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Faroese language

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Faroese language

Native to Faroe Islands, Denmark
Native speakers
66,000 (2007)[1]
Latin (Faroese alphabet)
Faroese Braille
Official status
Official language in
 Faroe Islands
Recognised minority
language in
Regulated by Faroese Language Board Føroyska málnevndin
Language codes
ISO 639-1 fo
ISO 639-2 fao
ISO 639-3 fao
Glottolog faro1244[2]
Linguasphere 52-AAA-ab

Faroese[3] (føroyskt, ) is a North Germanic language spoken as a native language by about 66,000 people, 45,000 of whom reside on the Faroe Islands and 21,000 in other areas, mainly Denmark. It is one of five languages descended from Old West Norse spoken in the Middle Ages, the others being Norwegian, Icelandic, and the extinct Norn and Greenlandic Norse. Faroese and Icelandic, its closest extant relative, are not mutually intelligible in speech, but the written languages resemble each other quite closely, largely owing to Faroese's etymological orthography.[4]


The Sheep letter (Seyðabrævið) is the oldest surviving document of the Faroe Islands. Written in 1298 in Old Norse, it contains some words and expressions believed to be ecpecially Faroese.[5]
The Famjin Stone, a Faroese runestone

Around 900, the language spoken in the Faroes was Old Norse, which Norse settlers had brought with them during the time of the settlement of Faroe Islands (landnám) that began in 825. However, many of the settlers were not from Scandinavia, but descendants of Norse settlers in the Irish Sea region. In addition, women from Norse Ireland, Orkney, or Shetland often married native Scandinavian men before settling in the Faroe Islands and Iceland. As a result, the Irish language has had some influence on both Faroese and Icelandic. There is some debatable evidence of Irish language place names in the Faroes: for example, the names of Mykines, Stóra Dímun, Lítla Dímun and Argir have been hypothesized to contain Celtic roots. Other examples of early-introduced words of Celtic origin are: "blak/blaðak" (buttermilk), cf. Middle Irish bláthach; "drunnur" (tail-piece of an animal), cf. Middle Irish dronn; "grúkur" (head, headhair), cf. Middle Irish gruaig; "lámur" (hand, paw), cf. Middle Irish lámh; "tarvur" (bull), cf. Middle Irish tarbh; and "ærgi" (pasture in the outfield), cf. Middle Irish áirge.[6]

Between the 9th and the 15th centuries, a distinct Faroese language evolved, although it was probably still mutually intelligible with Old West Norse, and remained similar to the Norn language of Orkney and Shetland during Norn's earlier phase.

Until the 15th century Faroese had an orthography similar to Icelandic and Norwegian, but after the Reformation in 1536 the ruling Danes outlawed its use in schools, churches and official documents. The islanders continued to use the language in ballads, folktales, and everyday life. This maintained a rich spoken tradition, but for 300 years the language was not used in written form.

This changed when Venceslaus Ulricus Hammershaimb and the Icelandic grammarian and politician Jón Sigurðsson published a written standard for Modern Faroese in 1854, which is still in existence. They set a standard for the orthography of the language, based on its Old Norse roots and similar to that of Icelandic. This had the advantage of being etymologically clear, as well as keeping the kinship with the Icelandic written language. The actual pronunciation, however, often differs from the written rendering. The letter ð, for example, has no specific phoneme attached to it.

Jakob Jakobsen devised a rival system of orthography, based on his wish for a phonetic spelling, but this system was never taken up by the speakers.[7]

In 1937, Faroese replaced Danish as the official school language, in 1938 as the church language, and in 1948 as the national language by the Home Rule Act of the Faroes. However, Faroese did not become the common language of media and advertising until the 1980s. Today Danish is considered a foreign language, although around 5% of residents on the Faroes learn it as a first language, and it is a required subject for students in third grade[8] and up.

