The Albanian language is composed of many dialects, divided into two major groups: Gheg and Tosk. The Shkumbin river is roughly the geographical dividing line, with Gheg spoken north of the Shkumbin and Tosk south of it.
The characteristics of the Albanian dialects Tosk and Gheg, in the treatment of the native and loanwords from other languages, have led to the conclusion that the dialectal split preceded the Slavic migration to the Balkans.
According to the view of Demiraj, during the process of dialect split Albanian populations were roughly in their present location, while Eric Hamp notes that "it must be relatively old, that is, dating back into the post-Roman first millennium. As a guess, it seems possible that this isogloss reflects a spread of the speech area, after the settlement of the Albanians in roughly their present location, so that the speech area straddled the Jireček Line".
Gheg is divided into four sub-dialects: Northwest Gheg, Northeast Gheg, Central Gheg, and Southern Gheg. Northwest Gheg is spoken throughout Montenegro, northwestern Kosovo (west of Peć), Lezhë, northwestern Mirditë, Pukë, and Shkodër. Northeast Gheg is spoken throughout most of Kosovo, Preševo, Has, northeastern Mirditë, Kukës, Tropojë, and northern Tetovo. Central Gheg is spoken in Debar, Gostivar, Krujë, Peshkopi, southern Mirditë, Mat, eastern Struga, Kumanovo, and southern Tetovo. Southern Gheg is spoken in Durrës, northern Elbasan, northern Peqin, Kavajë, northwest Struga, and Tirana. One fairly divergent dialect is the Upper Reka dialect, which is however classified as Central Gheg. There is also a diaspora dialect in Croatia, the Arbanasi dialect.
- No rhotacism: Proto-Albanian *-n- remains -n- (e.g. râna "sand").
- Proto-Albanian *ō becomes vo.
- Nasal vowels: Gheg retains the nasal vowels of late Proto-Albanian and the late Proto-Albanian *â plus a nasal remains â (e.g. nândë "nine"). Although, the quality of the vowel varies by dialect, [ɑ̃], [ɒ̃], [ɔ̃], etc. Some Northeast and Northwest Gheg dialects preserve the nasal in words such as [pɛ̃s] "five" while other Gheg dialects do not, [pɛs] "five".
- Monophthongization: Occurs in some dialects of Shkodër in a few words, e.g. [vø̞ː] voe "egg" and [hɛ̞ː] hae "food".
- Phonological vowel length: There is often phonological vowel length in most Gheg dialects. Some dialects of Shkodër have a three length distinction in vowels, for example, short: [pɛ̃nˠ] "yoke", long: [pɛ̃ːnˠ] "pen", and extra-long: [pɛ̃ːːnˠ] "yokes".
- a-vowel: In some dialects occurring in some certain words a may become a diphthong (e.g. [bəaɫ] for ballë "forehead") or become [æ] (e.g. [læɾɡ] for larg "far").
- ë-vowel: Final -ë drops and often lengthens the preceding vowel.
- i-vowel: The i vowel in the word dhi (goat) can be realized as various vowels in the Central Gheg dialects: [ðəi] (Krujë), [ðei] (Mountainous Krujë), [ðɛi] or [ðei] (Mat), as well as [ðai] or [ðɔi] in other regions.
- o-vowel: The o derounds to [ʌ] in some words in some dialects (e.g. [sʌt] for sot "today" in Krujë and among some Muslim speakers in Shkodër).
- u-vowel: The u vowel in different dialects occurring some words may vary, for example rrush "grape" may be [ruʃ], [rauʃ], [rɔuʃ], [rɔʃ], or [roʃ].
- y-vowel: The y vowel can remain as y (e.g. dy "two" in much of the Gheg speaking areas), derounded to i (e.g. [di] "two" in Debar), or becomes more open and less rounded to [ʏ̜] (e.g. [dʏ̜] "two" in Mat and Mountainous Krujë). In other words in Central Gheg, the y vowel can become [ø] as in [sø] for sy "eye" (Mat and Krujë).
- bj/pj: These may yield bgj or pq in some dialects (e.g. pqeshkë for pjeshkë "peach" in Negotin).
- bl/pl/fl: These may become bj/pj/fj or even bgj/pq in some dialects (e.g. pjak for plak "old" in Toplica or pqak for plak "old" in Negotin).
- dh and ll: These sounds may interchange in some words in some dialects.
- h: This may drop in any position in some dialects.
- mb/nd: Consonant clusters such as nd vary greatly by sub-dialect: nder "honor" can realized as [ndɛɾ], [nd͉ɛɾ], [ⁿdɛɾ], [dɛɾ], [nɛɾ], or [nˠɛɾ].
