Slavic loanwords in Albanian language

The Wiktionary list of Albanian words explains many words as derivatives from the Slavic languages. Here are some of those words, together with the Wiktionary links. Most of these etymologies are official – they are not a result of my own interpretation.

The Wiktionary list of Albanian etymologies:

brazdë furrow borzda, brazda
plug plow plug
lopatë spade lopata
kopaç tree trunk kopati (“to dig, hollow out”)
kastravec cucumber krastavac
klekë mountain pine kleka
bumbar tripe / bumblebee bumbar
zhabë toad žaba
kokosh cock, rooster kokoš
kuç dogkȕče
kockë bone kȍska
grabë grave grobъ
duhi ghost duxь
kos yogurt kvas
kotec pen kòtac
breg shore bergъ
jug south jug
stan sheperd’s hut stan
prag threshold prag
pushkë rifle pushka

This is just a very small sample of all the Albanian words of Slavic origin available on the Wiktionary. Literally hundreds of other examples exist in the Albanian etymological dictionary, also available online.

On language borrowing

Why languages have loanwords? According to the article from Rice University:


“Borrowing is a consequence of cultural contact between two language communities and can go in both directions. But often there is an asymmetry where more words go from one side to the other. In this case, the source language community has some advantage of power, prestige and/or wealth that makes the objects and ideas it brings desirable and useful to the borrowing language community.

The text further illustrates how Germanic tribes borrowed many Latin words via trade with Romans, but only a handful of Germanic words entered Latin.

And according to Encyclopedia Britannica:

“The borrowing usually happens when some new object or institution is developed, for which the borrowing language has no word of its own. “

This kind of explanation makes perfect sense. For the same reason, the whole world says “television”, “telephone” or “internet”. At the same time, it is highly unlikely that the whole nation will just start using a word from a foreign language in place of the word they already have. The number of Albanian loanwords in the Slavic languages of Balkans is virtually zero. The majority of the words on this list are archaisms that relate to agriculture, animal domestication, habitation, and superstition. Therefore, the contact between Slavs and Albanians was an early one. It is otherwise impossible to imagine that Albanians did not have these words in their dictionary, before the supposed arrival of Slavs in the 6th century.


As we see, better than any history book or political propaganda, this list shows that there are only two options:

  1. Slavs arrived in Balkans in the 5th or 6th century, but Albanians came even later, and somehow they still did not know about these prehistorical inventions, or
  2. Both Slavs and Albanians were present on Balkans much earlier, in prehistory, and so this cultural exchange could have happened.

Of course, I incline towards the second theory. The Albanian language has also many borrowings from Greek and Latin, which would have been impossible if they had arrived in Balkans after the 6th century. But strangely enough, all of the words listed above come from Slavic, and not from these two other languages. To simply change a part of a most basic dictionary in the 6th century, with the arrival of Slavs, would be a precedent in human history.

It is also worth pointing out that this supposed arrival of Slavs on Balkans in the 6th century is based on one single document. It is the “De administrando imperium” from the 10th century Byzantium. Indeed, this text does say that Serbs and Croats arrived on Balkan in the 6th century. But it does not say that this was the first time. Slavic medieval chroniclers, like Nestor and Dalimil, claim that Slavs had to migrate north of the Balkans because of atrocities committed by Roman armies.

This migration from Balkans would have happened some 600 years prior to one to the Balkans, and some 1,000 years before “De administrando imperium” was written. Therefore, it is quite possible that Eastern Roman Emperor Constantine VII was not aware of it, or he simply didn’t bother to go into details.

We can also have one positive conclusion from all this. Slavs and Albanians once coexisted, sharing a common culture, without being brainwashed by foreign politics, religion, and nationalism. I say this because of many good people my Serbian friends met during their travels in Albania, and afterward told me their experience first-hand. But I also dedicate this text to those who think that it will be so easy to rewrite history.





  1. Cogniarchae, hi. Just wanted to point out one reason for this, besides your two theories is the process of albanization of Serbian population living in the north Albania. Even today, I believe, about of 20% of Albanian population is Orthodox christian and by some estimates there are between 10.000 and 100.000 of Serbs living in Albania, though officials state there is only 100 of them. Take this with reserve of course as there is no clear number of Serbs living there. Forceful conversion of Serbs was quite intense in the last century.

