The national and official language of the Faroe Islands is Faroese. The language is spoken only by approximately 75,000 - 80,000 people throughout the world.
Besides the Inhabitants of the Faroe Islands, an estimated 25,000 people living in Denmark and 5,000 in Iceland speak the Faroese language. The Faroese language is one of the most important aspects of Faroese culture and identity.
The Faroese people are conscious of the need to preserve their language by keeping it resilient in the face of global influences. Research and development of the Faroese language is a high political priority of the government.
The History of the Faroese Language
The first recorded settlers in the Faroe Islands were Irish monks (papar). It is, therefore, possible to assume that one of the first languages spoken in the islands was some form of Old Irish.
Faroese is a Nordic language, which derives from the language of the Norsemen who settled the Faroe Islands in the viking age. Norse settlers arrived in the middle of the 9th century, bringing their West Norse language, which was spoken in Scandinavia and by the Norse people in the British Isles. A distinct Faroese language evolved from the Norse language, between the 9th and the 15th centuries.
The Faroese language is closely related to Icelandic, Norwegian, Danish and Swedish. Speakers of the Nordic languages will notice familiar words and grammatical structures in the Faroese language. Faroese is similar in grammar to Icelandic and Old Norse, but closer in pronunciation to Norwegian.
However, many of the Norse settlers in the islands were descendants of Norse settlers Irish Sea region. Also, Norsemen often married women from the Irish Sea region before settling in the islands. As a result, the Gaelic language has had some influence on Faroese. There is some debatable evidence of Gaelic language in Faroese: For example, the names of places such as, Mykines, Stóra Dímun, Lítla Dímun and Argir have been hypothesized to contain Celtic roots.
Until the 15th century, Faroese had an orthography similar to Icelandic and Norwegian. But after the Reformation in 1536 the ruling Danes outlawed the use of the Faroese language in schools, churches and official documents. The Faroese people continued to use the language in ballads, folktales, and everyday life. This maintained a rich spoken tradition, but for almost 300 years the Faroese language was not used in written form.
The birth of modern Faroese written language
Venceslaus Ulricus Hammersheimb (1819-1909), a Lutheran minister and folklorist, created a spelling system for the Faroese language in 1846 and established the modern orthography of Faroese. But up until 1938, schools and churches were generally only permitted to use the Danish language. In order to use Faroese for church services permission was necessary. Schools generally used Danish, but in some educational instances, especially when dealing with young children, the Faroese language was allowed. In 1938, the Faroese and Danish received equal status in schools and churches.
In 1948 the Home Rule Act of the Faroe Islands came in to force. The Act recognised Faroese as being the principal language and Faroese became the official language of the Faroe Islands.
Officially, Danish is the second language and is taught in schools at an early age. English is the also taught in schools and is spoken by most people in the Faroe Islands. Other languages such as German, French, Spanish and are taught in the elementary and secondary schools.
As an advisory institution and regulator in language matters, the Language Committee of the Faroe Islands (Málráðið) was founded in April 1985.
Endeavours to establish Faroese language within all sectors of society, led in the1960s to the establishment of Fróðskaparsetur Føroya - The Faroese University. The aim was to create a scientific environment and offer a framework to study and teach Faroese language and literature at university level.
World record number of books published
The first book in the Faroese language was printed in 1822 when H.C. Lyngbye published ” Færöiske Quæder om Sigurd Fofnersbane og hans ætt ” (Faroese Heroic Ballads of Sigurd, the Slayer of the Dragon Fafnir and His Kindred), a transcript of a ballad derived from the extensive Faroese oral tradition, where songs are performed as part of the traditional Faroese chain dans.
The first Faroese novel was Bábelstornið (The Tower of Babel) by Rasmus Rasmussen. It was published in 1909 under the pseudonym Regin í Líð.
Over the last 100 years an active and productive literary scene has evolved in the Faroe Islands, and up to 2023, over 8,000 books have been published in Faroese. In 2022 194 books were published in Faroese, 104 original Faroese text and 90 translations. Of these publications 30 were fiction, 67 non-fiction, 40 textbooks and 57 children’s books.
Measured by the size of the population there is no other country in the world that publishes more books than the Faroe Islands. In fact the Faroe Islands can boast of a world record as every week of the year four to five books written in the Faroese language are published and find their way to not only a large reading audience in the Faroe Islands but increasingly also abroad.
The Faroese long tradition of ballads and songs have kept the Faroese language alive and vibrant for centuries. Today, the Faroese people continue to sing traditional and contemporary songs, and Faroese artists from all genres of music compose and perform songs in Faroese.
Free Faroese online dictionaries
The publishing house Sprotin has 16 different online dictionaries in Faroese and most world languages available on the website www.sprotin.fo. The dictionary service is admission free. The platform has dictionaries in English, Danish, German, Russian, Spanish and Faroese monolingual dictionary – and more dictionaries are planned.
Need to translate a word into Faroese? Use the free translation service provided by Sprotin.
Learn Faroese online for free
Foreigners, immigrants and language Enthusiasts and aficionados alike can learn Faroese through a free online language course. The website Faroese Online was launched in September 2016 and offers interactive visual and listening exercises based on themes relevant to everyday-life in the Faroe Islands. The learning material is for foreigners with no prior knowledge of Faroese language.
The website is the result of a partnership between the University of the Faroe Islands and the University of Iceland.
Try Faroese Online here.
International Summer Institute in Faroese Language and Culture
International Courses in Faroese The University of the Faroe Islands organises a regular International Summer Institute on the Faroese Language.
The course involves an intensive four-week course in Faroese, with lectures and excursions also providing an insight into other aspects of contemporary Faroese culture, society and history. Advice is offered on accommodation for the course and travel grants are available
You'll find more information on the Summer Institute on the website of the University ofd the Faroe Islands, www.setur.fo