The vocabulary of Insular Scandinavian:

Lexical purism, neologisms and language contact in Icelandic and Faroese

Written: 2004; Last updated: 3 Aug 2014


Language colours:

red = Early Modern & Modern Icelandic;

blue = Modern Faroese;

green = Modern Danish;

maroon = Old Norse;

violet = Middle Low German


Introduction and Orientation

“hreintungustefna Íslendinga...forðað tungu okkar frá því að drukkna í flóði erlendra áhrifa.” (Jakob Benediktsson, “Þættir úr sögu íslenzks orðaforða.” In Þættir um íslenzkt mál eftir nokkra íslenzka málfræðinga, ed. H. Halldórsson, Reykjavík, 1964; p.109).

Icelandic and Faroese are both West Scandinavian languages and both are descended from West Norse dialects related to the Old Norse now so familiar from the Icelandic literature of the Middle Ages. Icelandic is spoken almost entirely in the republic of Iceland which lies approximately two-thirds of the way to Greenland from the UK. About 318,000 people speak Icelandic in Iceland itself, with a further 6,000 or so emmigrants who speak it living in Denmark. Some 20,000 persons, descended from earlier immigrants, are still believed to still speak or at least understand the language in the US and Canada.

Faroese is very closely related to Icelandic, as well as certain west Norwegian dialects. Just as in the case of Icelandic, the arveord or native word-stock of Faroese is of West Norse origin, and almost all the core vocabulary and all the words relating to peculiarly Faroese objects and customs descend from the Old Norse spoken by the original settlers. A small number of words can only be found in Faroese and no corresponding words have been traced in Icelandic, Old Norse or in the more distant Norwegian. Although its core vocabulary is of West Norse origin (and closest to some West Norwegian dialects), a not inconsiderable number of Faroese words are of international origin, as we shall see below. The Faroe Isle group comprises about 18 islands in the north Atlantic, lying about half-way between Iceland and the UK. About 40,000 of the around 50,000 speakers of Faroese live in the islands themselves, with almost all of the remaining 10,000 speakers residing within the kingdom of Denmark, to which the Faroes formally constitute a crown possession. That Faroese is the first language of the Faroe Isles is not the result of a quiet or natural development, but a conscious policy. Faroese shows a steadily increasing number of speakers.

Clearly in terms of native speakers these two insular West Norse languages are, even in Scandinavian terms, of a rather minor stature. Yet both have a unique role in shedding much light on the earlier development of the now much mightier Mainland Nordic languages. Without Faroese, and especially, Icelandic, we would have to rely on Old Norwegian, Danish and Swedish literature which are poorly represented on the whole. Our knowledge of the historical development of Scandinavian literature, language and culture would be patchy to say the least. The nature and position of Icelandic is almost unique in international linguistics. Icelandic is a linguistic time capsule. I cannot think of another case in which a small medieval society populated a remote land whose culture and language remained very static for centuries, while the country which originally populated it, and those neighbouring it, changed almost beyond recognition. Iceland's population has not grown much over the centuries, while that of Norway, the mother country, has grown exponentially. The same applies to the Faroe Isles, although here outside influence (mainly from Denmark) is more marked. Geographical situation is one factor which will be considered when the conservative nature of the Icelandic lexicon is discussed below; Halldór Halldórsson (1971) picked up on this relationship between linguistic conservatism and geography when he remarked: “Mikilvæg orsök þessa er fjarlægð Íslands frá öðrum löndum.” (p. 212).

