Any guesses about how to pronounce ‘Shqip’? How about the meaning?

Shqip: the Albanian word for ‘Albanian’. Like many Albanian words to English speakers,  it appears to be an unpronounceable twist on a common enough English word. And, in fact, is pronounced nearly the same as the English ‘ship’.

How about these:

Përgjigjem (answer)
Qumesht (milk)
Nxehtë (hot)
Shkruaj (I write)
Zgjedh (choose)
Vdes (I die)

Or this very simple sentence:

Kthehuni djathtas në këtë rrug.
(Turn right on this street.)

This is the language of south Mitrovica, the language we have been immersed in for the last four months.

Months before our arrival in Kosov@, Ryan discovered a 1980s edition of an Albanian language book for English-speakers. If you conduct a quick Amazon search, you will see that Albanian language resources are quite limited. Considering the sizable Albanian diaspora in the United States, I was surprised to learn the selection was so limited. I thought Albanian would be comparable to Greek in terms of resources and number of speakers. Both languages are only spoken in relatively small countries and among diaspora groups. According to, there are 7.5 million Albanian speakers and just over 13 million Greek speakers worldwide. When I studied Greek, the resources seemed scarce compared to major languages like Spanish, Korean, and Russian. But, attempting to study Albanian changed that perspective.

Albanian is separated into several dialects. In northern Albania and in Kosov@, people speak Gheg. The book we were fortunate enough to obtain as well as all the other books, websites, and other resources we could find were for Tosk Albanian, the official version of the language. If you want to learn Gheg Albanian, you have to move to northern Albania or Kosov@ and listen carefully. That’s your only chance.

So far my favorite English-Albanian joke is: Unë pi cigare. It is pronounced oon pee see-GAR-ay and translates literally to: I drink cigarettes. In Albanian, in Gheg anyway, the act of smoking is linked to drinking. My first reaction to this was utter disgust. I pictured pouring a glass of half-smoked cigarettes down my throat. It doesn’t help that the Albanian word for drinking is pee, an amusement in itself. How could they not have a separate verb for ‘smoking’? Isn’t there another verb that could be better? Would eating cigarettes be better than drinking them? Is inhaling smoke and letting it swim down your throat a bit like drinking liquid?

It is meditations like this one that keep me wanting to learn languages.

3 thoughts on “Shqip

  1. In here are some English people that talk Albanian very well even i was shocked when i first heard them for the first time in my life i heard 3 guys from United Kingdom speaking Albanian so damn well and the funny part was one of them was from Scotland and he was the one that had that original Albanian accent that no one will ever think he is not Albanian as long as he lives here. Anyway i feel proud when i see people trying to learn my language greetings and all the best.

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