    • What? Albanian Orthodox aren’t Serbian at all (except two small communities one near Montenegro and another nearby Novoselë), they speak Albanian as mother language (with a minority speaking Aromanian) and are Greek/Albanian Orthodox not Slavic Orthodox. The movement for the independence of Albania and particularly for the public use of Albanian and for the right to teach in Albanian (forbidden in the Ottoman Empire) was promoted mostly by orthodox Albanians such as Koto Hoxhi, Nino Luarasi poisoned by Greeks for teaching Albanian to Albanians speakers, Papa Kristo Negovani killed by Greeks for preaching in Albanian, the Qiriazi family (Sevasti, Gjergj, Gjerasim, Parashqevi), Thoma Abramo, Teofan Noli, Kristo Dako, Sotir Poçi, Marigo Posio, Athanas Sina, Andon Çajupi, Themistokli Gërmenji, Jani Vuho, Jani Vreto, Kolë Tromara, Gjergj Suli, Aristidh Ruci, Idhomene Kosturi, Sotir Kolea, Kristo Kirka, Spriridon Ilo, Pandeli Evangjeli and so on.

  2. “Albanian: zhabë – English: toad
    Etymology: From Serbo-Croatian žaba.`”

    Where did you learn that “žaba” is a Slavic word?
    “žaba” is a biblical word, try זשאַבע. that’s Yiddish.

  3. Hello there cogniarchae. Your two theories are very good (there could be ‘variations’ on the theories you provided though, but I would say I subscribe to your first theory ).

    If you permit me, I will add the following information below which does not deal with linguistics. It is the little explored question of Mardaites (and of Khurramites), a people of uncertain ethnic origins.

    1) The Mardaites were settled by the Byzantines in the Themes of Nikopolis (= Epirus), Kephallenia, Kerkyra and maybe even the Theme of Dyrrachion (= Albania) some time before the tenth century.

    Page 43 of the book below –

    2) The resettlement of Mardaites into Asia Minor and the Balkans was part Justinian II’s larger policy of various resettlements.

    Page 160 below –

    3) Sathas says that the Mardaites were divided into two bodies, of which one was scattered throughout Hellas (Greece), especially Epirus, where to the present day their descendants are called Mirdites, while the other division was ultimately settled in the Cibyraiot theme.

    Page 321 –

    4) Now, how densely populated was Epirus for example?

    As per the source below even in the days of Strabo, Epirus was desolate, and contained only ruined villages. The following centuries only brought further devastation, upheavals, and wars. To conclude, by the time Mardaites were settled in Epirus and other nearby regions, they may have settled (and later on expanded) into lands that were in large part uninhabited and contained small (native) populations.

    Page 223, A Handbook for Travellers in the Ionian Islands, Greece, Turkey, Asia Minor –

    5) Note that the territories Mardaites were reported to have settled in directly correspond to modern ethnic Albanian lands. We have one more source – according to a document of the Latin sovereigns of Corfu dated 1365, which ratifies an earlier (1246) decree of Michael II, the ruler of Epirus, refers to a “decarhia Mardatorum”. (Does this refer to Albanians?)

    Also (and more time, to repeat from a different article):

    Later on (in the 9th century), a part of the Mardaïtes moved to the themes of the Peloponnese, Nicopolis (including the lands of Epiros and Etoloakarnania) and Kephalenia; in those regions they continued to serve as crew members of thematic fleets. Towards the late 9th century, the Mardaïtes of the Peloponnese took part in the campaigns in Sicily, while in 911 and 949 a large number of Mardaïtes from the three themes (more than 5000 in the first case, 3000 in the second) participated in the campaigns against the Arabs of Crete.

    Source –

    6) The Khurramites were settled in today’s Albania as well.

    Source: “Byzantium and Its Army”, By Warren Treadgold.
    Excerpt from page 32:

    “By 839 Theophilus roused himself to lead an army against the Khurramites, who promptly submitted. They agreed to let their company be divided into fifteen parts, which were incorporated into fifteen different themes and other districts. The fifteen units that received Khurramites included two new themes, Dyrrhachium in today’s Albania and the Climata in the Crimea…”

    In conclusion, it seems evident from historical sources that many Mardaites and Khurramites were settled in territories which correspond to modern Albanian lands. Were these people separate from Albanians-speakers? Or were they THE Albanian-speakers? If the Mardaites were a separate group of people from Albanians, then they were no doubt fully assimilated by the Albanians.

  4. The word çelitet, doesn’t look to come from Slavic. It derives from the primitive Albanian verb çel, bloom, opens and is a very ancient Albanian word. Do you consider the loans not to go only one way, but possibly the Slavic word/s derived from Albanian?

    • Of course, exchange can go both ways, but here there are no my own interpretations, just examples from Wiktionary and Etymological dictionary of Albanian.