Faroese and Icelandic are apparently mutually intelligble. This probably means in reality that a certain amount can be orally communicated at a simple level with slow articulation. When we come to the written languages the situation is very different. Icelanders and Faroe Islanders have, generally speaking, very little difficulty in reading each others' languages. Orthographically and lexically speaking the two languages probably differ little more than Danish and Norwegian bokmål - if that. Certainly one simple explanation for this is that Faroese and Icelandic share a common West Norse word-stock which has remained very much intact down the centuries. Icelandic and Faroese are dominated by indigenous lexical elements even for everyday concepts, while the Mainland Scandinavian languages have tended to accept international words. Likewise the modes of expression, idiom, syntax and grammatical systems of the two languages differ very little, although Icelandic grammar is marginally more complex. It has been said that the vocabulary of Faroese is closest to Nynorsk, while its form system is closest to Icelandic. However this situation is in part deceptive. The orthography of Faroese is artifical, little resembling the phonetic realities of the language, and masking greatly the sometimes very different sounds of spoken Icelandic and Faroese. It is these differences in pronunciation, which have grown up over time and are unfortunately hidden by the orthography, that constitute the difficulties Icelanders and Faroe Islanders find in understanding each other.

This article, however, will consider some of the lexical differences between the two. I have decided to concentrate on the respective vocabularies because firstly I personally find them most interesting, second, they are quite simple to compare and contrast due to many greater or lesser differences and third, information for this linguistic area is easiest to obtain. Most of the vocabulary differences can be explained by interference from other languages, and the humbler Faroese is certainly more marked by this process. Danish has unquestionably been the most influential outsider on both these languages - often the outcome of politcal wrangling between the greater Scandinavian nations. However, Danish has left its mark much more noticeably on Faroese, thanks to a conscious policy among Icelanders of political independence and linguistic purism, as explained below.

This modest survey will proceed in the following manner:

i) A brief overview of the main developments in Icelandic and Faroese language history, including foreign interference, with condensed background to the policies of lexical purism pursued in both countries. For much fuller discussion than can be given here, interested readers are referred especially to Ottósson, Clausén and West, detailed in the booklist below.

ii) A section considering the differences in the vocabulary between Faroese and Icelandic, a situation to a great extent explained by the more vehement policy of purism pursued in Iceland (but see also iii) below). This section will consider in more detail and with reference to examples, the foreign influence exerted on both languages.

iii) A examination of the main resources open to Icelandic and Faroese when coining new words from the native stock, with examples. The varying methods open to each language help explain to a small extent some of the lexical differences between the two. This section concludes with extensive comparative wordlists.

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Icelandic language history and the málhreinsunarstefna

This is not the place to give an account of Icelandic literary and linguistic history, which has been admirably done several times elsewhere and this article is mainly concerned with the period after the Renaissance (Faroese is given more historical background information, however, because it is assumed that most readers will be less familiar with its development). Suffice to say that Icelandic was the main language of literature and poetry - and not Latin, as was the case in most medieval European socities. Iceland's geographical situtation, combined with limited sailing periods, strong folk-traditions and beliefs inherited from Norway, an early native literary tradition, lack of major dialectal variation (to have one language was an important element in the battle for Icelandic political and national independence), an agrarian- and fishing-based society until into the 1900s, native schooling, a democratic policy towards education and entertainment, the popularity of Icelandic scalds in foreign courts and a considerable amount of cultural conservatism and inherent pride all served to maintain Icelandic as the preferred language of literature and official documents. We can also note that there were no foreign-based trading centres in Iceland with their associated merchant and middle-class citizens that grew up elsewhere in Scandinavia during a period of over 200 years. The nature and development of Icelandic society are stressed by Halldórsson (1971) as a factor important in linguistic conservatism: “Í nánu sambandi við legu landsins er þróun íslenzks þjóðfélags. Það var um margar aldir tiltölulega staðstætt....en það hefir í för með sér, að minni þörf er á breytingum orðaforðans.” (p.212). That the lower classes and rural folk spoke an equally valid and purer variety of Icelandic and had small access to scholarly works was a significant brake on too quick and too liberal an uptake of foreign loanwords. This conservatism meant that the everyday folk could read sagas and poetry of several centuries before with no difficulty and the popularity of the Old Norse literature among the common Icelanders certainly had its role to play in retarding language change. Indeed, Baldur Jónsson (1988) actually claims preserving a link to the esteemed medieval Icelandic literature and maintaining an unbroken linguistic community forms the cultural background to all Icelandic language planning. The draw of the old literature is so powerful in terms of quantity and quality that it cannot be ignored, forming as it does the basis of a unique Icelandic culture and sense of identity. Understanding of the old literature and preservation of the cultural values it encapsulated depended on a pure and conservative Icelandic, which in its turn, facilitated future book-making and book-reading. A large uptake of foreign loans would split the Icelandic lexicon and language usage into two: rural/everyday and learned. This situation did come about (as explained below) in the Reformation period and required conscious reform to counteract.

