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What does a linguist think of Albanian as he first starts to study it?
As someone who’s both Greek and who was looking for things about the Balkan Sprachbund, I had the same reactions. With the added component of “… God, this is just like Greek” a lot of the time.
(That can be superficial. I know that Macedonian and Greek both use clitics redundantly as topicalisation—”I know it, the answer.” If you look at the fine print though, the pragmatic nuances are rather different. Still, superficialities are what a typologist deals with.)
What else? Lots of moods and cases and inflections: it looks very old-school Indo-European morphologically. Lots of Latin in the vocabulary, but it’s very well hidden through sound change. Interesting sociolinguistics, with the defeat of southern Geg by southern Tosk. (But then, I read Martin Camaj’s grammar, and Camaj never got over Hoxha imposing Gjirokastër Albanian as the norm.) Fair bit of dialectal diversity, with some quite noticeable deviations in Arvanitika, and to a lesser extent (I think) Arbëresh.
I think for a Greek the bit that’s hardest to accept is that ll and l, gj and g, q and k, are really distinct phonemes: we have the phones for <l, gj, q> in Standard Greek as palatalised allophones of <ll, g, k>, so we just assume they’re allophones everywhere.
(Which is why I kept mispronouncing the Spanish for Los Angeles as [los ançeles]. Very hard for a Greek to say [anxeles].)