Albanian dialects Gheg, Tosk. Communities of Arbëreshë- and
Albanian dialects Gheg, Tosk. Communities of Arbëreshë- and Arvanitika-speakers
The Albanian language has no living close relatives among the modern IE languages. There is no consensus over its origin and dialectal classification, although some scholars derive it from Illyrian, and others claim that it derives from Thracian.
While it is considered established that the Albanians originated in the Balkans, the exact location from which they spread out is hard to pinpoint. Despite varied claims, the Albanians probably came from farther north and inland than would suggest the present borders of Albania, with a homeland concentrated in the mountains.
NOTE. Given the overwhelming amount of shepherding and mountaineering vocabulary as well as the extensive influence of Latin, it is more likely the Albanians come from north of the Jireček line, on the Latin-speaking side, perhaps in part from the late Roman province of Dardania from the western Balkans. However, archaeology has more convincingly pointed to the early Byzantine province of Praevitana (modern northern Albania) which shows an area where a primarily shepherding, transhumance population of Illyrians retained their culture.
The period in which Proto-Albanian and Latin interacted was protracted and drawn out over six centuries, 1st c. AD to 6th or 7th c. AD. This is born out into roughly three layers of borrowings, the largest number belonging to the second layer. The first, with the fewest borrowings, was a time of less important interaction. The final period, probably preceding the Slavic or Germanic invasions, also has a notably smaller amount of borrowings. Each layer is characterized by a different treatment of most vowels, the first layer having several that follow the evolution of Early Proto-Albanian into Albanian; later layers reflect vowel changes endemic to Late Latin and presumably Proto-Romance. Other formative changes include the syncretism of several noun case endings, especially in the plural, as well as a large scale palatalization.
A brief period followed, between 7th c. AD and 9th c. AD, that was marked by heavy borrowings from Southern Slavic, some of which predate the o→a shift common to the modern forms of this language group. Starting in the latter 9th c. AD, a period followed of protracted contact with the Proto-Romanians, or Vlachs, though lexical borrowing seems to have been mostly one sided – from Albanian into Romanian. Such a borrowing indicates that the Romanians migrated from an area where the majority was Slavic (i.e. Middle Bulgarian) to an area with a majority of Albanian speakers, i.e. Dardania, where Vlachs are recorded in the 10th c. AD. This fact places the Albanians at a rather early date in the Western or Central Balkans, most likely in the region of Kosovo and Northern Albania.
References to the existence of Albanian as a distinct language survive from 14th c. AD, but without recording any specific words. The oldest surviving documents written in Albanian are the Formula e Pagëzimit (Baptismal formula), Un’te paghesont’ pr’emenit t’Atit e t’Birit e t’Spirit Senit, “I baptize thee in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit”, recorded by Pal Engjelli, Bishop of Durres in 1462 in the Gheg dialect, and some New Testament verses from that period.