Cham Albanian dialect

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19th century distribution of Albanian language dialects.

The Cham Albanian dialect (Albanian: Çamërisht, Dialekti çam) is the dialect of the Albanian language spoken by the Cham Albanians, an ethnic Albanian minority in the Epirus region of northwestern Greece.


Cham Albanian is part of Tosk Albanian and is the second-southernmost variety of Albanian language, the other being Arvanitika, which is also part of Tosk Albanian. As such, Arvanitika and Cham dialect retain a number of common features.[1] It also thus closely related to Arbëresh and Lab.

Linguistic conservatism[edit]

Linguists the Cham dialect has a conservative character, which is due to the close proximity and its continuous contacts with the Greek language. They argue that this conservative character, which is reflected in a number of peculiar features of the dialect, is endangered, as are the Albanian toponyms of the region, which are no longer in use, and which have provided valuable material for research into the historical evolution of Albanian.[2]


Like Arvanitika in southern Greece and Arbëresh in Italy, Cham Albanian retains some conservative features of Albanian, such as the old consonant clusters /kl/, /gl/, which in standard Albanian are q and gj, and retention of /l/ instead of /j/.[2]

Cham Albanian Standard Albanian Tosk Albanian Arvanitika Arberesh English
Klumësht Qumësht Qumësht Kljumsht Klumpshit 'milk'
Gluhë Gjuhë Gjuhë/Guhë Gljuhë Gluhë 'language', 'tongue'
Gola Goja Goja Golja Gojë 'mouth'

Like Lab, Arbëresh language, and also the Gheg dialects of Debar and Ulqin, Cham unrounds Albanian /y/ to /i/. It also fronts the Albanian schwa ë, and merges it with e -- this is the opposite of certain Lab dialects, which tend to back the schwa into /ʌ/ (as in English "nut").

Morphology and Syntax[edit]

The declensions of verbs and nouns may vary in Cham Albanian:

  • the present perfect may be done differently for reflexive verbs, and it resembles the imperfect: u kam bërë instead of jam bërë.
  • due to the preservation of intervocalic l, the -je morpheme of some verbal nouns is instead -ele, so marrje may be pronounced (archaically) as marrele
  • the -eshe ending is also replaced with -ele

Written sources[edit]

Page from the dictionary of Markos Botsaris

The first Albanian-language book written in the region of Chameria was the Greek-Albanian dictionary by Markos Botsaris, a Souliote captain and prominent figure of the Greek War of Independence. This dictionary was the biggest Cham Albanian dictionary of its time, with 1,484 lexemes.[3] According to albanologist Robert Elsie, it is not of any particular literary significance, but is important for our knowledge of the now extinct Suliot-Albanian dialect,[4] a sub-branch of the Cham dialect.[3] The dictionary is preserved at the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris.[4]

During the 19th century, Chams started creating bejtes, which were a new kind of poems, mainly in Southern Albania. The most well-known bejtexhi was Muhamet Kyçyku (Çami), born in Konispol. He is the only poet in Albania that has written in the Cham dialect and was apparently also the first Albanian author to have written longer poetry. The work for which he is best remembered is a romantic tale in verse form known as Erveheja (Ervehe), originally entitled Ravda ("Garden"), written about 1820. Kyçyku is the first poet of the Albanian National Renaissance.[5]


Cham is believed to have separated from Lab, Arvanite, and Arbereshe some time in the late Middle Ages.[citation needed] Heavy migration of Albanians into Chameria occurred in the 12th, 13th and 14th centuries for a variety of reasons, including the decimation of the previous population of the region by the Black Plague and the unstable political situation.[citation needed] The peripheral nature of the dialect and heavy contact with Greek would be important influences that would shape the dialect's development.[2]

During much of the Ottoman period, most of the writing in Chameria was done in Greek or in Turkish, and Cham Albanian was a spoken dialect only, while Albanians found it difficult to find education in their native language. Christian Albanians could attend Greek schools, and Muslim Albanians Turkish schools, but Albanian language schools were highly discouraged.[6] Nationalist sentiments during the late Ottoman era was weak in the region with Muslim Albanian Chams referring to themselves as Myslyman(Muslims) or Turks while local Orthodox Albanian speaking Christians referred to themselves as Kaur (i.e infidels) and did not find the term offensive.[7] During the Albanian National Awakening a number of local Albanians would establish private, unrecognized Albanian-language schools. In 1870, the despot of Paramythia, Grygorios, translated the New Testament into Albanian, as his followers could not understand well the Greek language.[8][verification needed] While, in 1879, the first Albanian school of the region was created in Sagiada by father Stathi Melani. At that time, the region was under the short-lived rule of the League of Prizren.[9][verification needed]

The Expulsion of Cham Albanians in the aftermath of World War II was a traumatic event that put pressure on the Cham dialect, and ultimately in both Greece and Albania, Chams were pressured to give up their dialect in favor of Standard Greek and Standard Albanian respectively.

