This is the first of several posts about the Albanian alphabet. First, the basics…
The Albanian language Shqip uses a Latin-based alphabet consisting of 36 letters. Many of the letters map onto their English equivalents: the Albanian D is the same as the English D; the Albanian S is the same as the English S. In other cases, the Albanian letters are close to – but not quite the same – as the English equivalents. For example, the Albanian I is pronounced as ee and the Albanian E is pronounced as eh. G is equivalent to our G but is only pronounced hard, as in gay. Albanian is much more phonetic than English: I is always pronounced ee and E is always pronounced eh.
In a number of cases, Albanian letters do not map onto their English counterparts: J is pronounced like the Y in yes and C is pronounced ts, as in cats (for those of you who know Russian, C is equivalent to the letter Ц).
As with C above, the Albanian alphabet contains a several letters combined into a single sound, some of which are obvious and familiar (Sh is equivalent to the Sh in sheet) and others that are not familiar to native-English speakers but may be common in other languages (Nj is equivalent to Ñ in Spanish and Zh is equivalent to the Russian ш.
And, finally, Albanian has a number of letters whose sounds are so similar that Americans can barely distinguish between them, much less reproduce them. These include R and RR; L and LL; Ç and Q; and Gj and Xh, just to name a few. For example, L is pronounced as in little and LL – the more difficult of the two – is pronounced as in fall. The difference is extremely subtle to Americans and not at all subtle to Albanians, who will correct you over and over if you don’t say the LL correctly. Just this week my training group – headed home to our village in a furgon (minivan bus) – got a lengthy lesson from the driver because he objected to the pronunciation of one of our group. Similarly, Ç is pronounced like the ch in chips or chai while Q is pronounced more like the ch in chard or chewing; the difference is really hard to hear and even harder to voice.
In the next post, I will use the Albanian ABCs to introduce you to some aspects of Albanian life and culture….