Faroese: The Central Nordic Language?

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Faroese is a North Germanic language, spoken by approximately 53,000 people in the Faroe Islands, an archipelago located between Scotland, Norway, and Iceland. Faroese has its roots in Old Norse, which was the common language used in the Northern countries during the Viking Age and early Middle Ages. The first Faroese settlers came presumably from Western Norway. Thus, Faroese has several traits in common with West Norwegian dialects and Icelandic as well. Faroese is traditionally characterized as a West Nordic language, structurally close to Icelandic with respect to inflectional morphology, but with differences in phonology and lexicon. Due to political development in the Middle Ages, the Faroe Islands were brought under Danish rule, and Danish became the official language until the middle of the 20th century. Dan-
ish influence on Faroese is hence rather obvious, especially in the lexicon. Thráinsson et al. say: «Because of the history of the language and the islands, and because of the position of Faroese between Icelandic on the one hand and the Mainland Scandina-
vian languages on the other, both geographically and linguistically, Faroese is very interesting from a linguistic point of view» (Thráinsson et al. 2012: 13).
The Nordic languages are traditionally divided into two main subgroups, East Nordic, and West Nordic. Faroese is usually classified as a West Nordic language together with Icelandic and Norwegian, as opposed to the East Nordic languages, Danish and Swedish. Such a classification is based on historical linguistic relationship. From a synchronic point of view, however, it is problematic to consider Norwegian as a West Nordic language, because it is more similar to Danish and Swedish than to Faroese and Icelandic. In another model, Faroese and Icelandic are classified as Insular-Scandinavian languages in contrast to Mainland Scandinavian (Danish, Swedish, and Norwegian). The main boundary in the Nordic languages today goes between Icelandic
and Faroese on the one hand and Mainland Scandinavian on the other. These two areas are regarded as separate dialect continua, i.e., areas with different languages despite of common origin (Torp 1998: 46). Faroese is sometimes referred to as the Central Nordic language, which is the topic of this article. This intermediate classification is based on typological studies.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationJa, jeg tæller min troe hver time
Subtitle of host publicationStudi nordici in memoria di Jørgen Stender Clausen
EditorsMarco Battaglia, Alessandro Fambrini, Anna Wegener
Place of PublicationPisa
PublisherPISA University Press
Number of pages19
ISBN (Electronic) 978-88-3339-629-3
Publication statusPublished - 2022


  • Faroese
  • Nordic languages
  • classification


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