The national and official language of the Faroe Islands is Faroese. The language is spoken only by approximately 75000 people throughout the world, with an estimated 25000 in Denmark and 5000 in Iceland, besides the inhabitants of the Faroe Islands. Faroese is one of the most important aspects of the local culture and identity, and both the Faroese people and the government are conscious of the need to preserve their language by keeping it resilient in the face of global influences. The first recorded settlers in the Faroe Islands were Irish monks therefore, it is possible to assume that one of the first languages spoken in the islands was some form of Old Irish. Faroese is a Nordic language, which derives from the language of the Norsemen who settled the Faroe Islands during the viking age in the middle of the 9th century, bringing their West Norse language, which was spoken in Scandinavia and by the Norse people in the British Isles. Although closely related to Icelandic, Norwegian, Danish and Swedish, a distinct Faroese language evolved from the Norse language, between the 9th and the 15th centuries: speakers of the Nordic languages can notice familiar words and grammatical structures in the Faroese language, which is similar in grammar to Icelandic and Old Norse, but closer in pronunciation to Norwegian. The Gaelic language has had some influence on Faroese: for example, the names of places such as Mykines, Stóra Dímun, Lítla Dímun and Argir have been hypothesized to contain Celtic roots. Until the 15th century, Faroese had an orthography similar to Icelandic and Norwegian, but after the Reformation in 1536 the ruling Danes outlawed the use of the Faroese language in schools, churches and official documents. The Faroese people continued to use the language in ballads, folktales, and everyday life. This maintained a rich spoken tradition, but for almost 300 years the Faroese language was not used in written form. In 1846, Venceslaus Ulricus Hammersheimb (1819-1909), a Lutheran minister and folklorist, created a spelling system for the Faroese language, thus establishing the modern orthography of Faroese. Up until 1938, schools and churches were generally only permitted to use the Danish language: in order to use Faroese for church services a permission was necessary. Schools generally used Danish, but in some educational instances, especially when dealing with young children, the Faroese language was allowed. In 1938, the Faroese and Danish received equal status in schools and churches. In 1948 the Home Rule Act of the Faroe Islands came in to force: the Act recognised Faroese as being the principal language and Faroese became the official language of the Faroe Islands. The first Faroese novel was ‘Bábelstornið’ (‘The Tower of Babel’) by Rasmus Rasmussen, published in 1909 under the pseudonym Regin í Líð. Over the last 100 years an active and productive literary scene has evolved in the Faroe Islands: the total number of books published in Faroese in 2015 was 6622, while 205 books were published in Faroese in 2014. The Faroese long traditions of ballads and songs have kept the Faroese language alive and vibrant for centuries: today, the Faroese people continue to sing traditional and contemporary songs, and Faroese artists from all genres of music compose and perform songs in Faroese. Officially, Danish is the second language and is taught in schools at an early age. English is also taught in schools and is spoken by most people in the Faroe Islands. Other languages such as German, French, Spanish and are taught in the elementary and secondary schools. Endeavours to establish Faroese language within all sectors of society, led in the 1960s to the establishment of ‘Fróðskaparsetur Føroya’ (‘The Faroese University’) in Tórshavn: the aim was to create a scientific environment and offer a framework to study and teach Faroese language and literature at university level. The ‘Language Committee of the Faroe Islands’ (‘Føroyska málnevndin’) was founded in April 1985, as an advisory institution and regulator in language matters.
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