As the end of training approaches, so does our language proficiency interview. This spoken interview is required of all PC trainees worldwide, and here in Albania we are all preparing. We’ve covered most of the grammar we are going to get to and now need to review tenses, cases and practice speaking about the Peace Corps, our daily routines, what we do for work, etc.
It’s odd that once you learn the more complex parts of Albanian grammar (they have these personal pronoun abbreviations called clitics that are wicked confusing) the more dumb I feel. It’s supposed to make more sense as we go along, right? Wrong. Though I know I am making great progress, I think I have more of a knowledge of what I have been doing wrong all along and that stresses me out a little.
Thinking back to the few weeks before I left for Albania (now seems like so long ago!), I know many of you asked me about the language. At the time I didn’t have any real answers because I had no idea what I was getting myself into. Yes – Albanian is its own strain of the indo-european language group. No – I don’t know anything else about it. No – I probably won’t use it after the peace corps because only about 5million people in Kosovo, Albania, Greece and the US speak it.
In the spirit of sharing what we are all going through, I’d like to point out a few of the oddities of learning Shqip (or “languages shqip” as my host sister calls it) as an English speaker:
1. Many words are the same but mean different things.
- For example: pullë (postage stamp), pulë (hen), and pyll (forest) are all pronounced exactly the same. An ë on the end of a word is usually silent.
- Djath= both cheese and left
- Qep = to sew and onion
- Vesh = to get dressed and ear
- Qai (to cry) and çai (tea) are pronounced exactly the same
- Pres= both to cut and to wait
- The word for foot and leg are the same, the words for fingers and toes are the same, the word for niece/nephew and grandchild are the same. On the other hand, Shqip has two words for Aunt and two words for Uncle – distinguishing between the mothers and the fathers side.
2. There are many many short words in Albanian. You can form entire sentences with two letter words. These don’t make any sense, but just for example: Unë do të ha me ty dhe do të lë me të. (I am going to eat with you and leave with him). Ai ka një dhi të re që ka një sy të zi. (he has a new goat with one black eye). If you haven’t already noticed, the word të can be a personal pronoun, an article for an adjective (depending on the case), an article for possession, and is part of any future tense or subjunctive tense verb. These can all occur in the same sentence.
3. Cases. Clitics. Cases. Albanian has five cases. This means nouns can potentially have 10 different endings. Clitics are these short forms of accusative and dative pronouns that are really unique but very annoying. For example: “e di” means “I know it.” It is the short form of “Unë e di atë.” The little “e” is a short form of “atë” and must go before the verb – it’s a clitic! Surprise, you can say the pronoun twice at once, but don’t need to except sometimes….if you are confused, so am I.
4. Plurals are so confusing….when I am listening to people speak it is very difficult to pick out what is plural and what isn’t. Most of the time it seems like words are made plural by adding an “ë” to the end. To review: when ë is added to the end of a word it is silent. Sweet.
5. Some favorite words:
bubullimë = thunder
xizëlloj = lightning bug
udhëkryq = crossroads
byrzylyk = bracelet
buzëkuqi = lipstick
shkëlqyeshem = great!
shumëngjureshë = mulitcolored
kikirik = peanut
On the up side, I met my Albanian counterpart yesterday and we were able to communicate almost entirely in Shqip for about an hour about work and life. I think we exhausted my vocabulary in that time, but at least we understood each other okay. I am off to Lezhe for a 3 day visit today to meet people and check out the city before I move for real in about 2.5 weeks.