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About half of the world’s population speaks an Indo-European language as their native tongue. As the world’s largest language family, linguists usually describe it as being made up of a number of “daughter” families. One of these language families is Germanic which includes the Scandinavian languages: Swedish, Danish, Norwegian, Icelandic, and Faroese.

The Faroe Islands (also spelled Faeroe Islands) are a group of 18 islands in the Atlantic Ocean located 250 miles north of Scotland. In the ninth century the islands were colonized by Vikings from Norway and from the Viking colonies in the British Isles. These colonists spoke Old Norse (Dǫnsk tunga).

Between 800 and 1050 CE, the eastern dialects of Old Norse developed into Swedish and Danish. At this same time, the western dialects developed into Norwegian, Icelandic, and Faroese. While Faroese is most closely related to Icelandic, to the now extinct Norn language which was spoken in Orkney and Shetland, and to some of the western Norwegian dialects, as an island language it had been relatively isolated. This means that Faroese developed its own distinctive characteristics.

A written form of Faroese began to appear during the fourteenth century. This written language was used to record the old Norse (or Viking) sagas and fables. These stories still retain their popularity among the Faroese people as well as among other Scandinavians.

The early Faroese orthography was similar to Icelandic and Norwegian. However, in 1536 the ruling Danes outlawed the use of written Faroese in schools, churches, and official documents. For the next 300 years, Faroese existed as a spoken language but was not used in a written form.

A standardized written form of Faroese was developed by Venceslaus Ulricus Hammershaimb (1819-1909) in 1846. The standardized language was based on Icelandic. In 1854, Hammershaimb  and the Icelandic grammarian Jón Sigurðsson (1811-1879) published their written standard.  By the end of the nineteenth century modern Faroese literature began to appear. In 1890, the first Faroese newspaper, Føringatiðindi, was established.

 photo 411px-VU_Hammershaimb_zps94ed13bf.jpg

Venceslaus Ulricus Hammershaimb (shown above) was a Faroese Lutheran minister and folklorist. His spelling system for Faroese uses vowels based on written Icelandic. While this was a somewhat artificial approach to spelling, it was felt that it would overcome some of the differing dialects of the islands.

Hammershaimb published Færøsk Anthologi in 1886-1891 which included an account of the islands and their inhabitants, a Faroese grammar, and a variety of writings in the Faroese language.

In 1889, Jakob Jakobsen proposed a new spelling system that would be closer to the spoken language. However, the committee responsible for refining the written language rejected most of his proposal. Jakob Jakobsen was a linguist and a scholar of literature. He was the first Faroese person to earn a doctoral degree. The subject of his dissertation was the Norn language.

Faroese replaced Danish as the official school language in 1937 and it became the official church language in 1938. With the Home Rule Act in 1948, Faroese became the national language. Danish, however, continued as the primary language of the media and advertising until the 1980s.

At the present time, Faroese is spoken as a native language by about 66,000 people, of who 45, 000 live in the Faroe Islands. The other 21,000 native speakers live primarily in Denmark.

Sample Text:

Øll menniskju eru fødd fræls og jøvn til virðingar og mannarættindi. Tey hava skil og samvitsku og eiga at fara hvørt um annað í bróðuranda.
English translation:
All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.
This sample text is from Omniglot.

Originally posted to History for Kossacks on Sat Nov 23, 2013 at 07:59 AM PST.

Also republished by Cranky Grammarians.

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