Old Faroese

Old Faroese (miðaldarføroyskt, ca. mid. 14th - mid. 16th century) is a form of Old Norse spoken in medieval times in the Faroe Islands. The language shares many features with both Old Icelandic and Old Norwegian; Old Norwegian appears to be closer to Old Faroese, Old Icelandic remained rather archaic compared to other medieval varieties of Old West Norse. The crucial question of development of Faroese is diphthongisation and palatalisation. Unfortunatelly there are not much data to establish chronology of Faroese, but some chronology may be established by analogies in Old Icelandic and Old Norwegian. In 12th/13th century á and ǫ́ merged to /ɔː/, later on at the beginning of the 14th century itacism took place: y, øy, au > /i, ɔi, ɛi/, itacism of ý is not sure, í and ý merged as well as i and y, but in case of í/ý it appears that labilaisation took place instead as is documented by later development to /ʊɪ/. Itacism may be also connected with palatalisation of k, g and sk in front Old Norse e, i, y, au > /kj, ɡj, skj/ > /cç, ɟʝ, ɕcç/ > /ʧh, ʧ, ʃ/. Approximately in the same period é and ǽ merged to /ɛː/ and svarabhakti u is inserted into Cr cluster. The Great Quantity Shift operated in 15th/16th century. In case of skerping it took place after itacism but before loss of post-vocalic ð and g /ɣ/. Changes such as hr, hl, hn > r, l, n; þ > t (but in an unstressed syllable þ > h) and hv > /kw/ appeared before the end of the 13th century. Another undated merger is ǫ and ø > /ø/, but ǫ before a nasal merges with o. Probably in the 14th century enk, eng > eing, eink; development of a to /ɛ/ before ng, nk appeared after palatalisation of k, g, sk has been finished.

Development of vowels from Old Norse to Modern Faroese[9]
9th Century
(Old Norse)
up to 14th Century
(Early Faroese)
14th-16th Century
(Old Faroese)
17th Century
(Late Old Faroese)
20th Century
(New Faroese)
    North South North South North South  
    long long long short long short long short long short  
i /i/ /iː/ /iː/ /ɪ/ /iː/ /ɪ/ [iː] [ɪ] [iː] [ɪ] i
y /i/ /iː/ /iː/ /ɪ/ /iː/ /ɪ/ [iː] [ɪ] [iː] [ɪ] y
e and æ /e/ /eː/ /eː/ /ɛ/ /e/ /ɛ/ [eː] [ɛ] [eː] [ɛ] e
ø /ø/ /øː/ /ø/ /øː/ /œ/ /øː/ /œ/ [øː] [œ] [øː] [ʏ] ø
u /u/ /uː/ /uː/ /ʊ/ /uː/ /ʊ/ [uː] [ʊ] [uː] [ʊ] u
o /o/ /oː/ /o/ /oː/ /ɔ/ /oː/ /ɔ/ [oː] [ɔ] [oː] [ɔ] o
ǫ /ɔ͔/ /øː/ /øː/ /œ/ /øː/ /œ/ [øː] [œ] [øː] [ʏ] ø
a /a/ /ɛː/ aː/ a/ aː/ a/ [ɛa] [a] [ɛa] [a] a
Long vowel -> Diphthong
í /yː/ /ʊɪ/ /ʊɪ/ /ʊɪ̯/ /ʊɪ/ /ʊɪ̯/ [ui] [ʊɪ̯] [ui] [ʊɪ̯] í
ý /yː/ /ʊɪ/ /ʊɪ/ /ʊɪ̯/ /ʊɪ/ /ʊɪ̯/ [ui] [ʊɪ̯] [ui] [ʊɪ̯] ý
é and ǽ /ɛː/ /ɛː/ /eː/ aː/ a/ /eː/ /ɛ/ [ɛa] [a] [eː] [ɛ] æ
ǿ /øː/ /øː/ /øː/ /œ/ /øː/ /œ/ [øː] [œ] [øː] [ʏ] ø
ú /uː/ /ʉu/ /ʉu/ /ʉʏ/ /ʉu/ /ʉʏ̯/ [ʉu] [ʏ] [ʉu] [ʏ] ú
ó /oː/ /ɜu/ /ɔu/ /ɜu/ /ɜ/ /ɔu/ /ɔ/ [ɛu] [ɜ] [ɔu] [ɔ] ó
á and ǫ́ /ɔː/ /ɔː/ aː/ a/ aː/ a/ [ɔa] [ɔ] [ɔa] [ɔ] á
True diphthongs
au /ɶu/ /ɛɪ/ /ɛɪ/ /ɛɪ̯/ /ɛɪ/ /ɛɪ̯/ [ɛi] [ɛ] [ɛi] [ɛ] ey
øy /œy/ /ɔɪ/ /ɔɪ/ /ɔɪ̯/ /ɔɪ/ /ɔɪ̯/ [ɔi] [ɔ] [ɔi] [ɔ] oy
ei /æi/ /aɪ/ /aɪ/ /aɪ̯/ /aɪ/ /aɪ̯/ [ɔi] [ɔ] [ai] [aɪ̯] ei


