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Logbook to the middle ages. X

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How about Albanian, the language? The WWW tells you that it is so ancestral that is can be at times be considered a dialect, not a language in the proper way. This is the thing over which the pedantic split hairs, the difference between the gradients of human folly. Why was Pluto demoted from Planet to Planetoid? Why is a 1920’s Gershwin classic “classical”, while a 1925 jazz legend “popular”? We are so odd in that aspect.
Albanian is classified as a dialect and it seems very strange to the ear. It has some music to it but that again is because we are trained to hear languages on TV and assume that what we hear is representative. It is the problem I have with Arabic. BBC and CNN only play Arabic when a rabid Islamic militant is calling for massacre or a Palestinian woman wails in despair over dead bodies. But few people hear the mellow fluidity of the language when spoken in tranquil ways. I wonder how it would be to hear the soft whisper of an Arabic lover, in the same way that I would like to understand the nuances of Albanian. How does a verbal love letter sound in Albanian? Would you be swooped off your feet if somebody were to serenade you with that?
But regardless of that, the language is complex. So far I cannot say it shines because of brevity. A simple HELLO translates into Përshendëtje, with that heavy E that is so difficult for the rest of the world? Thank you? You must gain impulse, fill in your lungs and spray FALEMINDERIT around you. GOOD MORNING is shorter but it is still MIREMENGJES, after which you have probably wasted half of it.
But Albanian is so ancient that it seems to have served as the root for many others. I find that several words resemble my native Spanish and it is of course peppered by Italian, which they claim is the opposite: it was THEY that served as a seed for roman languages. I struggle one day to ask for the bill at a restaurant and even the universal gesture of squiggling on an imaginary piece of paper fails, until the waiter asks me “Factura?”, which is the same in spanish. Laundry is “Lavanderi”, still remaining very close to being the same, and of course beer is BIRRA, leading to the debate of which was first, Italian or Albanian. Tomato is Domate, close enough to the Spanish version (pommodori in Italian does not match) and I catch myself understanding one or another word here or there.
It is not an easy language and it might be as difficult as Finnish or Hungarian, two linguistic nightmares, but I believe that if one were young and had the right instructor, it could be mastered. It would be wonderfully useless to claim “I speak fluid Albanian” but that misses the point.
The genie was supposed to grant you three wishes and I have never really been able to find out what I would ask for. But I guess that one useful wish would be to speak all languages in the world.
And Albanian would be one of the very first ones, alphabetically. If it were not because Albanians call themselves Shqipëri. You go figure, but FALEMINDERIT.

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  1. GlennHarman's Avatar
    Thanks again for the blog. Due to your comments, I looked up some things about the Albanian language. My understanding from that is that Albanian is very much a unique language, and that it is quite different from any other Indo-European language. It appears to have 2 very distinct dialects, which are called Gheg and Tosk. Gheg is mostly spoken in the northern part of the country, and Tosk in the southern part. The dialects are mutually intelligible. I suspect you've mainly been in the Tosk region.

    Your point about what is called a "dialect" and what is called a "language" does, as you say, become one of those weird semantic discussions. And where one draws the line between "dialect" and "language" is necessarily vague. Still, when I read about the differences between Albanian and the other Indo-European languages, I would clearly consider this a unique language.