  5. Actually Slavic loanwords are far from being numerous in Albanian and in most part are not part of the core vocabulary (in fact in most cases you have an Albanian or Latin synonym, for instance you have “plug” besides “parmendë”) and often Slavic words in Albanian come from dialectal varieties in close contact with Slavic people. This is completely different from the Latin/Romance element in Albanian that is far more pervasive, even basic words like much ( shumë from summus) or little (pak from paucus) are of Latin origin.
    You also fail to show the chronology of the exchange on a linguistic ground and jumped into speaking with non-sense arguments: the fact Albanian borrowed words from Slavic does not mean that Albanian did not have those words (the Albanian word for “sky” is qiell from Latin “caelum”, didn’t the Albanian language have its own word for “sky”? Obviously it did, but the Latin one took its place). Returning to linguistics, you should compare Slavic and Latin loanwords in Albanian and you can easily recognize that Latin loanwords are far older and belonging to various layers : sometimes they are adapted with the same rules that operate from PIE into Albanian: for example ū is usually y in Albanian (virtūtem->vërtyt), au->a (aurum->ar), ō->e (pōmum->pemë), ē->o (allēgoria->logori and even more interesting the Latin loanwords show rhotacism in the Tosk Albanian (femina-> femër (Tosk) vs femën (Gheg), meaning that the Latin loanwords entered in Albanian before it was split into the two dialect by the Shkumbin River. This doesn’t happen with Slavic loans that entered in Albanian after the 6th century when the major sound changes in Albanian had already occurred and split between Gheg and Tosk was completed and probably with the same geographical barrier (there is no reason not to believe so), in fact Slavic loanwords in Albanian do not show traces of rhotacism in Tosk Albanian (for example you have “stan” and “cenis” in both dialects if these words came into Albanian the same time Latin loanwords did or earlier you would have Gheg “stani” “cenis” vs Tosk “stëri” “ceris”). What does this mean? It means the surely the Slavic loanwords arrived far later in Albanian then Latin ones, most of them from the 9th century to the 16th with older layer from the period between the 6th and the 9th century. It’s not a case that Arbëresh dialect and Arvanitikà, which left mainland Albania) have far fewer Slavic loanwords. So here we are, both your “theories” can’t be true:
    1)if Albanian came to the Balkans later then Slavs how could they have so many old loanwords from Latin and far more recent loanwords from Slavic languages? Are you suggesting they came from France or Spain? It doesn’t make sense and the Albanian romance element has more to do with Balkan Romance like Dalmatian and Romanian. Are you suggesting they came from somewhere else? There’s no evidence of this, not from a historical point of view nor from a linguistic point of view: if they came from another place they would bring with them loanwords from the place they were but the only loanwords in Albanian are from Ancient (Doric) Greek, Latin, Balkan Gothic, Slavic there aren’t other substrates (exept some from the “mediterranean substate” such as “shegë” similar to Ancient Greek σίδη)
    2) If Slavs came earlier in the Balkans and lived a long time in contact with Albanians there are a lot of problems. Why didn’t they acquire Latin loanwords? Most of Latin loanwords in Slavic are mediated from Germanic, it would be absurd to have access to Latin words through the barbarian Germanic people if Slavs could acquire them directly in the Balkans.. Why didn’t Slavic give loanwords to Albanian before Latin or just before Albanian split into two dialects. It would be absolutely non-sense.

    • Thank you Jan, I always appreciate good arguments in comments. However, I have to disagree on some of your statements. First, you say that Slavic loanwords are “far from being numerous” and yet these examples are from Orel’s work, one of the most renowned scholars in this field, and if you just take a look at this dictionary you will see that they are in fact shockingly numerous. As for the rest, my point was not to argue that there is an ancient substratum of Latin and Greek words in Albanian and thus prove that they arrived on Balkans later then Slavs (from France etc), but to prove that Slavs could have been also present here in antiquity. The fact is simply that these other loanwords are well known and most commonly emphasized so there was no need for me to go there. You are also mistaken to say that Slavic languages do not have Latin loanwords, or that they were acquired trough Germanic languages. I have another post on Slavic and Latin cognates, check it out.

      • I have read Orel’s works, both the etymological dictionary and the historical grammar of the Albanian language, did you read them? You could notice that the amount of Slavic loanwords is not high, mostly out of the core vocabulary (with some exceptions such as “trup” that is even more common than native “shtat”). If you compare Albanian and Romanian the presence of Slavic words in Albanian becomes ridiculous. There may be some hundreds of Slavic words and it doesn’t surprise me since Albania is borderd by Slavs and often part of Slavic states. I did’t say there aren’t Latin loanwords in Slavic. I said they’re rare and often from a Germanic intermediary (except for Dalmatian loanwords in Croatian dialects). My problem is not you trying to argue an earlier Slavic presence in the Balkans, my problem is the incorrect use of Albanian that is perhaps the best reason to doubt a Slavic presence in the Balkans (at least nearby Albanians).
        Another piece of advice remove from your list “citë” (as you can read is a cognate to Slavic not a loanwords), cip (Orel does not support a Slavic origin, Meyer does), pare ( a Ottoman/Persian loanwords).
        I also find quite unfair using the c section of the dictionary, c/ç is an uncommon sound in Albanian found mostly in archaism (“cep” vs “thep”), assimilations or loanwords. Try to find Slavic or Latin loanwords in the th- section, it will not be easy 😉