The Faroese alphabet consists of 29 letters derived from the Latin script:

Majuscule forms (also called uppercase or capital letters)
Minuscule forms (also called lowercase or small letters)
a á b d ð e f g h i í j k l m n o ó p r s t u ú v y ý æ ø


Faroese vowels
Front Central Back
unrounded rounded
short long short long short long short long
Close ɪ ʏ ʊ
Mid ɛ œ øː ɔ
Open a

As with other Germanic languages, Faroese has a large number of vowels, with 26 in total. Vowel distribution is similar to other North Germanic languages in that short vowels appear in closed syllables (those ending in consonant clusters or long consonants) and long vowels appearing in open syllables. Árnason (2011) provides the following alternations:

Faroese vowel alternations[10]
/i/ linur [ˈliːnʊɹ] 'soft' lint [lɪn̥t] 'soft (N.)'
/e/ frekur [ˈfɹeː(ʰ)kʊɹ] 'greedy' frekt [fɹɛʰkt] 'greedy (N.)'
/y/ mytisk [ˈmyːtɪsk] 'mythological' mystisk [ˈmʏstɪsk] 'mysterious'
/ø/ høgur [ˈhøːʋʊɹ~ˈhøœʋʊɹ] 'high (M.)' høgt [hœkt] 'high (N.)'
/u/ gulur [ˈkuːlʊɹ] 'yellow' gult [kʊl̥t] 'yellow (N.)'
/o/ tola [ˈtʰoːla] 'to endure' toldi [ˈtʰɔld̥ɪ] 'endured'
/a/ Kanada [ˈkʰaːnata] 'Canada' land [lant] 'land'
/ʊi/ hvítur [ˈkvʊiːtʊɹ] 'white (M.)' hvítt [kvʊiʰtː] 'white (N.)'
/ɛi/ deyður [ˈteiːjʊɹ] 'dead (M.)' deytt [tɛʰtː] 'dead (N.)'
/ai/ feitur [ˈfaiːtʊɹ] 'fat (M.)' feitt [faiʰtː~fɔiʰtː] 'fat (N.)'
/ɔi/ gloyma [ˈklɔiːma] 'to forget' gloymdi [ˈklɔimtɪ] 'forgot'
/ɛa/ spakur [ˈspɛaː(ʰ)kʊɹ] 'calm (M.)' spakt [spakt] 'calm (N.)'
/ɔa/ vátur [ˈvɔaːtʊɹ] 'wet (M.)' vátt [vɔʰtː] 'wet (N.)'
/ʉu/ fúlur [ˈfʉuːlʊɹ] 'foul (M.)' fúlt [fʏl̥t] 'foul (N.)'
/ɔu/ tómur [ˈtʰɔuːmʊɹ~ˈtʰœuːmʊɹ] 'empty (M.)' tómt [tʰœm̥t~tʰɔm̥t] 'empty (N.)'

