Faroese language

Pronunciation [ˈføːɹɪst]
Native to Faroe Islands, Denmark
Ethnicity Faroe Islanders
Native speakers
66,000 (2007)[1]
Early forms
Latin (Faroese orthography)
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] /ˌfɛərˈz/ (føroyskt, pronounced [ˈføːɹɪst]) is a North Germanic language spoken as a first 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 (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:
  Old West Norse dialect
  Old East Norse dialect
  Other Germanic languages with which Old Norse still retained some mutual intelligibility
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 to mid-16th centuries) 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, whereas Old Icelandic remained rather archaic compared to other medieval varieties of Old West Norse. The most crucial aspects of the development of Faroese are diphthongisation and palatalisation.

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, iotacism took place: y, øy, au > /i, ɔi, ɛi/; itacism of ý is not certain, 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 /ʊɪ/. Itacism may be also connected with the palatalisation of k, g and sk before Old Norse e, i, y, 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 epenthesis u is inserted into word-final /Cr/ and /CrC/ clusters. The Great Quantity Shift operated in the 15th/16th centuries. In the case of skerping, it took place after itacism but before loss of post-vocalic ð and g /ɣ/. The shift of hv 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)[9] appeared before the end of the 13th century. Another undated change is the merger of ǫ and ø 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.

Development of vowels from Old Norse to Modern Faroese[10]
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 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


Main article: Faroese orthography

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)


Main article: Faroese phonology
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. Árnason (2011) provides the following alternations:

Faroese vowel alternations[11]
/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 plain p t k
aspirated tʃʰ
Fricative central f s ʂ ʐ ʃ h
lateral ɬ
Approximant central v ɹ ɪ w
lateral ɬ

There are several phonological processes involved in Faroese, including:


Main article: Faroese grammar

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

See also

Further reading

To learn Faroese as a language


Faroese Literature and Research



  1. Faroese at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin; Bank, Sebastian, eds. (2016). "Faroese". Glottolog 2.7. Jena: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  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. 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). Retrieved 22 October 2015.
  6. Chr. Matras. Greinaval – málfrøðigreinir. FØROYA FRÓÐSKAPARFELAG 2000
  7. Snar.fo, Jakob Jakobsen (1864-1918)
  8. Logir.fo – Homepage Database of laws on the Faroe Islands (Faroese)
  9. Petersen, Hjalmar P., The Change of þ to h in Faroese (PDF)
  10. 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
  11. Árnason, Kristján (2011), The Phonology of Icelandic and Faroese, New York: Oxford University Press, p. 68
Faroese edition of Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
For a list of words relating to Faroese language, see the Faroese language category of words in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.
Faroese edition of Wikisource, the free library
Wikivoyage has a phrasebook for Faroese.
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