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Faroese language

Faroese is a West Nordic or West Scandinavian language spoken by about 48,000 people in the Faroe Islands and about 25,000 in Denmark. In total, about 80,000 people speak it. It is one of two insular Scandinavian languages (the other is Icelandic), which have their origins in the Old Norse language spoken in Scandinavia in the Viking Age.

Faroese (Føroyskt)
Spoken in: Denmark
Region: Faroe Islands, Denmark
Total speakers: 80,000
Ranking: Not in top 100
Genetic classification: Indo-European
  North Germanic
   West Scandinavian
Official status
Official language of: Faroe Islands
Regulated by: -
Language codes
ISO 639-1 fo
ISO 639-2 foe

Until the 15th Century, Faroese had a similar orthography to Icelandic and Norwegian, but after the Reformation, the ruling Danes outlawed its use in schools, churches and official documents, i.e the main places where written languages survive in an essentially illiterate society. The Islanders continued using the language in ballads, folktales, and everyday life. This maintained a rich spoken tradition, but for 300 years, this was not reflected in text.

As a written language, Modern Faroese has only existed since a standard was published in 1854 by Venceslaus Ulricus Hammershaimb . Although this would have been an opportunity to create a phonetically true orthography, as in Welsh, he produced an orthography consistent with having a continuous written tradition to the Old Norse language. The letter ­, for example, has no phonemes attached to it. Also, although the letter 'm' corresponds to the bilabial nasal as it does in English, in the Dative ending -inum, it corresponds to the alveolar nasal 'n' due to phonological assimilation .

Hammershaimb's grammar was met with some opposition, for being so complicated, and a rival orthography was devised by Jakob Jakobsen . Jakobsen's grammar was closer to the spoken language, but was never taken up by the masses.

In 1937, Faroese replaced Danish as the official language of the Faroe Islands.


(all languages)
North Germanic
West Scandinavian

Further literature

  • W.B. Lockwood: An Introduction to Modern Faroese, Tˇrshavn (Faroes) 1977 (no ISBN, 244 pages) [(4th printing 2002)]

External links

Last updated: 10-24-2004 05:10:45