilian.
zdar (to go to the countryside) < Sic. sdari; no longer commonly used in Sicilian.
zgarrar (to make a mistake; to err) < Sic. sgarrari (now carries a different meaning in Sicilian).
Alongside the Sicilian vocabulary element in Siculo-Arbëresh, the language also includes grammatical rules for the incorporation of Sicilian-derived verbs in Arbëresh, which differs from the rules concerning Albanian lexical material.
pincar ('think'), originally mendonj-mbanj mend but also mëndinj; derived from the Sicilian 'pinzari'. Which conjugates in the present tense as follows:
U pincar = I think
Ti pincar = You think
Ai/Ajo pincar = He/She thinks
Na pincarjëm = We think
Ata/Ato pincarjën = They think
Ju pincarni = You (pl) think
In the past tense this conjugates as follows:
U pincarta = I thought
Ti pincarte = You thought
Ai/Ajo pincarti = He/She thought
Na pircartëm = We thought
Ata/Ato pincartën = They thought
Ju pincartët = You (pl.) thought
M’e tha mua
He told me (feminine object)
Ngë m’i tha më
He did not tell me (masculine object)
I tell you (feminine object)
I tell you (masculine object)
Diminutives and augmentatives
The Arbëresh diminutive and augmentative system is calqued from Sicilian and takes the form of /-ats(-ɛ)/ = Sic. -azz(u/a); for example "kalac" (cavallone/big horse), and the diminutive takes the form of /-tʃ-ɛl(-ɛ) from Sic. /-c-edd(u/a); for example "vajziçele" (raggazzina/little girl).The Arbëresh word for "swear word" is "fjalac" and comes from a fusion of the Arbëresh word of Albanian etymology: "fjalë" plus the Sicilian augmentative /-azz[a]/ minus the feminine gendered ending /-a/; this calques the Sicilian word 'palurazza' which is cognate with Italian 'parolaccia'.
Comparison with other forms of Albanian
There are many instances in which Arberisht differs greatly from Standard Albanian, for instance:
Shqip (Standard Albanian)
Vje' më rarë or vje' më thënë
do të thotë or do me thënë
Bëjëm të shkonj (Piana degli Albanesi) or mënd e më shkosh (Santa Cristina)
më le të kaloj
Let me pass
më jep piperin
Pass me the pepper
Zotërote/Strote ë një "zot"?
Zotëri, jeni prift?
Sir, are you a priest?
E ghrish zotërisë satë për një pasijatë
ju ftoj për një shëtitje
I invite you for a stroll
Qëroi isht burinë i lig
moti është shumë keq
The weather is very bad
U rri Sëndahstinë
jetoj në Shën Kristinë
I live in Santa Cristina
Ka bëjëm të ngrënit
do ta gatuajmë ushqimin
We will prepare the food
U ka' jecur njera qacës
unë kam ecur deri sheshit
I have walked to the square
Ghajdhuri isht ghrishur ndë horën
gomari është ftuar në katund
The donkey is invited into the village
Jam e vete/m'e vete ngulem/flë
unë do të fle
I'm going to sleep
Lyp (lip) ndjesë se zgarrarta shumë
më fal se gabova shumë
I'm sorry that I've made so many errors
Ajo isht time shoqe
ajo është gruaja ime
She is my wife
Jim shoq isht e ngulet
shoku im është duke fjetur
My husband is sleeping
Më përqen rritëratën tënë
më pëlqen fotografia jonë
I like our photograph
Mortatë or motrëmëmë
hallë or tezë
Lalë or vovi
xhaxha or Lalë (dialect)
Uncle or Older brother
Uncle by marriage
motra e madhe
babai or Tata (dialect)
nëna or mamaja
Ndrëngova / also Kapirta
Jotëm përherë të thëshjë të mos hash nga tajuri çë ngë ka' klënë pastruam!
Jot ëmë përherë/gjithmonë të thoshte të mos hash nga pjata që nuk është pastruar
Your mother always said don't eat from plates that haven't been cleaned!
Compared with Standard Tosk Albanian (second row), and Gheg Albanian (third row).
Our father who art in heaven
hallowed be thy name
thy kingdom come
thy will be done
on earth as it is in heaven
give us this day our daily bread
e ndiejna ne fajet e mëkatet
and forgive us our trespasses
si i ndiejmë na
as we forgive those who trespass against us
len me ra
prej gjith së keq;
and lead us not into temptation
but deliver us from evil
for thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever and ever.
There are many elements of Arberesh grammar that differ considerably from Albanian, for example:
do të kalosh
You will pass
Arbërisht uses the common Balkan participle ka, whereas Shqip uses do which translates as 'want', which is also a feature of the Balkan sprachsbund
Speak soon (pl.)
bëjëm të shkonj
më lër të kaloj
Let me pass
Shqip uses 'allow me to pass' whereas Arbërisht uses 'we do to pass' and 'able to pass'.
