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Faroese language

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Pronunciation[ˈføːɹɪst ˈmɔaːl]
Native toFaroe Islands
EthnicityFaroe Islanders
Native speakers
69,000 (2015)[1]
Early forms
Official status
Official language in
Faroe Islands
Recognised minority
language in
Regulated byFaroese Language Board Føroyska málnevndin
Language codes
ISO 639-1fo
ISO 639-2fao
ISO 639-3fao
Faroese is classified as Vulnerable by the UNESCO Atlas of the World's Languages in Danger
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters. For an introductory guide on IPA symbols, see Help:IPA.

Faroese[a] (/ˌfɛərˈz, ˌfær-/ FAIR-oh-EEZ, FARR-;[3] endonym: føroyskt [ˈføːɹɪst ˈmɔaːl]) is a North Germanic language spoken as a first language by about 69,000 Faroe Islanders, of which 21,000 reside mainly in Denmark and elsewhere.

It is one of five languages descended from Old West Norse spoken in the Middle Ages; the others include Norwegian, Icelandic, and the extinct Norn and Greenlandic Norse. Faroese and Icelandic, its closest extant relative, are not easily mutually intelligible in speech, but the written languages resemble each other quite closely, largely owing to Faroese's etymological orthography.[4]


The Sheep letter (Faroese: 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 especially Faroese.[5]
The approximate extent of Old Norse and related languages in the early 10th century:
  Other Germanic languages with which Old Norse still retained some mutual intelligibility
The Fámjin stone, a Faroese runestone

Around 900 AD, 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.[6] As a result, the Irish language has had some influence on both Faroese and Icelandic.

There is speculation about 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.[7] 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.[8]

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.

Faroese ceased to be a written language after the Danish–Norwegian Reformation of the early 16th century, with Danish replacing Faroese as the language of administration and education.[9] 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.

In 1823, the Danish Bible Society published a diglot of the Gospel of Matthew, with Faroese on the left and Danish on the right.

Venceslaus Ulricus Hammershaimb and the Icelandic grammarian and politician Jón Sigurðsson published a written standard for Modern Faroese in 1854, which still exists.[10] They set a standard for the orthography of the language, based on its Old Norse roots and similar to that of Icelandic. The main purpose of this was for the spelling to represent the diverse dialects of Faroese in equal measure. Additionally, it had the advantages of being etymologically clear and keeping the kinship with the Icelandic written language. The actual pronunciation, however, often differs considerably 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.[11]

In 1908, Scripture Gift Mission published the Gospel of John in Faroese.

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 Faroe Islands. However, Faroese did not become the common language of media and advertising until the 1980s.[citation needed] Today, Danish is considered a foreign language, although around 5% of residents on the Faroes learn it as a first language,[12] and it is taught in school from the first grade.[citation needed]

In 2017, the tourist board Visit Faroe Islands launched a website entitled Faroe Islands Translate. Text can be entered in thirteen languages, including English, Chinese, Russian, Japanese, French, Spanish, and Portuguese. Instead of an instant machine translation being given, the text goes to a volunteer who will provide a live video translation, or else a recorded one later. The aim of this project was to get Faroese featured on Google Translate. [13]

Old Faroese


Old Faroese (miðaldarføroyskt, ca. mid-14th to mid-16th centuries) is a form of Old Norse spoken in medieval times in the Faroe Islands. The most crucial aspects of the development of Faroese are diphthongisation and palatalisation.[14]

There is not enough data available to establish an accurate chronology of Faroese, but a rough one may be developed through comparison to the chronologies of Old Icelandic and Old Norwegian. In the 12th/13th centuries, á and ǫ́ merged as /ɔː/; later on at the beginning of the 14th century, delabialization took place: y, øy, au > /i, ɔi, ɛi/; í and ý merged in addition to i and y, but in the case of í and ý, it appears that labialisation took place instead as is documented by later development to /ʊi/. Further, the language underwent a palatalisation of k, g and sk before Old Norse e, i, y, ø, au > /kʲ, ɡʲ, skʲ/ > /cᶜ̧, ɟᶨ, ɕcᶜ̧/ > /tʃʰ, tʃ, ʃ/. Before the palatalisation é and ǽ merged as /ɛː/ and approximately in the same period epenthetic u is inserted into word-final /Cr/ and /CrC/ clusters.