- q/gj: In the Gheg dialects, q and gj may remain palatal stops [c] and [ɟ], change to postalveolar affricates [t͡ʃ] and [d͡ʒ] (and thus merging with Albanian ç and xh), change to alveolo-palatal affricates [t͡ɕ] and [d͡ʑ], or even change to alveolo-palatal fricatives [ɕ] and [ʑ].
- tj/dj: These may become palatal stops [c] and [ɟ] in some dialects.
The transitional dialects are spoken in southern Elbasan so-called Greater Elbasan (Cërrik, Dumre, Dushk, Papër, Polis, Qafe, Shpat, Sulovë, Thanë), southern Peqin, northwestern Gramsh, extreme southern Kavajë, northern and central Lushnjë, and southern Librazhd (Bërzeshtë, Rrajcë),and Flazian-Falazdim-whish spoken in north of Albania.
- Rhotacism: Proto-Albanian *-n- becomes -r- (e.g. râra "sand").
- Proto-Albanian *ō becomes vo in the western sub-dialects or va in the central and eastern sub-dialects.
- Nasal vowels: In some sub-dialects of Transitional, some nasal vowels denasalize (e.g. rora "sand" in Sulovë) while in other words the nasals are retained: sŷ "eye" (Dumre, Shpat, Sulovë).
- ô-vowel: Some sub-dialects have ô for â in some words (e.g. ôma "taste" in Sulovë).
- Mb/Nd: Clusters such as mb become m in some dialects (e.g. koma for standard këmba "leg").
Tosk is divided into five sub-dialects: Northern Tosk, Labërisht, Çam, Arvanitika, and Arbëresh. Northern Tosk is spoken in Berat, Fier, extreme southeastern Elbasan, most of Gramsh, Kolonjë, Korçë, Ohër, Përmet, east of the Vjosë river of Tepelenë, southern Struga (western shore of Lake Ohër), Pogradec, Prespa and northern Vlorë. Lab (or Labërisht) is spoken in southern Vlorë, Dukat, Himarë, Mallakastër, Delvinë, west of the Vjosë river of Tepelenë, Gjirokastër and Sarandë. Çam is spoken in southern Sarandë (Konispol, Ksamil, Markat, Xarrë) and in parts of northern Greece. Tosk dialects are spoken by most members of the large Albanian immigrant communities of Egypt, Turkey, and Ukraine. Çamërisht is spoken in North-western Greece, while Arvanitika is spoken by the Arvanites in southern Greece, mainly Peloponnese, Attica, Euboea, and the adjacent islands. Arbëresh is spoken by the Arbëreshë, descendants of 15th and 16th century migrants who settled in southeastern Italy, in small communities in the regions of Sicily, Calabria, Basilicata, Campania, Molise, Abruzzi, and Apulia.
- Rhotacism: Proto-Albanian *-n- becomes -r- (e.g. rëra "sand")
- Proto-Albanian *ō becomes va.
- Nasal vowels: There is a lack of nasal vowels in Tosk (e.g. sy "eye") and Late Proto-Albanian *â plus a nasal becomes ë (e.g. nëntë "nine"). However, nasal vowels have been reported in the Lab dialects of Himarë and Kurvelesh  and separately in the Lab dialect of Borsh.
- e-vowel: The e becomes ë in some dialects in some words qën for qen "dog" in Vjosë.
- ë-vowel: The ë may have several pronunciations depending on dialect: mëz "foal" is [mʌz] in Vuno) while ë is more backed in Labërisht. Final -ë drops in many Tosk dialects and lengthens the preceding vowel.
- y-vowel: The y vowel often derounds to i in the southern dialects Labërisht, Çam, Arvanitika and Arbëresh (e.g. dy "two" becomes di).
- Dh and Ll: These sounds may interchange in some words in some dialects.
- H: This may drop in any position in some dialects.
- Gl/Kl: Some dialects such as Çam, Arberësh, and Arvanitika retain archaic kl and gl in place of q and gj, to which they have shifted in other places (e.g. gjuhë "tongue" is gluhë in Çam, gluhë in Arberësh, and gljuhë in Arvanitika; "klumësh" for "qumësht" "milk" in Arbëresh).
- Rr: Rr becomes r in some dialects.
|Standard||Tosk||Gheg (west, east)||English|
|Shqipëri||Shqipëri||Shqypní / Shqipni||Albania|
|një||një||nji / njâ / njo||one|
|nëntë||nëntë||nândë / nânt / nân||nine|
|është||është||âsht / â, osht / o||is|
|emër||emër / embër||êmën||name|
|gjendje||gjëndje||gjêndje / gjênje||state, condition|
|zog||zog||zog, zëq / zëç / zëg||bird|
|mbret||mbret||mret / regj||king|
|për të punuar||për të punuar||me punue / me punu, për t'punũ||to work|
|rërë||rërë||rânë / ronë||sand|
|qenë||qënë||kjênë / kênë / kânë||to be|
|qumësht||qumësht / klumsht||tâmël / tâmbël||milk|
|mundem||mundem||mûj / mûnem, munëm / mûnëm||I can|
|dhelpër||dhelpër||skile / dhelpen||fox|
- Voice recordings in different cities: https://web.archive.org/web/20120128173513/http://www.albanianlanguage.net/en/dialects4.html
- Gjinari[page needed]
- Brown and Ogilvie (2008), p. 23. The river Shkumbin in central Albania historically forms the boundary between those two dialects, with the population on the north speaking varieties of Geg and the population on the south varieties of Tosk.
