Author Topic: What is difference of icelandic and Faroese?  (Read 3518 times)

Offline giselberga

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What is difference of icelandic and Faroese?
« on: April 27, 2018, 11:30:09 AM »
Icelandic and Faroese is similar
Why are Icelandic and Faroese different?

Offline panini

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Re: What is difference of icelandic and Faroese?
« Reply #1 on: April 27, 2018, 11:55:05 AM »
The main reason is that they are spoken on different islands. A secondary reason is that the Faroe islands has had a longer history of being settled and more non-Norse linguistic influence (multiple and earlier Scandinavian incursions, more Celtic presence). A third reason is that Iceland was more an indepenendent country than The Faroes, which were subject to a bit of language-suppression by the Danes.

American and British English are also different, same with New Engliand vs. Virginia English – you expect languages to differ when the speakers aren't tightly packed in one town.

Online Daniel

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Re: What is difference of icelandic and Faroese?
« Reply #2 on: April 27, 2018, 05:28:25 PM »
Respectfully some of that explanation isn't quite right.

I've done some research in the Faroe Islands and talked to Faroese linguists about this.

Some of the claims about early Celtic speakers in the Faroe Islands border on mythological, and while there may have actually been some people there, just a few Celtic monks probably, there was little if any effect on Faroese linguistically. That isn't a factor here.

About 1000 years ago, Faroese and Icelandic were just geographic dialects of the same language, not even really distinct as dialects because the same people were traveling around to both areas, and early permanent populations were small. This was Old West Norse, also called Old Icelandic.

One of the earliest sources about the Faroe Islands is the [link=æreyinga_saga]Færeyinga saga[/link], which is actually written in Old Icelandic, probably in Iceland, although surviving manuscripts are a few centuries later, so the early history is unknown. The writers definitely had spent time in the Faroes because their geographic descriptions are accurate, but the historical accuracy of the text is unclear (it's somewhat mythological). And like the other Old Norse sagas, at least in the surviving manuscripts, it's really written in Icelandic. But that's not too different from what Old Faroese would have looked like anyway.

Then there is very little recorded evidence of Faroese at all. There are a few letters (personal correspondence) documenting the language around 500 years ago, but many gaps in the evidence so we still need to piece it together.

Meanwhile, the modern North Germanic languages have a different split: whereas Old West Norse originally included Icelandic, Faroese, Norn (northern Scottish islands, now extinct), and Norwegian dialects, the split is now between Insular Scandinavian (Icelandic and Faroese) and Mainland Scandinavian (Norwegian, Danish and Swedish). This is mostly because of convergence between Norwegian and Swedish and Danish, which are now much more distinct from Old Norse than Icelandic is. Faroese is somewhere in the middle, due to influence from Danish. But it's still more like Icelandic overall (especially in archaic features) than the Mainland languages. And the standard Mainland languages are actually more similar to each other in some ways than to the archaic dialects (Elfdalian, contemporary pre-Swedish Scandinavian dialects still spoken in Finland, etc.), which share some features with the Insular languages.

I don't know all of the details about the standardization of Icelandic, but given its much more extensive written tradition, I believe it was used relatively extensively in Iceland for the past 1000 years or so.

Both Iceland and the Faroe Islands were politically part of Denmark until the end of World War II. Then Iceland gained independence, while the Faroe Islands became an independent country within the Kingdom of Denmark (a complicated situation, something like Puerto Rico and the United States, or Hong Kong and China, but those are just rough analogies, and the political status of the Faroe Islands is unique -- they're "part of" Denmark in some senses, but they're not part of the EU, and they have representation in the Danish Parliament, but also their own national government-- it's complicated). Regardless, those differences in national status are not nearly enough to explain the linguistic differences, simply because it hasn't been long enough for those changes to have a substantial effect. Regardless, we have older records of both languages, and the differences were already in place long before World War II.

Aside from scattered early records, the first writing in Faroese was around 1800 when the language was standardized, based mostly on Icelandic orthography, partly to distinguish it from Danish. We have continuous records of Faroese for the last 200 years or so, including literature, etc. The first writing also recorded some ballads that were composed somewhat earlier (maybe a century? maybe earlier?), so that gives a slightly earlier window into the development of Faroese. But overall (setting aside things like the spelling system settling down after initial proposals), Faroese hasn't changed much over the last 250 years or so. It's probably comparable to English (look at the United States Constitution for example, very easily readable by contemporary Modern English speakers, much more so than for example Shakespeare).