Arbërisht conjugates from the Tosk word të vete whereas shkova means 'I passed' in Arbërisht
You have heard
i papas zën fill parkalesin
prifti fillon lutjen
The priest starts the prayer
It was built
Jo, ngë e ka' parë
Jo, nuk e kam parë
No, I haven't seen it
jam e flas, je flet, ai isht e flet, ajo isht e flet, jem'e flasjëm, jan'e flasjën, jan'e flini
po flas, ti po flet, ai po flet, ajo po flet, po flasim, po flasin, po flisni
I am talking, you are talking, he is talking, she is talking, we are talking, they are talking, you (pl) are talking
The present continuous is marked with the structure 'I am, You are, He is, She is, We are, They are etc. Whereas Shqip uses po which literally means 'yes'
ki’ të zgjoneshjëm
duhet të ishim zgjuar
We should have got up
te ku ë Mërì?
ku është Maria?
Where is Maria?
The locative marker te which literally means 'to' is added before ku 'where'. (A similar phenomena occurs in Welsh English and West Country English i.e. 'Where to you going?' or 'Where's he to?')
Mërìa rri alartë
Maria jeton lartë
Maria lives upstairs
Si ë Zotërote?
Si jeni ju, Zotëri?
How are you sir?
The polite or formal is marked by use of Zotërote with ju being reserved for the plural only
The name Arbërishte is derived from the ethnonym "Albanoi", which in turn comes from the toponym "Arbëria" (Greek: Άρβανα), which in the Middle Ages referred to a region in what is today Albania (Babiniotis 1998). Its native equivalents (Arbërorë, Arbëreshë and others) used to be the self-designation of Albanians in general. Both "Arbëria" and "Albania/Albanian" go further back to name forms attested since antiquity.
Within the Arbëresh community the language is often referred to as "Tarbrisht" or "Gjegje." The origin of the term "gjegje" is uncertain, however this does mean "listen" in Arbërisht. Gheg is also the name of one of the two major dialects of Albanian as spoken in the Balkans. The name Gheg is derived from the term initially used by the Orthodox Christian population of pre-Ottoman Albania for confessional denotation when referring to their Catholic neighbors who converted to Catholicism to better resist the Orthodox Serbs.[circular reference]
Every Italo-Albanian person is given a legal Italian name and also a name in Albanian Arbërisht. Quite often the Arbëresh name is merely a translation of the Italian name. Arbëresh surnames are also used amongst villagers but do not carry any legal weight; the Arbëresh surname is called an "ofiqe" in Arbërisht. Some Arbëresh 'ofiqe' are 'Butijuni', 'Pafundi' (literally 'without anus', probably with the meaning of 'without end, infinite'), 'Skarpari' (shoemaker from Italian word 'scarpa'), 'Mut', 'Picanarët', 'Balolërat', 'Kashetërat', 'Lopa', 'Bikubiu' etc.
Examples of Italian names and their Arbëresh equivalents:
Frangjishk, Nxhiku, Çiku
Minu, Minikeli, Jakini
Ndon, Nton, Gjon
Jani, Xhuan, Vanù
Spiridhon, Dhoni, Spiro
The language is not usually written outside of the church and a few highly educated families, but officials are now using the standard Albanian alphabet, which is used on street signs in villages as well as being taught in schools.
Arbëresh verbs often differ, somewhat drastically, from their Standard Albanian counterparts.
Demonstrative pronouns replace nouns once they are able to be understood from their context.
Shërbesa e Kurorës - The Arbëresh Marriage Ceremony
Zoti : Gjergji, do ti të marsh për gruja Linën çë ë ke këtú te ana, si urdhuron Klisha Shejte, e të qëndrosh lidhur me atë në të mirën si edhé në të ligën gjithë ditët e gjellës tënde?
Priest: Do you George want to take as your wife Lina who is present here according to the instructions of the Holy Church and to be faithful through the good and the bad all of your life?
Dhëndërri: O, e dua!
Groom: Yes, I want!
Zoti: Bekuar kloft Perëndia jínë nga herë, naní e për gjithëmonë e për jetë të jetëvet.
Priest: blessed be our God for all time, now and always in the centuries of centuries.
Zoti: Në paqe parkalesjëm t'ën Zonë.
Priest: In peace we pray to the Lord.
Populli: Lipisí, o i Madh'yn'Zot.
People: Our Great God, we beseech you.
Bekimi të unazavet
Zoti: Me këtë unazë shërbëtori i Perëndis, Gjergji, lidhet me shërbëtorën e Perëndis, Lina, në embër të Atit, të Birit e të Shpirtit Shejt.
Priest: The servant of God, George, is tied to the servant of God, Lina, in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
Zoti jep krinjët e këndon Msalmin 127:Të limë atá çë i trëmben t'ynë Zoti e çë jecjën te udhët e Tij.
the priest delivers the candles and intones Psalm 127Make happy those who fear the Lord and may they walk in His ways.
Lëvdi tij, o i madh'yn'Zot, lëvdi tij. Dhóksa si, o Theós imón, dhóksa siGlory to you, our God, glory to you.
Se ti ka hashë bukën e shërbëtyrës s'duarvet tote. Lumë ti e fatbardhë ka jeshë. Jotë shoqe ka jet si dhri me pemë te muret e shpis tënde. Bijët tatë si degë ullinjësh rrethë triesës tënde. Shi kështú ka jet bekuar njeriu çë ka trëmbësirën e Perëndisë.
That you will eat the bread of the work of your hands. You will be happy and enjoy all that is good.See your wife as a fertile vine in the intimacy of your home.That your daughters will be like olive branches around your table.That those who fear the Lord will be blessed.
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