Sociolinguistics and Survival[edit]

Where Chams are concentrated in Modern Albania, the dialect may still be strong especially in the elder generations, although it is increasingly influenced by Standard Albanian. Konispol and Markat are two traditionally Cham speaking municipalities that lie within the borders of Albania, and thus did not experience the expulsion.[citation needed]

In Greece, meanwhile, Cham Albanian may be upheld by the Orthodox Cham Albanian communities that were not expelled. According to a study by the Euromosaic project of the European Union, Albanian speaking communities live along the border with Albania in Thesprotia prefecture, the northern part of the Preveza prefecture in the region called Thesprotiko, and a few villages in Ioannina regional unit.[1] The Arvanite dialect is still spoken by a minority of inhabitants in Igoumenitsa.[10] In northern Preveza prefecture, those communities also include the region of Fanari,[11] in villages such as Ammoudia[12] and Agia.[13] In 1978, some of the older inhabitants in these communities were Albanian monolinguals.[14] The language is spoken by young people too, because when the local working-age population migrate seeking a job in Athens, or abroad, the children are left with their grandparents, thus creating a continuity of speakers.[14]

Today, these Orthodox Albanian speaking communities refer to themselves as Arvanites in the Greek language[15] and their language as Arvanitika but they call it Shqip while speaking Albanian.[16][17] In contrast with the Arvanites, some have retained a distinct linguistic [18] and ethnic identity.[19] In the presence of foreigners there is a stronger reluctance amongst Orthodox Albanian speakers to speak Albanian, compared to the Arvanites in other parts of Greece.[20] A reluctance has been also noticed for those who still see themselves as Chams to declare themselves as such.[21] Researchers like Tom Winnifirth on short stays in the area have hence found it difficult to find Albanian speakers in urban areas[22] and concluded in later years that Albanian had "virtually disappeared" in the region.[23] According to Ethnologue, the Albanian speaking population of Greek Epirus and Greek Western Macedonia number 10, 000.[24] According to Miranda Vickers in 1999, Orthodox Chams today are approximately 40,000.[25]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b L'étude Euromosaic. "L'arvanite/albanais en Grèce", 2006.
  2. ^ a b c Shkurtaj, Gjovalin. The Dialectological and Ethno-linguistic Values of the Language of Chameria, ISBN 99943-688-2-6, pp. 242-245.
  3. ^ a b Jochalas, Titos P. (1980). Το Ελληνο-αλβανικόν λεξικόν του Μάρκου Μπότσαρη : φιλολογική έκδοσις εκ του αυτογράφου [The Greek-Albanian dictionary of Markos Botsaris: filologhic edition of the original] (in Greek). Athens, Greece: Academy of Athens.
  4. ^ a b Elsie, Robert (1986). Dictionary of Albanian Literature. London, UK: Greenwood Press. p. 17. ISBN 9780313251863. Retrieved 2009-03-31.
  5. ^ Elsie, Robert (2005). Centre for Albanian Studies (ed.). Albanian Literature: A short history. London, UK: I.B.Tauris. p. 41. ISBN 9781845110314. Retrieved 2009-03-31.
  6. ^ Somel, Selçuk Akşin (2001). The Modernization of Public Education in the Ottoman Empire, 1839-1908: Islamization, Autocracy, and Discipline. Istanbul, Turkey: BRILL. p. 414. ISBN 9789004119031. Retrieved 2009-03-18.
  7. ^ Tsoutsoumpis: p. 122: "However, until the eve of the Balkan Wars and indeed long after the incorporation of the area in Greece national feeling was weak among the peasantry. "Although nationalist feeling might have been weak among the local peasantry, local societies were seldom free from strife."
  8. ^ Mouselimis, Spyros (1976). Ιστορικοί περίπατοι ανά τη Θεσπρωτία (in Greek). Thessaloniki, Greece. p. 128.
  9. ^ Anamali, Skënder and Prifti, Kristaq. Historia e popullit shqiptar në katër vëllime. Botimet Toena, 2002, ISBN 99927-1-622-3.
  10. ^ Vickers, Miranda and Petiffer, James. The Albanian Question. I.B. Tauris, 2007, ISBN 1-86064-974-2, p. 238.
  11. ^ Οδηγός Περιφέρειας Ηπείρου (10 December 2007). "Πρόσφυγες, Σαρακατσάνοι, Αρβανίτες Archived 2015-04-18 at the Wayback Machine". cultureportalweb. Retrieved 18-4-2015.
  12. ^ Georgoulas, Sokratis D.(1964). Λαογραφική Μελέτη Αμμουδιάς Πρεβέζης Archived 2013-11-27 at the Wayback Machine. Κέντρων Ερεύνης της Ελληνικής Λαογραφίας. pp. 2, 15.
