Faroese (føroyskt mál, ) is a North Germanic language spoken as a first language by about 72,000 people, 51,000 of whom reside on the Faroe Islands and 21,000 in other areas, mainly Denmark. It is one of five languages descended from Old West Norse spoken in the Middle Ages, the others being Norwegian, Icelandic, and the extinct Norn and Greenlandic Norse. Faroese and Icelandic, its closest extant relative, are not mutually intelligible in speech, but the written languages resemble each other quite closely, largely owing to Faroese's etymological orthography.
Around 900, the language spoken in the Faroes was Old Norse, which Norse settlers had brought with them during the time of the settlement of Faroe Islands (landnám) that began in 825. However, many of the settlers were not from Scandinavia, but descendants of Norse settlers in the Irish Sea region. In addition, women from Norse Ireland, Orkney, or Shetland often married native Scandinavian men before settling in the Faroe Islands and Iceland. As a result, the Irish language has had some influence on both Faroese and Icelandic. There is some debatable evidence of Irish language place names in the Faroes: for example, the names of Mykines, Stóra Dímun, Lítla Dímun and Argir have been hypothesized to contain Celtic roots. Other examples of early-introduced words of Celtic origin are: /blaðak (buttermilk), cf. Middle Irish ; drunnur (tail-piece of an animal), cf. Middle Irish dronn; (head, headhair), cf. Middle Irish ; (hand, paw), cf. Middle Irish ; (bull), cf. Middle Irish ; and (pasture in the outfield), cf. Middle Irish áirge.
Between the 9th and the 15th centuries, a distinct Faroese language evolved, although it was probably still mutually intelligible with Old West Norse, and remained similar to the Norn language of Orkney and Shetland during Norn's earlier phase.
Faroese ceased to be a written language after the union of Norway with Denmark in 1380, with Danish replacing Faroese as the language of administration and education. The islanders continued to use the language in ballads, folktales, and everyday life. This maintained a rich spoken tradition, but for 300 years the language was not used in written form.
In 1823 the Danish Bible Society published a diglot of the Gospel of Matthew, with Faroese on the left and Danish on the right.
Venceslaus Ulricus Hammershaimb and the Icelandic grammarian and politician Jón Sigurðsson published a written standard for Modern Faroese in 1854, which still exists. They set a standard for the orthography of the language, based on its Old Norse roots and similar to that of Icelandic. This had the advantage of being etymologically clear, as well as keeping the kinship with the Icelandic written language. The actual pronunciation, however, often differs from the written rendering. The letter ð, for example, has no specific phoneme attached to it.
Jakob Jakobsen devised a rival system of orthography, based on his wish for a phonetic spelling, but this system was never taken up by the speakers.
In 1908 Scripture Gift Mission published the Gospel of John in Faroese.
In 1937, Faroese replaced Danish as the official school language, in 1938 as the church language, and in 1948 as the national language by the Home Rule Act of the Faroes. However, Faroese did not become the common language of media and advertising until the 1980s. Today Danish is considered a foreign language, although around 5% of residents on the Faroes learn it as a first language, and it is a required subject for students in third grade and up.
The Visit Faroese tourism organisation launched the Faroe Islands Translate online service in 2017, available in English and another 13 languages including Chinese, Russian, Japanese, and Portuguese. A Faroese video database has also been built.