        • You are right about “pare”, I will remove it from the list. As for the rest of the words, they are taken directly from Orel’s book, and they have his explanations, so there is no confusion for the reader. I simply took all the words listed from A-C, as after that it became too much text for the blog, but the link for the whole book is also there. I am sure that some letters have more words and some less, that is to be expected.

          • I find misleading putting in your list words that are not loanwords, but using them as they were. Actually you chose the letter with more Slavic loanwords. Weird. In the letter “a” (ten pages) you find just one Slavic loanword (arqitë), but you seem to ignore this. I don’t like people who spread disinformation and inaccurate datas.

          • For the 90% of the words it says “borrowed from Slavic”. For the rest it says “identical” which for me is equally interesting. I already explained you that I went from A-C. If I went all the way there would be dozens if not hundreds more words. So the method is very clear, it is your right to like it or not, I am not going to discuss this topic any further.

  6. The presence of Slavic loanwords on Albanian is not a strong argument to prove anything related to the time of arrival of Slavs. A big part of Slavic loanwords are related to agricultural activities, while most of preserved original Albanian words are related to plants and animals that are characteristic to mountainous areas (a part of them native only to Balkans). This can be mostly explained by the fact that lowlands and coast have been under dominance of Roman Empire for a long time. A big part of the original words for agricultural activities was lost and replaced by Latin words, as a result of Latin dominance. After the arrival of Slavic population contacts between them and proto-Albanian population (linguistically it’s difficult to find and approximate area where these contacts might have been stronger, but it is very likely that it wasn’t in a coastal area) caused a new wave of words for agricultural activities to be used besides the Latin or the original ones.

    Thanks for sharing your opinion with us, but a lot of research needs to be done by scholars before we can give any conclusion related to Albanian language.

  7. You should read Orel more carefully, he clearly gives a chronology of the Slavic borrowings into Albanian. Slavic loanwords are not particularly numerous in Albanian, we have more or less 1000 words coming from Slavic languages. But these 1000 include every dialect of Albanian even those in close contact with Slavs. Most of these words are completely unknown to Albanians, because they are used just in some dialects such as Korçë or Montenegro Albanian. Standard Albanian has more Slavic loans (around 600) of every Albanian dialect (Korçë dialect has around 400 Slavic words) because the fathers of the Albania languages wanted to preserve all the possible words from every dialect. They didn’t want to create a pure language but a rich language. Even considering this the Slavic element is not abundant and mostly late. For example all the words containing “ç” and “c” came into Albanian after late Middle Ages (1100-1200 AD), because earlier Albanian did not possess these sounds in fact older Slavic loans (much rarer) such as “porosit” or “bisedë” use “s” instead of “ç/c”. Klek is a very late loan, because it post dates the sound change kl->q which happened after the 16th century (Arbëreshë klumësht vs Albanian qumësht). Also all the Slavic words in which s is kept as s (the most part) are relatively new, because in Albanian s became sh after the Roman era (spiritus->shpirt, socius->shok). Now if you check your list you will notice that most of the Slavic loans to Albanians are pretty late. At the same it’s unusual that Albanian kept so much latin influence while the Latin influence in Slavic and south slavic is almost non-existent, with older layer of Latin loanwords being mediated by Germanic. It seems pretty clear that Slavic people were not close to albanians before the Middle Ages.

  8. I am reading these intricate arguments from Albanian revisionists, and it is hilarious! There is no reference AT ALL of Albanian language before 11th century, and the written from from 15th century, whereas Balkan Slavic languages are written from at least the 8th century.

    The latinized loanwords in modern Albanian were created recently, via Italian and the Catholic Austro-Hungarians. They do not come from ancient Latin at all. It is like saying English had contact with ancient Greeks because there are so many Greeks words in English now!

    The Medieval Arbani pre Ottoman occupation were overwhelmingly Slavic or Greek, such as Đorđe Kastriotić and Leka Đukađin. No later Šiptar or modern Albanian buildings exist AT ALL before the Ottoman conquest in the 14th century, whereas so many Serbian buildings and churches exist in Durrës, Berat, etc..

    To argue Albanians co-habited with ancient Greeks and Latins is simply preposterous.

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