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Despite its Indo-European affiliation and presence in the Balkans since ancient times, it is difficult to pinpoint the exact ancestry of the Albanian language because of the radical transformations that have taken place within it through the centuries.Among these transformations has been a substantial reduction in word length and extreme morphological alterations.It is estimated that about one-hundred thousand people from the traditional Italo-Albanian communities in southern Italy can still speak Albanian.Figures for Albanian settlements in Greece are unavailable because the Greek government does not acknowledge the existence of an Albanian minority there.In addition, there are about two-hundred thousand Albanians, mostly from Kosovo, living in central Europe (mainly Switzerland and Germany).In the last ten years, Albanians have emigrated to most other countries in Europe, as well as the United States, Canada, and Australia. The Albanian language, shqip , is Indo-European, although it is not a member of any of the major branches of the Indo-European family.To the east of the Republic of Albania is the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, one-third of which, along the Albanian border, has an Albanian majority.

The theory of the Illyrian origin of the Albanian people is the one most widely accepted in Albania and has been raised to the level of a national and state ideology.

The Albanologist Maximilian Lambertz (1882–1963) preferred a connection with the Albanian shqipe or shqiponjë ("eagle"), which is the symbol of Albania.

The latter explanation may, however, simply be a folk etymology or constitute the reason why Albanians identify themselves with the eagle.

Kosovo, which the Kosovo Albanians have declared to be a free and sovereign republic and which the Serbs insist must remain an integral part of Serbia, has about 90 percent Albanian speakers and 10 percent Serb speakers, with minorities of Turks, Rom, Montenegrins, Croats, and Cherkess.

The Albanian enclaves of Presheva (Presevo) and Bujanovc (Bujanovac) are in southern Serbia, not far from Kosovo.

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