Faroe Islands Language – A Love Story

By Verified Expert

What language is spoken in the Faroe Islands? Is there a Faroese language? Are there similarities between Faroese and English? Is it hard to learn Faroese? Continue reading and learn everything about the Faroese language.

Faroe Islands has its own language. The language of the Faroe Islands is called Faroese and it is the official language of the Faroe Islands.

Faroese is closely related to Icelandic and to Middle Norwegian, the language used in Norway around 1400. Today Faroe Islanders speak a derivative of Old Norse making it a Nordic language deriving from the Norsemen who settled the islands more than thousand years ago.

Sørvágsvatn - Guide to Faroe Islands
You will see the Lake Leitisvatn hanging above the sea from Trælanípa just a few kilometres away from where th efather of the written Faroese language was born and raised. Photo by Pawel Zygmunt.

Words of Celtic origin exist in the language and point to a contact with Celtic speakers – a legacy of the Viking Age. Among the Celtic loan-words are tarvur for a bull and blak for sour milk. With Christianity came foreign influence, mostly from English, thus sál was adopted for soul and hvítusunna for Whitsun.

Later in the nineteenth century when deep-sea fishing became the country’s primary source of income there was an increased relationship with the United Kingdom. The fishermen brought loanwords to the Faroe Islands such as trolari for trawler and tóva for tow.

Faroese is a bit of a daunting language to learn. Happily, the Faroe Islanders speak English well.

It is in small villages like this in Mykines that the Faroese language has been used for centuries. Faroese is spoken by 80.000 of the world’s population.

Seyðabrævið (English: The Sheep Letter) from c. 1310 is considered the oldest known Faroese text written by a Faroese. Although in the main the language is Norse, it shows special Faroese features, which in later documents become even more distinctive, so that it may be said that by c. 1400 Faroese shows signs of developing into an independent language.

The main source from this period are the six Húsavík letters from 1407 concerning the property left by the lady Guðrun Sjúrðardóttir of Húsavík in Sandoy. These letters are both linguistically important and also give a fascinating picture of how people lived on a large farm in the Faroe Islands in the Middle Ages.

Being close to nature and far away from foreign influence kept the tiny language Faroese alive. Photo by Pawel Zygmunt.

After the Reformation in c. 1540 the language was exposed to a thoroughgoing Danish influence. But the Faroese language survived the comprehensive influence from Danish.

Thanks for the archipelago’s remoteness far away from other larger countries, the language survived. Even in the Faroe Islands, the connections between villages and islands was very poor, which further kept the oral language alive.

The Romantic Movement

The father of the written Faroese language, V.U. Hammershaimb, grew up in the village Sandavágur on Vágar island. He would have this spiky rock formation Trøllkonufingur only a short walk away from his home in Sandavágur. Photo by Victoria Ostapova also known as @vialma on Instagram.

With the Romantic Movement of the first half of the nineteenth century, language came to be viewed as a national heritage that reflected a people’s individuality. There were hundreds of ballads and legends in Faroese. They had never been written down. This cultural gem was the backbone of the rich spoken tradition in the Faroe Islands.

The Romantic Movement made the first Faroe Islanders fall in love with the Faroese language. Now the work of writing down ballads and folktales began all over the islands. It is widely regarded as a miracle that all the ballads in the Faroe Islands had been so well preserved even though they were not written down.

Mother Language Day in the Faroe Islands

The creator of the written Faroese language V.U. Hammershaimb. This is an old bank note in the Faroe Islands.

It was V.U. Hammershaimb (1819-1909), the son of the Prime Minister, who created the standard norm for the Faroese language. He was born on 25 March. This day now marks the Mother Language Day in the Faroe Islands.

The Mother Language Day is a day when the islanders reflect on the language that they speak fluently. The Faroese Broadcasting Corporation has been a key player in developing Faroese. They too shed a light on the Mother Language Day each year.