A massive quantity shift also operated in Middle Faroese. In the case of skerping, it took place after delabialization but before loss of post-vocalic ð and g /ɣ/. The shift of hv /hw/ to /kw/, the deletion of /h/ in (remaining) word-initial /h/–sonorant clusters (hr, hl, hn > r, l, n), and the dissolution of þ (þ > t; þ > h in demonstrative pronouns and adverbs)[15] appeared before the end of the 13th century. Another undated change is the merger of ǫ, ø and ǿ into /ø/; pre-nasal ǫ, ǫ́ > o, ó. enk, eng probably became eing, eink in the 14th century; the development of a to /ɛ/ before ng, nk appeared after the palatalisation of k, g, and sk had been completed, such a change is quite a recent development, as well as change Cve > Cvø.

Development of vowels from Old Norse to Modern Faroese[16]
9th century
(Old Norse)
up to 14th century
(Early Faroese)
14th–16th centuries
(Old Faroese)
17th century
(Late Old Faroese)
20th century
(New Faroese)
    North South North South North South  
    long short long short long short long short  
i and y /i/ /iː/ /iː/ /ɪ/ /iː/ /ɪ/ [iː] [ɪ] [iː] [ɪ] i, 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
ǫ /ɔ͔/ /ɔ͔ː/ 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
a /a/ /ɛː/ /ɛː/ /æ/ /ɛː/ /æ/ [ɛa] [a] [ɛa] [a] a
Long vowel -> Diphthong
í and ý /yː/ /ʊi/ /ʊi/ /ʊi/ /ʊi/ /ʊi/ [ui] [ʊi] [ui] [ʊi] í, ý
é and ǽ /ɛː/ /ɛː/ /eː/ /ɛəː/ /ɛə/ /eː/ /ɛ/ [ɛa] [a] [eː] [ɛ] æ
ǿ /œː/ /œː/ /øː/ /œ/ /øː/ /œ/ [øː] [œ] [øː] [ʏ] ø
ú /uː/ /ʉu/ /ʉu/ /ʉʏ/ /ʉu/ /ʉʏ/ [ʉu] [ʏ] [ʉu] ú
ó /oː/ /ɜu/ /ɔu/ /ɜu/ /ɜ/ /ɔu/ /ɔ/ [œu, ɛu] [œ] [ɔu] [ɔ] ó
á and ǫ́ /ɔː/ /ɔː/ /ɔː/ /ɔ/ /ɔː/ /ɔ/ [ɔa] [ɔ] [ɔa] á
True diphthongs
au /ɶu/ /ɛi/ /ɛi/ /ɛi/ /ɛi/ /ɛi/ [ɛi] [ɛ] [ɛi] [ɛ] ey
øy /œy/ /ɔi/ /ɔi/ /ɔi/ /ɔi/ /ɔi/ [ɔi] [ɔ] [ɔi] [ɔ] oy
ei /æi/ /ai/ /ai/ /ai/ /ai/ /ai/ [ai] [ai] 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 most 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.

Faroese vowel alternations[17]
Long vowel Short vowel
/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 [ˈtʰɔltɪ] 'endured'
/a/ Kanada [ˈkʰaːnata] 'Canada' land [lant] 'land'
Long vowel Short vowel
/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 Icelandic and Danish the feature of maintaining a contrast between stops based exclusively on aspiration, not voicing. 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 Glottal
voiceless voiced voiceless voiced voiceless voiced voiceless voiced voiceless voiced
Nasal m n (ɳ̊) (ɳ) ɲ̊ ɲ ŋ̊ ŋ
Stop plain p t (ʈ) k
aspirated tʃʰ
Fricative central f v s (ʂ) ʃ h
lateral ɬ
Approximant central ɹ (ɻ) j w
lateral l (ɭ)

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/ /eː/ /ɛ/ /iː/ /ɪ/ and /ɛi/
  • /v/ becomes [f] before voiceless consonants
  • /sk/ becomes [ʃ] after /ɛi, ai, ɔi/ and before /j/
  • /ɹ/ becomes retroflex before consonants in consonant clusters, yielding the allophones ɭ ʈ ɳ] while /ɹ/ itself becomes [ɻ], example: /rt/ is realized as [ɻ̊ʈ].
  • Pre-occlusion of original /ll/ to [tl] and /nn/ to [tn].
  • Pre-aspiration of original voiceless stops [ʰp ʰt ʰk ʰtʃ] after non-high long vowels and diphthongs /ɛaː/ /ɔaː/ /eː/ /oː/ /øː/ or when a voiceless stop is followed by /n, l, r/. All long voiceless stops are pre-aspirated when doubled or in clusters [ʰpː ʰtː ʰkː ʰtʃː].