Faroese shares with other North Germanic languages the feature of contrasting aspirated and unaspirated stops. Geminated stops may be pre-aspirated in intervocalic and word-final position. *Intervocalically the aspirated consonants become pre-aspirated unless followed by a closed vowel. In clusters, the preaspiration merges with a preceding nasal or apical approximant, rendering them voiceless.

Faroese consonants
Labial Alveolar Retroflex Palatal Velar
Nasal m n ɲ ŋ
Stop p

f s ʂ ʐ ʃ h
v ɹ j w

There are several phonological processes involved in Faroese, including:

  • Nasals generally assume the place of articulation and laryngeal settings of following consonants.
  • Velar stops palatalize to postalveolar affricates before /j/ /e/ /ɛ/ /i/ /ɪ/ and /ɛi/
  • /v/ becomes [f] before voiceless consonants
  • /sk/ becomes [ʃ] after /ɛi, ai, ɔi/ and before /j/
  • /ɹ/ becomes retroflex following consonants in consonant clusters, yielding the allophones [ʂ ɭ ʈ ɳ] while /ɹ/ itself becomes [ɻ], example: /rt/ is realized as [ɻʈ].
  • Pre-occlusion of original /ll/ to [dl] and /nn/ to [dn].


Faroese grammar is related and very similar to that of modern Icelandic and Old Norse. Faroese is an inflected language with three grammatical genders and four cases: nominative, accusative, dative and genitive.

Faroese Words and Phrases in comparison to other Germanic languages
Faroese Norwegian (bokmål) Norwegian (nynorsk) English Frisian Icelandic Danish Swedish German Dutch
Vælkomin Velkommen Velkomen Welcome Wolkom Velkomin Velkommen Välkommen Willkommen Welkom
Farvæl Farvel Farvel Farewell Farwol Far vel; Farðu heill Farvel Farväl Lebewohl Vaarwel
Hvussu eitur tú? Hva heter du? Kva heiter du? What is your name? Wat is dyn namme? Hvað heitir þú? Hvad hedder du? Vad heter du? Wie heißt Du? Hoe heet je?
Hvussu gongur? Hvordan går det? Korleis gjeng/går det? How is it going? (How goes it?) Hoe giet it? Hvernig gengur? Hvordan går det? Hur går det? Wie geht es? Hoe gaat het?
Hvussu gamal(m)/gomul(f) ert tú? Hvor gammel er du? Kor gamal er du? How old are you? Hoe âld bist? Hversu gamall ertu? Hvor gammel er du? Hur gammal är du? Wie alt bist Du? Hoe oud ben je?
Reytt/Reyður Rød(t) Raud(t) Red Read Rautt/rauður/rauð Rød(t) Rött/Röd Rot Rood/Rode
Blátt/bláur Blå(tt) Blå(tt) Blue Blau(e) Blátt/blár/blá Blå(t) Blå(tt) Blau Blauw(e)
Hvítt/hvítur Hvit(t) Kvit(t) White Wyt Hvítt/hvítur/hvít Hvid(t) Vit(t) Weiß Wit(te)

See also

Further reading

To learn Faroese as a language

  • Adams, Jonathan & Hjalmar P. Petersen. Faroese: A Language Course for beginners Grammar & Textbook. Tórshavn, 2009: Stiðin (704 p.) ISBN 978-99918-42-54-7
  • W. B. Lockwood: An Introduction to Modern Faroese. Tórshavn, 1977. (no ISBN, 244 pages, 4th printing 2002)
  • Michael Barnes: Faroese Language Studies Studia Nordica 5, Supplementum 30. Tórshavn, 2002. (239 pages) ISBN 99918-41-30-X
  • Höskuldur Thráinsson (Þráinsson), Hjalmar P. Petersen, Jógvan í Lon Jacobsen, Zakaris Svabo Hansen: Faroese. An Overview and Reference Grammar. Tórshavn, 2004. (500 pages) ISBN 99918-41-85-7
  • Richard Kölbl: Färöisch Wort für Wort. Bielefeld 2004 (in German)


