Faroese[1] (føroyskt, pronounced [ˈføːɹɪst] or [ˈføːɹɪʂt]), is an Insular Nordic language spoken by 48,000 people in the Faroe Islands and about 25,000[citation needed] Faroese in Denmark and elsewhere. It is one of four languages descended from the Old West Norse language spoken in the Middle Ages, the others being Icelandic, Norwegian and the extinct Norn, which is thought to have been mutually intelligible with Faroese.[citation needed] Faroese and Icelandic, its closest extant relative, are not mutually intelligible in speech, but the written languages resemble each other quite closely.[2]


At one point, the language spoken in the Faroes was Old Norse, which Norwegian settlers had brought with them during the time of the landnám that began in AD 825. However, many of the settlers weren't really Norwegians, but descendants of Norwegian settlers in the Irish Sea. In addition, native Norwegian settlers often married women from Norse Ireland, Orkney, or Shetland before settling in the Faroe Islands and Iceland. As a result, Celtic languages influenced both Faroese and Icelandic. There is some debatable evidence of Celtic language place names in the Faroes: for example Mykines and Stóra & Lítla Dímun have been hypothesized to contain Celtic roots.
Other examples of early introduced words of Celtic origin are; "blak/blaðak" (buttermilk) Irish bláthach; "drunnur" (tail-piece of an animal) Irish dronn; "grúkur" (head, headhair) Irish gruaig; "lámur" (hand, paw) Irish lámh; "tarvur" (bull) Irish tarbh; and "ærgi" (pasture in the outfield) Irish áirge.[3]

Between the 9th and the 15th centuries, a distinct Faroese language evolved, although it was still intelligible with the Old West Norse language. This would have been closely related to the Norn language of Orkney and Shetland.

Until the 15th century, Faroese had a orthography similar to Icelandic and Norwegian, but after the Reformation in Denmark, 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 Oral history|spoken tradition, but for 300 years the language was not written.

This changed when Venceslaus Ulricus Hammershaimb, along with the Icelandic grammarian, and politician, Jón Sigurðsson, published a written standard for Modern Faroese 1854 that exists to this day. Although this would have been an opportunity to create a phonetically true orthography like that of Finnish, he produced an orthography consistent with a continuous written tradition extending back to Old Norse, which gives the written language a very archaic look similar to Icelandic. The letter ð, for example, has no specific phonemes attached to it. Furthermore, although the letter 'm' corresponds to the bilabial nasal as it does in English, it also corresponds to the alveolar nasal in the dative case ending -um [ʊn].

Hammershaimb's orthography met with some opposition for its complexity, and a rival system was devised by Jakob Jakobsen. Jakobsen's orthography was closer to the spoken language, but was never taken up by speakers.

In 1937, Faroese replaced Danish as the official school language, in 1938 as church language, and in 1948 as national language by the Home Rule Act of the Faroes. However, Faroese didn't become the common language in the media and advertising until the 1980s. Today, Danish is considered a foreign language, though around 5% of the Faroe Islanders learn it as a first language and it is a required subject for students 3rd grade[4] and up.


  1. While the spelling Faeroese is also seen, Faroese is the spelling used in grammars, textbooks, scientific articles and dictionaries between Faroese and English.
  2. Language and nationalism in Europe, p. 106, Stephen Barbour, Cathie Carmichael, Oxford University Press, 2000
  3. Chr. Matras. Greinaval - málfrøðigreinir. FØROYA FRÓÐSKAPARFELAG 2000
  4. Logir.fo - Homepage Database of laws on the Faroe Islands