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 Icelandic Norwegian (nynorsk) Norwegian (bokmål) Danish Swedish German Dutch Frisian English
Vælkomin Velkomin Velkomen Velkommen Velkommen Välkommen Willkommen Welkom Wolkom Welcome
Farvæl Far vel; Farðu heill Farvel, Far vel Farvel Farvel Farväl Lebwohl Vaarwel Farwol Farewell
Hvussu eitur tú? Hvað heitir þú? Kva (kvat) heiter du? Hva heter du? Hvad hedder du? Vad heter du? Wie heißt du? Hoe heet je? Wat is dyn namme? What is your name?
Hvussu gongur? Hvernig gengur? Korleis gjeng / går det? Hvordan går det? Hvordan går det? Hur går det? Wie geht's? Hoe gaat het? Hoe giet it? How is it going? (How goes it?)
Hvussu gamal (m) / gomul (f) ert tú? Hversu gamall (m) / gömul (f) ert þú? Kor gamal er du? Hvor gammel er du? Hvor gammel er du? Hur gammal är du? Wie alt bist du? Hoe oud ben je? Hoe âld bisto? How old are you?
Reyður / reyð / reytt Rauður / rauð / rautt Raud(t) Rød(t) Rød(t) Rött / Röd Rot Rood / Rode Read Red
Bláur / blá / blátt Blár / blá / blátt Blå(tt) Blå(tt) Blå(t) Blå(tt) Blau Blauw(e) Blau(e) Blue
Hvítur / hvít / hvítt Hvítur / hvít / hvítt Kvit(t) Hvit(t) Hvid(t) Vit(t) Weiß Wit(te) Wyt White

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)
  • Faroeseonline.com


  • 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. ^ While the spelling Faeroese is also seen, Faroese is the spelling used in grammars, textbooks, scientific articles and dictionaries between Faroese and English.


  1. ^ Faroese at Ethnologue (19th ed., 2016) Closed access icon
  2. ^ Sandøy, H., Frå tre dialektar til tre språk. In: Gunnstein Akselberg og Edit Bugge (red.), Vestnordisk språkkontakt gjennom 1200 år. Tórshavn, Fróðskapur, 2011, pp. 19-38. [1]
  3. ^ "Faroese". Oxford English Dictionary (Online ed.). Oxford University Press. Retrieved 8 May 2019. (Subscription or participating institution membership required.)
  4. ^ Barbour, Stephen; Carmichael, Cathie (2000). Language and Nationalism in Europe. OUP Oxford. p. 106. ISBN 978-0-19-158407-7.
  5. ^ "History and Diachronic Variations - Medieval sources" (PDF). wanthalf.saga.cz (part of a book). Archived (PDF) from the original on 2016-03-05. Retrieved 22 October 2015.
  6. ^ "Letter from the Faroes - Lost History of the Sheep Islands - Archaeology Magazine - March/April 2023". Archaeology Magazine. Retrieved 2024-07-07.
  7. ^ "Faroese Language - Learn about the Faroe Islands language". faroeislands.fo. Archived from the original on 2021-08-16. Retrieved 2021-09-13.
  8. ^ Chr. Matras. Greinaval – málfrøðigreinir. FØROYA FRÓÐSKAPARFELAG 2000
  9. ^ "The Faroese Language". University of Valencia. Retrieved 2017-08-23.
  10. ^ "Faroese language". Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 2017-08-23.
  11. ^ "Jakob Jakobsen (1864-1918)". Snar.fo. Archived from the original on 2014-03-10. Retrieved 2014-04-28.
  12. ^ "Learn Faroese - History". www.101languages.net. Retrieved 2024-07-13.
  13. ^ "Faroe Islands launch live translation service". BBC. 2017-10-06. Archived from the original on Jun 27, 2023.
  14. ^ Bandle, Oskar; Braunmuller, Kurt; Hakon Jahr, Ernst; Karker, Allan; Naumann, Hans-Peter; Teleman, Ulf, eds. (2005). The Nordic languages: An international handbook of the history of the North Germanic languages. Vol. 2. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter. p. 1091. ISBN 3110197065. OCLC 567851019.
  15. ^ Petersen, Hjalmar P., The Change of þ to h in Faroese (PDF)[dead link]
  16. ^ 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 Wikipedia article de:Färöische Sprache
  17. ^ Árnason, Kristján (2011), The Phonology of Icelandic and Faroese, New York: Oxford University Press, p. 68