  • Johan Hendrik W. Poulsen: Føroysk orðabók. Tórshavn, 1998. (1483 pages) ISBN 99918-41-52-0 (in Faroese)
  • Annfinnur í Skála / Jonhard Mikkelsen: Føroyskt / enskt – enskt / føroyskt, Vestmanna: Sprotin 2008. (Faroese–English / English–Faroese dictionary, 2 volumes)
  • Annfinnur í Skála: Donsk-føroysk orðabók. Tórshavn 1998. (1369 pages) ISBN 99918-42-22-5 (Danish–Faroese dictionary)
  • M.A. Jacobsen, Chr. Matras: Føroysk–donsk orðabók. Tórshavn, 1961. (no ISBN, 521 pages, Faroese–Danish dictionary)
  • Hjalmar Petersen, Marius Staksberg: Donsk–Føroysk orðabók. Tórshavn, 1995. (879 p.) ISBN 99918-41-51-2 (Danish–Faroese dictionary)
  • Eigil Lehmann: Føroysk–norsk orðabók. Tórshavn, 1987 (no ISBN, 388 p.) (Faroese–Norwegian dictionary)
  • Jón Hilmar Magnússon: Íslensk-færeysk orðabók. Reykjavík, 2005. (877 p.) ISBN 9979-66-179-8 (Icelandic–Faroese dictionary)
  • Gianfranco Contri: Dizionario faroese-italiano = Føroysk-italsk orðabók. Tórshavn, 2004. (627 p.) ISBN 99918-41-58-X (Faroese–Italian dictionary)

Faroese Literature and Research

  • V.U. Hammershaimb: Færøsk Anthologi. Copenhagen 1891 (no ISBN, 2 volumes, 4th printing, Tórshavn 1991) (editorial comments in Danish)
  • Tórður Jóansson: English loanwords in Faroese. Tórshavn, 1997. (243 pages) ISBN 99918-49-14-9
  • Petersen, Hjalmar P. 2009. Gender Assignment in Modern Faroese. Hamborg. Kovac
  • Petersen, Hjalmar P. 2010. The Dynamics of Faroese-Danish Language Contact. Heidelberg. Winter
  • Faroese/German anthology "From Djurhuus to Poulsen – Faroese Poetry during 100 Years", academic advice: Turið Sigurðardóttir, linear translation: Inga Meincke (2007), ed. by Paul Alfred Kleinert



  1. ^ Faroese at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. ^
  3. ^ While the spelling Faeroese is also seen, Faroese is the spelling used in grammars, textbooks, scientific articles and dictionaries between Faroese and English.
  4. ^ Language and nationalism in Europe, p. 106, Stephen Barbour, Cathie Carmichael, Oxford University Press, 2000
  5. ^
  6. ^ Chr. Matras. Greinaval – málfrøðigreinir. FØROYA FRÓÐSKAPARFELAG 2000
  7. ^, Jakob Jakobsen (1864-1918)
  8. ^ – Homepage Database of laws on the Faroe Islands (Faroese)
  9. ^ According to Hjalmar Petersen in: Tórður Jóansson: English loanwords in Faroese. Tórshavn: Fannir 1997, S. 45 (in red: later corrections, 21. July 2008). In green: corrections of German WorldHeritage article Färöische Sprache
  10. ^

External links

  • Føroysk orðabók (the Faroese–Faroese dictionary of 1998 online)
  • Sprotin (complete English-Faroese/Faroese-English and Danish–Faroese online dictionary)
  • Faroese online syntactic analyser and morphological analyser/generator
  • – Faroese Language Committee (Official site with further links)
  • 'Hover & Hear' Faroese pronunciations, and compare with equivalents in English and other Germanic languages.
  • Useful Faroese Words & Phrases for Travelers
  • How to count in Faroese
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