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An apology to the Faroese
Both Faroese and
Icelandic use a number of accented letters which are not always
available on computers or in browsers outside those countries.
As far as possible letters in pages on this site have been accented
correctly, but where this has not been possible the accents have
been ignored. A particular problem is presented by the two letters
eth and thorn. It would have been possible to generate them,
albeit with some difficulty, but not all browsers would have
rendered them correctly so they have been represented here by
d and th. (See what
eth and thorn look like in new window.)
Common history of the
Both Faroese and
Icelandic are North Germanic languages sharing a common origins
in Old Norse. About 1,000 years ago this language had begun to
develop two branches: East Norse (which was the root of modern
Danish and Swedish) and West Norse (Faroese, Icelandic and Norwegian).
West Norse was also a root of Norn, the old language of Orkney
and Shetland. However settlers in Faroe and Iceland often had
connections with Ireland and the Northern Isles of Scotland and
there are Celtic influences in both languages. Research has shown
that the genetic origins of the populations of both Faroe and
Iceland were predominantly Scandinavian for men but Irish or
Scottish for women.
Faroese was first
written in the 14th century. In the 16th century, following the
Reformation in Denmark, the use of Faroese was banned in churches,
schools and government. However folk use of the language continued
in spoken form only and it remained a collection of local dialects.
In the 19th century there was an increase in interest in the
language and the priest Venceslaus
Hammershaimb began to create a formal structure for it. However
when he chose to preach a sermon in Faroese in 1856 his congregation,
far from appreciating the use of their own language, were horrified
that God's teachings should be presented in such a lowly tongue.
Use of Faroese did began to gain ground
in the 19th century and by 1920 was a recognised subject taught
in schools, although it did not become the official language
of education until 1937. With Home Rule in 1948 it became an
official language, although Danish maintains an official status
in the islands and is still taught to older pupils. Whilst Faroese
is now the major language it is under pressure as many TV programmes
are in Danish without subtitles (or in English).
About 1,000 years
ago Icelandic family history was being recorded in Sagas. The
language used then, and for the somewhat later Edda (folk tales)
has changed little in the intervening centuries such that modern
Icelanders can still read much of them. About 700 years ago the
language of West Norway (which until then had been virtually
identica with that of Iceland) began to change, leaving Icelandic
much as it always had been, and still is.
The lack of change in Icelandic
has probably been due to the relative isolation of the country
and the importance of the Sagas to its people. To this day changes
in Icelandic (which has no local dialects) are met with opposition
by most people. In fact many internationally common words are
shunned in Iceland which has created new (or adapted old) words,
examples are sími for telephone and tölva for computer.
The language is complex and
retains cases and inflection. This can cause confusion to even
the casual visitor, an example is that the town of Höfn
has a welcome sign proclaiming 'Velkomin til Hafnar'.
A number of worthwhile
web sites are shown on the external links pages for Faroe and Iceland.