Gjógv ChurchWhat 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?

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. Hence, Faroese is a Nordic language which derives from the Norsemen who settled the islands more than thousand years ago.

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.

Turf houses Faroe IslandsIt 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 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. 

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.

The Romantic Movement

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

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.



It was V.U. Hammershaimb (1819-1909), the son of the Prime Minister, who created the standard norm for the Faroese language. 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. If you want to learn more Faroese the best way to improve your Faroese skills is by visiting the publishing company Sprotin which has the best online dictionaries 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.

The Faroese alphabet

There are 51.000 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

When the university in the Faroe Islands Fróðskaparsetur Føroya was established in the 1960s it became possible to teach the native language at university level. 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.