  13. ^ Tsitsipis, Lukas (1981). Language change and language death in Albanian speech communities in Greece: A sociolinguistic study. (Thesis). University of Wisconsin. Ann Arbor. 124. "The Epirus Albanian speaking villages use a dialect of Tosk Albanian, and they are among the most isolated areas in Greece. In the Epiriotic village of Aghiá I was able to spot even a few monolingual Albanian speakers."
  14. ^ a b Foss, Arthur (1978). Epirus. Botston, United States of America: Faber. p. 224. ISBN 9780571104888. "There are still many Greek Orthodox villagers in Threspotia who speak Albanian among themselves. They are scattered north from Paramithia to the Kalamas River and beyond, and westward to the Margariti Plain. Some of the older people can only speak Albanian, nor is the language dying out. As more and more couples in early married life travel away to Athens or Germany for work, their children remain at home and are brought up by their Albania-speaking grandparents. It is still sometimes possible to distinguish between Greek- and Albanian-speaking peasant women. Nearly all of them wear traditional black clothes with a black scarf round their neck heads. Greek-speaking women tie their scarves at the back of their necks, while those who speak primarily Albanian wear their scarves in a distinctive style fastened at the side of the head."
  15. ^ Hart, Laurie Kain (1999). "Culture, Civilization, and Demarcation at the Northwest Borders of Greece". American Ethnologist. 26: 196. doi:10.1525/ae.1999.26.1.196. Speaking Albanian, for example, is not a predictor with respect to other matters of identity .. There are also long standing Christian Albanian (or Arvanitika speaking) communities both in Epirus and the Florina district of Macedonia with unquestioned identification with the Greek nation. .. The Tschamides were both Christians and Muslims by the late 18th century [in the 20th century, Cham applies to Muslim only]
  16. ^ Moraitis, Thanassis. "publications as a researcher". thanassis moraitis: official website. Retrieved 18-4-2015. "Οι Αρβανίτες αυτοί είναι σε εδαφική συνέχεια με την Αλβανία, με την παρεμβολή του ελληνόφωνου Βούρκου (Vurg) εντός της Αλβανίας, και η Αλβανική που μιλιέται εκεί ακόμα, η Τσάμικη, είναι η νοτιότερη υποδιάλεκτος του κεντρικού κορμού της Αλβανικής, αλλά έμεινε ουσιαστικά εκτός του εθνικού χώρου όπου κωδικοποιήθηκε η Αλβανική ως επίσημη γλώσσα του κράτους..... Οι αλβανόφωνοι χριστιανοί θεωρούν τους εαυτούς τους Έλληνες. Στα Ελληνικά αποκαλούν τη γλώσσα τους «Αρβανίτικα», όπως εξ άλλου όλοι οι Αρβανίτες της Ελλάδας, στα Αρβανίτικα όμως την ονομάζουν «Σκιπ»"..... "The Albanian idiom still spoken there, Çamërisht, is the southernmost sub-dialect of the main body of the Albanian language, but has remained outside the national space where standard Albanian has been standardized as official language of the state..... Ethnic Albanophone Christians perceive themselves as national Greeks. When speaking Greek, members of this group call their idiom Arvanitic, just as all other Arvanites of Greece; yet, when conversing in their own idiom, they call it "Shqip"."
  17. ^ Tsitsipis. Language change and language death. 1981. p. 2. "The term Shqip is generally used to refer to the language spoken in Albania. Shqip also appears in the speech of the few monolinguals in certain regions of Greek Epirus, north-western Greece, while the majority of the bilingual population in the Epirotic enclaves use the term Arvanitika to refer to the language when talking in Greek, and Shqip when talking in Albanian (see Çabej 1976:61-69, and Hamp 1972: 1626-1627 for the etymological observations and further references)."
  18. ^ Baltsiotis. The Muslim Chams of Northwestern Greece. 2011 "The Albanian language, and the Christian population who spoke it- and still do- had to be concealed also, since the language was perceived as an additional threat to the Greekness of the land. It could only be used as a proof of their link with the Muslims, thus creating a continuum of non-Greekness."
  19. ^ Banfi, Emanuele (6 June 1994). Minorités linguistiques en Grèce: Langues cachées, idéologie nationale, religion (in French). Paris: Mercator Program Seminar. p. 27.