The current situation is that Faroese is linguistically in between Icelandic and Danish. It's somewhat conservative like Icelandic, and that can be thought of as the base of the language, but centuries upon centuries of extensive contact with Danish have dragged it toward the Mainland Scandinavian linguistic type. And the result is a real mix of the two. It's sort of like English with originally Germanic vocabulary and then lots of borrowed words from French. But in the case of Faroese the vocabulary is relatively well preserved as distinct from Danish (at least in the current standards; some Danish words are still used in colloquial usage, since everyone speaks Danish anyway although the sociolinguistic situation is complicated). But the grammar has started converging with Danish in some ways, so some archaic features of Icelandic are not found in, or are fading from, Faroese.

Today the Faroe Islands are a remarkable place (for visitors in general with the island geography, and a welcoming culture, as well as being one of the most expensive countries in the world), but especially for linguistic reasons. The population is around 55,000, and everyone grows up bilingual in Faroese and Danish through education. There is strong governmental and educational and especially cultural support for standard, distinct Faroese, and its speakers are in favor of preserving it and enacting standards. (Compare that to the attitudes of the youngest generation of French speakers who like to borrow English words. That's not so much the case in the Faroe Islands.) But many or maybe most people there are also fluent in English (like in Iceland, elsewhere Mainland Scandinavia, etc.). And many also speak more languages-- Norwegian often, sometimes German, of French, or Spanish. It's impressive.

OK, so back to the original question of WHY:
My best guess is that this is because Icelandic was standardized and used for writing and as something of an official/recognized language throughout the last 1000 years (as I said I'm not sure about all of the details of this), while Faroese was almost replaced by Danish. Faroese was not standardized until 1800, and it was not the official language of education, church, or any other context. That's why we don't have any records before 1800. And that's why Danish had such a profound impact. Still it's very much a language contact scenario rather than the extreme convergence and parallel development of Norwegian, Swedish and Danish. It's far from mutually intelligible with those (whereas in many contexts those are used as essentially pluricentric standards in communication, so Danish, Swedish and Norwegian speakers just talk to each other in meetings, etc. -- in that case, Faroese speakers would use Danish, although now for sociolinguistic/identity reason they might prefer Norwegian if they personally speak it.). There's also a local "street Danish" ( which is the local Faroese dialect of Danish-- the Faroese people can generally speak Faroese (a distinct language), that local dialect of Danish, and also switch to more formal, standard Danish.

From what I understand, Danish is no longer so widespread in Iceland. I'm not sure if proficiency was higher before World War II, so maybe it was like the Faroes. But overall my impression is that the contact with and more importantly use of Danish has been and continues to be stronger in the Faroe Islands than in Iceland. The size of the population may also be a factor, the population of the Faroes is about 1/6th of the population of Iceland, and most of that in Iceland is in Reykjavík (also about 20,000 or over 1/3rd of the population of the Faroe Islands lives in the capital of Tórshavn or neighboring towns, but that's a much smaller community than Reykjavík). There is also quite a bit of dialectal variation in Faroese that is currently under-documented aside from phonology. It's clearly one mutually intelligible language, but that's also complicated. When I was there for research I would ask people about speaking Faroese and was told multiple times by locals that they "don't speak Faroese" because what they speak at home isn't the standard (e.g., "the right way") and they didn't want me to assume their version of Faroese was the "real" version-- as you can see, a lot of respect for the current official standard, which like other standards is somewhat deregionalized, formal, and most important sociolinguistically has foreign (mostly Danish, also English) elements removed or toned down. Conversely there is also some effort to make Faroese not just an echo of Icelandic, and a language of its own. (That is, to find the uniquely or distinctly Faroese features apart from Danish influence, without just reverting back to what is found in Icelandic. Complicated!) By the way, Icelandic and Faroese are quite similar, and someone literate in one can probably read the other and generally understand the text, but the pronunciation of Faroese is distinct (and as I said quite a bit of the grammar). So it's actually a lot like English, with etymological spelling (that looks roughly like Icelandic) but distinct pronunciation. (English is still spelled like 500 years ago, but not pronounced the same way at all.) So Faroese is an interesting puzzle to learn for the spelling too.

Anyway, that's an overview of some of the major points, and I've probably oversimplified some things. In short, it's complicated, but Danish has had a stronger influence on Faroese than Icelandic.
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