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The paradox of the Arbëresh future construction and the history of Albanian dialects

  • Borana Lushaj
Friday 2 June 2017
Friday Afternoon Lecture
Cleveringaplaats 1
2311 BD Leiden


The oldest and most reliable dialectal feature that distinguishes Albanian Northern (Geg) and Southern (Tosk) dialects is the presence of rhotacism of the Proto-Albanian intervocalic nasal (Çabej, 1970) in Tosk Albanian. The distribution of rhotacism in inherited forms, Latin borrowings and few early Slavic loans suggests that the process concluded around the 10th century (Çabej, 1970; Ylli, 1997).

Given the overwhelming presence of rhotacized variants, Italo-Albanian (Arbëresh) is classified as a Tosk dialect. In addition, shared lexicon and morphological innovations, along with some indicative toponyms-as-family names have lead linguists to conclude that the overwhelming majority of Arbëresh speakers were from areas along the Ionian (SW Tosk) as well as from earlier Albanian settlements in the Peloponnesus (Klosi, 2005).

Another important feature that distinguishes the two dialect groups is the future construction. Tosk has a typical Balkan Sprachbund WILL-SUBJUNCTIVE future and Geg a HAVE – INFINITIVE one. The Arbëresh HAVE - SUBJUNCTIVE future looks like a hybrid form. Given the assumed Tosk origin of Arbëresh, it has been suggested that this future form is the result of contact with Italo-Romance varieties (Çabej, 1975). Compare the following transcription for “I will sing”:


Geg     kam                 me       kəndue                                    Tosk                do        tə         kəndoj

            have.1sg          inf.      sing.ptcp                                             will      subj.    sing.1sg


Arb.    kam                  tə        kəndoj                         It.-Rom.          agghiə              cantá

            have.1sg          subj.   sing.1sg                                               have.1sg          sing.inf


A closer look at the grammaticalization of future constructions (Bybee & Pagliuca, 1987) with reference to Balkan Albanian, other Balkan languages, and Italo-Romance reveals that the Arbëresh future construction is not borrowed from Italo-Romance. The facts are as follows:

1)         In the earliest Geg texts from the 16th century (Ressuli, 1958) we find the HAVE -            INFINITIVE construction as already predominantly used to express future reference alongside   deontic and epistemic modalities, as well as future in the past forms.

2)         The oldest Tosk text from early 18th century (Hamiti, 2008) shows no trace of any            HAVE - INFINITIVE or HAVE – SUBJUNCTIVE forms, but only a fully-fledged WILL -            SUBJUNCTIVE future.

3)         The grammaticalization of the Tosk WILL – SUBJUNCTIVE future may have        happened        earlier or alongside other Balkan languages. In contemporary and early Tosk texts,    the       WILL-auxiliary was already reduced to an uninflected particle, both in future and future- in-the-past constructions. In contrast, in Bulgarian, where the grammaticalization of the       WILL-future is thought to have concluded around the 16th century, the WILL-auxiliary of        future forms is still today inflected for future in the past forms (Fiedler, 1999; Kramer, 1997).

4)         In the earliest Arbëresh text from 1592 (Sciambra, 1964), we already find a fully   grammaticalized HAVE + SUBJUNCTIVE future form, where only clitics could be placed in between the particle and the subjunctive verb form. In contrast, the indivisibility and morpho-      phonological blending of the Italo-Romance HABEO AD/DA CANTARE (Ledgeway, 2009;       Loporcaro, 1999) would only emerge in the early 18th century.

Taking the above facts into account, we can only conclude that the Arbëresh future construction is an inherited trait from a Tosk variety, but not one where the WILL + SUBJUNCTIVE was already grammaticalized, very likely already by the 16th century. Consequently, the extreme Southern and Southwestern origin of Arbëresh does not have a very strong foundation.

The only reasonable explanation for the facts of the future construction in Arbëresh and Balkan Albanian is that the majority of the earliest migration waves were not from the extreme South, as it has been assumed thus far, but rather from a central Albanian region. Both historical and previously overlooked ethnographic fieldwork suggest that this may be accurate. Ethnographic research (Zojzi, 1962) relates narratives of massive repopulation of Northeast and central Albania around the 17th – 18th centuries in the family histories of current inhabitants. Without official records from that time, conscientious family histories imposed by the strictly exogamous relationships enforced by Albanian tradition, should be considered an important evidence in this regard. This hypothesis also opens up the possibility to reimagine the geographical position of the current rhotacism isogloss in Balkan Albanian.



Bybee, J. & Pagliuca, W. 1987. The evolution of future meaning. In. Giacalone-Ramat, et.al. (eds.), Papers from the 7th International Conference on Historical Linguistics, pp. 109 -122.

Çabej, E. 1970. Fonetika historike e shqipes. Akademia e Shkencave, Tiranë.

Çabej, E. 1975. Studime Filologjike, II. 

Fiedler, W. 1999. Tempus, Modus und Aspekt in den Sprachen Südosteuropas. In Hinrichs, U. and Büttner, U. (eds.), Handbuch der Südosteuropa-Linguistik. (Slavistische Studienbücher, Neue Folge.) Wiesbaden: Otto Harrassowitz, pp. 487–517

Hamiti, A. 2008. Nezim Frakulla dhe Divani i tij. Logos – A. Shkup

Klosi, A. 2005. Netët pellazgjike të Karl Reinholdit. Tekste të vjetra shqipe të Greqisë (1850 – 1860). K & B. Tiranë.

Kramer, C. E. 1997. Negation and the grammaticalization of Have and Want futures in Bulgarian and Macedonian. Canadian Slavonic Papers, 39:3-4, pp, 407 – 416.

Ledgeway, A. 2009. Grammatica diacronica del napoletano. Max Niemeyer Verlag, Tübingen.

Loporcaro, M. 1999. Il futuro CANTARE-HABEO nell’Italia meridionale, Archivio glottologico italiano 84, pp. 67–114.

Ressuli, N. 1958. Il Messale di Giovanni Buzuku. Riproduzione e trascrizione, Città del Vaticano.

Sciambra, M. 1964. La “Dottrina Cristiana” Albanese di Luca Matranga. Riproduzione, traduzione e commento del Codice Barberini Latino 3454, Città del Vaticano.

Ylli, Xh. 1997. Das slavische Lehngut im Albanischen. 1. Lehnwörter. Otto Sanger, 1997

Zojzi, Rr. 1962. Ndamja krahinore e popullit shqiptar. Etnografia shqiptare, I. Tiranë.

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