Faroe and Iceland - Facts and Information
Faroese and Icelandic
Two closely related languages developed from Old Norse
Faroese has only recently re-established its position, Icelandic has changed very little in the last eight centuries.


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An apology to the Faroese and Icelanders
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 two languages
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'.

More information
A number of worthwhile web sites are shown on the external links pages for Faroe and Iceland.

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