- Brown & Ogilvie 2008, p. 23: "In Tosk /a/ before a nasal has become a central vowel (shwa), and intervocalic /n/ has become /r/. These two sound changes have affected only the pre-Slav stratum of the Albanian lexicon, that is the native words and loanwords from Greek and Latin"
- Fortson 2010, p. 392: "The dialectal split into Gheg and Tosk happened sometime after the region become Christianized in the fourth century AD; Christian Latin loanwords show Tosk rhotacism, such as Tosk murgu "monk" (Geg mungu) from Lat. monachus."
- Mallory & Adams 1997, p. 9: "The Greek and Latin loans have undergone most of the far-reaching phonological changes which have so altered the shape of inherited words while Slavic and Turkish words do not show those changes. Thus Albanian must have acquired much of its present form by the time Slavs entered into Balkans in the fifth and sixth centuries AD"
- Demiraj, Shaban. Prejardhja e shqiptarëve në dritën e dëshmive të gjuhës shqipe.(Origin of Albanians through the testimonies of the Albanian language) Shkenca (Tirane) 1999
- Hamp 1963, p. 98: The isogloss is clear in all dialects I have studied, which embrace nearly all types possible. It must be relatively old, that is, dating back into the post-Roman first millennium. As a guess, it seems possible that this isogloss reflects a spread of the speech area, after the settlement of the Albanians in roughly their present location, so that the speech area straddled the Jireček Line.
- Paçarizi 2008, pp. 101–102 harvnb error: no target: CITEREFPaçarizi2008 (help): "Second difference is the existence of nasal vocals in Gheg which is not a characteristic of Tosk even sometimes the nasality is not really stressed. This nasal-oral feature, according to Desnickaja, forms one of the elements which differentiate the Albanian dialects whereas Gjinari cites Dilo Sheper who said that there are also some nasal vocals in some places of Eastern Albania such as in Kurvelesh and Himarë but the information at that time did not confirmed that".
- Totoni 1964, p. 136 harvnb error: no target: CITEREFTotoni1964 (help).
- Brown, Keith; Ogilvie, Sarah (2008). Concise Encyclopedia of Languages of the World. Elsevier. ISBN 978-0-08-087774-7.
- Byron, J. L. Selection among Alternates in Language Standardization: The Case of Albanian. The Hague: Mouton, 1976.
- Domi, Mahir et al. Dialektologjia shqiptare. 5 vols. Tirana, 1971-1987.
- Fortson IV, Benjamin W. (2010). Indo-European Language and Culture: An Introduction (2nd ed.). =Malden: Wiley-Blackwell. ISBN 978-1-4051-0316-9.
- Gjinari, Jorgji. Dialektologjia shqiptare. Pristina: Universiteti, 1970.
- Gjinari, Jorgji, Bahri Beci, Gjovalin Shkurtaj, & Xheladin Gosturani. Atlasi dialektologjik i gjuhës shqipe, vol. 1. Naples: Università degli Studi di Napoli L’Orientali, 2007.
- Hamp, Eric P. (1963). "The Position of Albanian". University of California.
- Lloshi, Xhevat. “Substandard Albanian and Its Relation to Standard Albanian”, in Sprachlicher Standard und Substandard in Südosteuropa und Osteuropa: Beiträge zum Symposium vom 12.-16. Oktober 1992 in Berlin. Edited by Norbert Reiter, Uwe Hinrichs & Jirina van Leeuwen-Turnovcova. Berlin: Otto Harrassowitz, 1994, pp. 184–194.
- Lowman, G. S. "The Phonetics of Albanian", Language, vol. 8, no. 4 (Dec., 1932);271–293.
- Mallory, J. P.; Adams, Douglas Q. (1997). Encyclopedia of Indo-European Culture. Taylor & Francis. ISBN 978-1-884964-98-5.
- Panov, M. and Sidanivoski, J. Gostivarskiot kraj. Gostivar: Sobranie na opštinata, 1970.
- Vehbiu, Ardian. “Standard Albanian and the Gheg Renaissance: A Sociolinguistic Perspective”, International Journal of Albanian Studies 1 (1997): 1–14.