  20. ^ Adrian Ahmedaja (2004). "On the question of methods for studying ethnic minorities' music in the case of Greece's Arvanites and Alvanoi." in Ursula Hemetek (ed.). Manifold Identities: Studies on Music and Minorities. Cambridge Scholars Press. p. 59. "Among the Alvanoi the reluctance to declare themselves as Albanians and to speak to foreigners in Albanian was even stronger than among the Arvanites. I would like to mention just one example. After several attempts we managed to get the permission to record a wedding in Igoumenitsa. The participants were people from Mavrudi, a village near Igoumenitsa. They spoke to us only German or English, but to each other Albanian. There were many songs in Greek which I knew because they are sung on the other side of the border, in Albanian. I should say the same about a great part of the dance music. After a few hours, we heard a very well known bridal song in Albanian. When I asked some wedding guests what this kind of song was, they answered: You know, this is an old song in Albanian. There have been some Albanians in this area, but there aren’t any more, only some old people". Actually it was a young man singing the song, as can he heard in audio example 5.9. The lyrics are about the bride’s dance during the wedding. The bride (swallow" in the song) has to dance slowly — slowly as it can be understood in the title of the song Dallëndushe vogël-o, dale, dale (Small swallow, slow — slow) (CD 12)."
  21. ^ Sarah Green (2005). Notes from the Balkans: Locating Marginality and Ambiguity on the Greek-Albanian border. Princeton University Press. pp. 74-75. "In short, there was a continual production of ambiguity in Epirus about these people, and an assertion that a final conclusion about the Tsamides was impossible. The few people I meet in Thesprotia who agreed that they were Tsamides were singularly reluctant to discuss anything to do with differences between themselves and anyone else. One older man said, ‘Who told you I’m a Tsamis? I’m no different from anyone else.’ That was as far as the conversation went. Another man, Having heard me speaking to some people in a Kafeneio in Thesprotia on the subject, followed me out of the shop as I left, to explain to me why people would not talk about Tsamides; he did not was to speak to me about it in the hearing of others: They had a bad reputation, you see. They were accused of being thieves and armatoloi. But you can see for yourself, there not much to live on around here. If some of them did act that way, it was because they had to, to survive. But there were good people too, you know; in any population, you get good people and bad people. My grandfather and my father after him were barrel makers, they were honest men. They made barrels for oil and tsipouro. I’m sorry that people have not been able to help you do your work. It’s just very difficult; it’s a difficult subject. This man went on to explain that his father was also involved in distilling tsipouro, and he proceeded to draw a still for me in my notebook, to explain the process of making this spirit. But he would not talk about any more about Tsamides and certainly never referred to himself as being Tsamis."
  22. ^ Winnifrith, Tom (1995). "Southern Albania, Northern Epirus: Survey of a Disputed Ethnological Boundary." Farsarotul. Retrieved 18-4-2015. "I tried unsuccessfully in 1994 to find Albanian speakers in Filiates, Paramithia and Margariti. The coastal villages near Igoumenitsa have been turned into tourist resorts. There may be Albanian speakers in villages inland, but as in the case with the Albanian speakers in Attica and Boeotia the language is dying fast. It receives no kind of encouragement. Albanian speakers in Greece would of course be almost entirely Orthodox."
  23. ^ Winnifrith, Tom (2002). Badlands, Borderlands: A History of Northern Epirus/Southern Albania. Duckworth. pp. 25-26, 53. "Some Orthodox speakers remained, but the language was not encouraged or even allowed, and by the end of the twentieth century it had virtually disappeared..... And so with spurious confidence Greek historians insist that the inscriptions prove that the Epirots of 360, given Greek names by their fathers and grandfathers at the turn of the century, prove the continuity of Greek speech in Southern Albania since their grandfathers whose names they might bear would have been living in the time of Thucydides. Try telling the same story to some present-day inhabitants of places like Margariti and Filiates in Southern Epirus. They have impeccable names, they speak only Greek, but their grandparents undoubtedly spoke Albanian."
  24. ^ Raymond G. Gordon, Raymond G. Gordon, Jr., Barbara F. Grimes (2005) Summer Institute of Linguistics, Ethnologue: Languages of the World, SIL International, ISBN 1-55671-159-X.
  25. ^ Miranda Vickers, The Albanians: A Modern History, I.B.Tauris, 1999, ISBN 978-1-86064-541-9