Faroese 101

At one point, the language spoken in the Faroe Islands was Old West 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, the Orkneys, or Shetlands before settling in the Faroe Islands and Iceland. As a result, Celtic languages influenced both Faroese and Icelandic. This may be why, for example, Faroese has two words for duck: dunna (from Gaelic tunnag ) for a domestic duck, and ont (from Old Norse ǫnd ) for a duck in general. (This example has been criticized, however, by people claiming that the word is derived from Old Norse dunna , from Proto-Germanic *dusnō .) There is also 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 láhm ; "tarvur" (bull) Irish tarbh ; and "ærgi" (pasture in the outfield) Irish áirge .

Between the 9th and the 15th centuries, a distinct Faroese language evolved, although it was still intelligible with 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 similar orthography 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 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 Welsh, he produced an orthography consistent with a continuous written tradition extending back to Old Norse. 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 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 and up.

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