The language spoken by approximately 3 million people in Albania and by smaller numbers of ethnic Albanians in other parts of the southern Balkans, along the east coast of Italy and in Sicily, in southern Greece, and in Germany, Sweden, the United States, Ukraine, and Belgium. It constitutes a branch of the Indo-European family of languages. Albanian shows no obvious close affinity to any other Indo-European language; it is the sole modern survivor of its own subgroup.

The two principal dialects, Gheg in the north and Tosk in the south, are separated roughly by the ShkumbinRiver. All of the Albanian dialects spoken in Italian and Greek enclaves are of the Tosk variety and seem to be related most closely to the dialect of Cameria in the extreme south of Albania. A few isolated outlying dialects of south Tosk origin are spoken in Bulgaria and Turkish Thrace but are of unclear date. The Albanian dialects of Istria and of Syrmia have become extinct.

The official language, written in a standard Roman alphabet adopted in 1909, was based on the south Gheg dialect of Elbasan from the beginning of the Albanian state until World War II and since has been modelled on Tosk. In Yugoslavia, Albanian speakers in the region of Kosovo in Serbia and in Macedonia speak eastern varieties of Gheg but since 1974 have widely adopted a common orthography with Albania.