Language and Albanian-American Community

Dr. Albana Gjeka-Sgouridis

Dr. Albana Gjeka-Sgouridis

June, 6, 2018 – Miracles … certainly we believe in them. Yet, who among us would ever expect to witness something “miraculous” happening right before our eyes? As strongly as we claim to believe in miracles of the past, just as strongly would we doubt their occurrence today in the 21st century. There would have been no poets, philosophers, political leaders, writers, and other forms of art introduced in the Albanian-American world if language was not there. In the Albanian-American Community we speak both Albanian and English. Albanian or Shqip is a unique Indo-European language spoken mainly in the Balkans. In my grandparents’ words it was important to study because “no one can take away from you what you know.” I have heard many stories, but especially this: we are taught great Albanian pride from the time we are conscious.  It comes from the fight in us, as described between the wars of Skanderbeg and the Turks. Going back further, we see Alexander the Great’s mother, an Albanian, and in modern times Mother Theresa, an Albanian. We have a rich heritage for a small country. I argue that language is central to ethic identity and inseparable from it. Language is not just important for communication or a good tool to use  for verbal communication, but also plays role in identity structures based on social events from specific communities. In the Albanian-American Community, language is a vital means of connection to our identity, our heritage values and most importantly for our tolerant worldview.

The language within the Albanian-American Community is a vital means of connection to our identity. The role in which language plays in social and ethnic identity is the only way we have to acquire concepts such as love, freedom, power, and to increase our knowledge, other than direct physical experience. In the Albanian American Community Language is intimately connected to us as individuals in layers: first, it connects us as an individual to the community; it connects our community to other larger communities; and lastly it connects our communities to the overall world. Ethnicity is considered the property of a group, associated with ancestry, culture, and of course language. The essence of our community is to stay connected, work together and share in the American experience in addition generate knowledge of our common Albanian heritage to the world. As an Albanian-American, it is important to stay connected to our community as a conduit through which we share culture and help better appreciate and enjoy the American experience.  According to the Former Ambassador of Albania to the United Nations, Adrian

Neritani, “Language is an important part of the shared cultural identity of the community that keeps it together. In conjunction with other cultural aspects, continues to assist in keeping the uniqueness of the Albanian people, while making their integration to the host country a natural and necessary process”. Why would language play an important role in ethnic identity? Because language is a widespread and evident feature of the community in which we live. In addition, language provides a particular clear link to the past and often the only detailed link, in the form of literature such as in the form of novels, movies, manuals, music and other works. However, this link exists even after the ability in language has been lost. For example, many present day Albanian-Americans know very little Albanian, but they still see Albanian as a symbol of their ethnic identity. Ethnic identity is a commitment to a group with which one has ancestral links. Once a group becomes conscious of its ethnic identity, it will wish to preserve and strengthen its position.

Every day we interact and communicate with verbal and nonverbal communication, both of which intimately are connected to our Albanian cultural identity. Language is undoubtedly a vital means of verbal communication and it is often said that it is language which makes us “humans”. Together in our Albanian-American community, as a family, a society, or a country, speakers of the same dialect, all share an immediate sense of recognition. For example, Albanians may frequently talk loudly to each-other, but it is not because they are angry. They raise their voices even in normal conversations.  A nonverbal example: while Americans smile freely at strangers, in Albanian regions this is considered a little strange and sometimes impolite. When Albanians place the hand on the chest it is to say, “thank you.” According to Joseph, Costanzo and Slocum, “One of the most noticeable features of Albanian is the vast number of “small words” that exist. It is not that there is a huge inventory of different “small words” in Albanian; rather, there are many instances in which words having the same form are found in different functions.” Because Albanian language is so unique with words having noticeable features that benefit the Albanian- American society as a whole, and should therefore be upheld. As a result, Albanian Americans inevitably transcend and perpetuate their traditions, myths and religion via the societal functions of their language. The pillar stones of any society are its population and human potential, both of which rely greatly on the presence of communication in the form of language.

Also, the language in Albanian-American community is a vital means of connection to our heritage values. The Albanian language is also an exceptional way to connect back to my heritage. Mainly Albanian is spoken in two dialects, Gheg in the north and Tosk in the south. Albanian literature is based on Tosk dialect. Approximately 7 million people speak Albanian in the Balkans and around the world. Despite all differences and contrast between the Albanian and English speaker in my Albanian- American community, we all come together as one community.  Albanian language is rich with expressions and idioms, which have similarities and differences from south to north of Albania. They range from praises and oaths to greetings and condolences. The knowledge of heritage and language in Albanian is central to ethnic identification of Albanian Americans. Folklore is an important part of the Albanian culture. Literature, music, choreography and drama are rich and diverse, with great artistic values and are inherited from generation to generation. There are also many archaeological findings which provide great information on the past and the formation of present culture. For instance, the oldest architectural monuments in Albania were constructed by the Illyrians. Later on the Greeks and Romans who occupied Albania built structures still visible in urban and rural landscapes. According to Jackson, Hodgson, and Beavers, “The involvement of trusted community based organizations such as churches, and community social service agencies can be key to the advancement and preservation of culture and heritage”. I agree with Jackson, Hodgson, and Beavers opinions; being said that if the Albanian language were to be lost, my entire culture and heritage will be lost as well. Because of the churches, mosques, and community organizations such as AANO having native Albanian speakers, immigrants are able to adapt smoothly into American society much easier than if they were on their own.