Hammershaimb worked out the written language in 1846 building on the etymological principle of the original Norse language. Thus the fricative ð, like the English th in they or this, is used in the written form almost as in Norse, despite the fact that it is not pronounced in any Faroese dialect.

It was a passion and love for the Faroese language that saved it from disappearing. There were only 7800 people living in the Faroe Islands when V.U. Hammershaimb created the written Faroese language which was a pivotal historical event in terms of preserving the Faroese language.

How to Learn Faroese

With growth in tourism, travellers to the Faroe Islands have had a genuine interest in learning some Faroese phrases, sayings and words. The tourist board in the Faroe Islands embarked a campaign to get the Faroese language included on Google Translate.

As Faroese is not featured on Google Translate, the Faroe Islands started their own translation service Faroe Islands Translate. When visiting the service you can hear Faroe Islanders pronounce sentences for you. You can even type in words or phrases that you would like to know how to pronounce and then one of the locals will give you the answer. So if you want  to learn Faroese, visiting Faroe Islands Translate is a good start.

Filming the TV-series TROM in the Faroe Islands. Faroese is spoken widely in the crime drama. Photo by Finnur Justinussen.

If you want to learn more Faroese the best way to improve your Faroese skills is by visiting the publishing company Sprotin. You will find the best online dictionaries on Sprotin where you can look up all words in English and have them translated into Faroese. The Faroese grammar is pretty similar to Old Norse and Icelandic, the pronunciation, though, is closer to Norwegian.

For those how want to hear the Faroese language, a good place to get familiar with the language is on the public radio KVF. Another good option is to watch the TV-series TROM. The crime drama in six episodes is set in the Faroe Islands. You will hear Faroese throughout the series mixed with Danish. TROM is available on the streaming service Viaplay.

Múlafossur - Guide to Faroe Islands
Gásadalur on Vágar island and its awe-inspiring waterfall Múlafossur. Photo by Pawel Zygmunt.

If you want to learn Faroese from the locals while you are in the Faroe Islands, then there are some really good tips to remember. You will be more immersed with the culture and language if you go outside the capital and the second largest town Klaksvík.

Staying in a smaller village like Eiði and Vestmanna will gonna make you put yourself out there a bit more. At the same time you can take in the area. ​​​​​​Smaller settlements forces you to speak the language. Not because the locals are unable to understand English but because you are more likely to be engaged with the Faroe Islanders in their daily lives.

The Faroese alphabet

Sandavágur - guide to Faroe islands
The church in Sandavágur where the father of the written Faroese language V.U. Hammershaimb was born and raised. Photo by Richie Banez known as @richiebanezphotography on Instagram.

There are merely 53.500 people living in the Faroe Islands. Together with Faroe Islanders living abroad it is estimated that 80.000 people in the world speak Faroese. The Faroese language is spoken by all people in the Faroe Islands.

The Faroese alphabet has 29 letters. All letters in the alphabet are widely used. These are the letters in the Faroese alphabet:

Aa Áá Bb Dd Ðð Ee Ff Gg Hh Ii Íí Jj Kk Ll Mm Nn Oo Óó Pp Rr Ss Tt Uu Úú Vv Yy Ýý Ææ Øø

The university in the Faroe Islands Fróðskaparsetur Føroya was established in the capital Tórshavn in the 1960s. Its first course of Faroese. This was the first time Faroe Islanders were able to learn their native language at university level.

This house lies in Kirkjubøur and was built built by Jóannes Patursson who, beside being a farmer and politician, was a poet writing in his native language, Faroese. Photo by @whiskeywanderlust.

Led by Professor Jóhan Hendrik W. Poulsen a language committee has been active as a watchdog for the language. The committee has invented many new words. Many of these words are used instead of international words such as tyrla for helicopter and telda for computer.

Faroe Islanders are proud of their language. And they do a great effort to preserve and strengthen Faroese as influence from foreign languages is omnipresent in the digital age.

Feeling inspired to learn more and listen to the Faroese language on a stay in the Faroe Islands? Figure out how to get to the Faroe Islands by plane and take the next step.

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