An important goal of language acquisition and appreciation in our Albanian American community is to restore respect for both Albanian and English languages and in some way enhance this experience and allow for flexibility. The Albanian language and English, it’s not only a form of communication within the Albanian-American community but it makes a positive shift and it approaches the Albanian-American Community from a psychological/wellness perspective. According to Albanian-American Success stories, “The goal of the project is to highlight the successes and achievements of Albanian-Americans in all lifestyles, and the contributions they made in business, politics, science, education, the arts, etc. In addition, helps to create a network of professionals and mentors which will inspire younger generations”. One of these success stories and a great role model for our Albanian-American Community is Mr. Mark Gjonaj, the first Albanian-American politician of the Democratic Party; he served as a New York City councilman from the 13thdistrict since 2018. This fills us with pride and unique virtues.

The Albanian-American Community places a high value on bilingualism to ensure a long term contribution to our little Albanian-American Community and to the larger needs of our adopted home. In addition, Albanian and English languages have another heritage value by expressing ideas by means of speech-sounds combined into words; words are combined into sentences, this combination answering that of ideas and thoughts. There is already considerable information available, which indicates that bilingualism holds substantial economic potential for the individual and societies, and that monolinguals may lead to significant lost economic opportunities. There is a significantly important role of being bilingual in the relationship between languages, thoughts and cultures. Bilingualism links to social benefits, in particular economic, cognitive, and health (Hussar and Baily). The Albanian Americans have long recognized the need to prepare scholarly works, which would preserve the culture of the homeland as well as present it to the larger American public (Nedelskoska and Khaw).  This is a valuable argument in justifying the need for maintaining and expanding being bilingual in my Albanian-American Community.

Most importantly, parents believe that there is a social and economic advantage to speaking more than one language and that a positive outcome results from using Albanian language for Albanian-Americans and American-Albanians. They know how important this is for the Albanian-American Community in developing and maintaining our language, history and customs. The ex-director of Albanian School in Chicago, Lea Bitta said, “We’re excited to offer language classes to the Albanian community. We as Albanian-Americans and American-Albanians know how important this is for the Albanian American Community in developing and maintaining our language, history and customs. Otherwise, the Albanian community here in America will assimilate. We must support this endeavor or we cannot perpetuate our heritage”. Above all, as Ms. Bitta pointed out, the reasons to open the Albanian school at St. Nicholas church was to save our heritage values in the USA. Finally, the Albanian language is a very unique language. One sign of a healthy community is its simultaneous ability to preserve and invent its culture, that is to conserve its history and heritage while developing new expressions for current times, in the form of novels, movies, manuals, music and other works. According to Hamp, “In this context it is possible to find almost every opinion. Many agree that Albanian lacks an old maritime terminology. Things they have had it and lost it!” Hamp argues, these are unique characteristics of Albanian language and we have to be connected with our community in order to save our heritage.

Overall, most importantly, the language in my Albanian American Community allows us to express our tolerant worldview. Among all nations, only one thing distinguishes us, tolerance. Tolerance is an irreplaceable value of the Albanian people. For centuries, religious harmony has been our greatest national wealth. We are a community filled full of pride because of peaceful relationships we have between religions. Religious harmony is not a gift to Albanian–Americans, but it is a centuries old effort of our people to be united around Albania and Albanism. Pope Francis’s first time trip in Europe was to Tirana, Albania, on Sunday 21 September 2014. According BBC online News, “he praised the peaceful coexistence of religion in the country, where a Muslim majority lives alongside Catholics and orthodox Christians”. Therefore, in pursuit to preserve the efforts of past generations, our generation, and future generations must be obliged to stay connected with each other within the community and by practicing Albanian and English, preserve Albanian values, culture and heritage for the community.

To sum it up, within the Albanian-American community, language should never be used as a mere tool of communication. Without doubt, language plays a significant role in the formation of cultural identity, saving the heritage and values and has vital means to our tolerant worldview and religious harmony. Albanian and English are considered as a pioneer in the progress of human Civilization inside my community and out in our American community. It is important for us to continue to value our verbal and nonverbal communication, the language in our Albanian American Community. Tradition continues and Albanian recovers. The hesitation that Albanian is too ancient is going to be more and toward whitening, it fills us with pride and makes us nobler.                                                          


   Works Cited

“Albanian America Success Stories Soiree 2015.” YouTube, 23 Nov. 2015.

Bitta, Lea. Personal Interview. May 2009.

Brian Joseph, Angelo Costanzo, and Johnathon Slocum. Albanian Online: Series Introduction. University of Texas, Austin Linguistics Research Center, 23 May 2018.

Hamp, Eric P, Henric Birnbaum and Jaan Puhvel. Ancient IE dialects, Proceedings of the Conference on IE linguistic, April 25-27, 1963. University of California, Los Angeles.

Hussar, William J., and Tabitha M. Bailey.“Projections of Education Statistics to 2019. Thirty-eight Edition. NCES 2011-2017.’’ National Center for Education Statistics,01Mar.2011.

Jackson, Maria Rosario, Kimberley Hodgson, and Kelly Ann Beavers. “Community heritage and Culture: How the arts and cultural sector strengthen cultural values and preserve heritage and history.” The American Planning Association. 2011. to an external site. . pdf. Accessed 1 June 2018.

Nedelskoska, Ljubikaand and  Nick Khaw. “The Albanian Community in the United States: Statistical Profiling of the Albanian-Americans.” Cambridge, MA. February 2015. Https://  

Neritani, Adrian. Personal Interview. 31 May 2018.

New York City Council.” District 13: Mark Gjonaj” New York City Council 31 Maj 2018.

“Pope Francis describes ‘perverted ‘extremist on Albania visit.” BBC.21 Sept 2014,world-europe-29300209