Of course with the earlier coming of Christianity (officially adopted by resolution of the Alþing in 1000 AD) words of Greek and Latin origin entered into the language - mainly via Old English and Old Saxon. But the position of Icelandic remained safe for several centuries until 1262, when Iceland was annexed to Norway and then to Denmark in 1380. During the late 1200s, the whole of the 1300s and well into the 1400s, Icelandic came under a new threat to its status from outside - the Middle Low German of the Hanseatic League (often mediated through Danish). The Icelandic literary language was moving further away from the classic language of the Sagas, Landnámabók, Hávamál and the other great works of medieval Iceland and becoming an increasingly hybrid language (somewhat akin to the development of Old English after the Norman Conquest). However, the spoken, everyday language was less affected by this outside influence. By the eve of the Renaissance, the Icelandic literary vocabulary was larded with abstract and specialist terms loaned in from Middle Low German, Danish, French and Latin, and was in danger of becoming an endangered language. It was during this period of cultural reawakening, antiquarianism and the re-birth of learning, the Renaissance, that some leading Icelandic scholars and clergy first began to take an interest in restoring their language back to its former purity - or at the very least, stop it from corrupting further.

Although not yet given a name, a policy of conscious purism can be said to have began with the work of Bishop Guðbrandur Þorláksson (1542-1627). His publication of an Icelandic bible in 1584 had a great influence on the preservation of Icelandic at the very time it was most threatened by Danish and High German. Icelandic remained the language of the church and was not suppressed by the Danish authorities (one wonders what the fate of the Icelandic language would have been had the Protestant faith been preached in Danish – as it was in Norway). Significantly, the language of this Bible and the New Testament which had already appeared in 1540 demonstrates a conscious policy of using native resources instead of the Dano-Low German words that were making inroads elsewhere (cf. the first Bibles in Danish and Swedish). As Einar Haugen succinctly puts it:

Die altskandinavischen Sprachen hatten genügend Ausdrucksmittel, um die Bibel adäquat zu übersetzen. Die isländische Übersetzung setzte ihre Tradition fort...” (p.407).

Despite these efforts, Danish continued its influence over Icelandic for the next two centuries.

The learned Arngrímur Jónsson (1568-1648) supported Guðbrandur and became the first man to actively express in print a policy known as málhreinsunarstefna (“policy of linguistic purification”), with which (strongly influenced by the dominant spirit of Humanism) he opposed the imitation in Icelandic of Danish and German models. In 1609 he published his book “Crymogæa” in which urged his compatriots to preserve the purity and strength of their native language by using the sagas as a model and reject foreign imports:

En ég vildi að landar mínir nú á dögum bættu við hinu þriðja, það er að þeir öpuðu ekki eftir Dönum eða Þjóðverjum í ræðu og riti, heldur leituðu sér fyrirmynda í auðlegð og snilld móðurmáls síns....”. (quoted from Guðrún Kvaran, p. 41). Arngrímur’s view may have been a reaction to the German- and Danish-influenced translations of Protestant literature being published at the time. Against a wider background, this was going on during a time when the Danish political influence on Icelandic was reaching its peak with a Danish trade monopoly from 1602 and the absolute monarchy of the Danish king from 1662.

The first dictionary involving Icelandic was published in 1683 by Guðmundur Andrésson and entitled Lexicon Islandicum.

By the 1700s there were many scholars who defended purism. The stress was put on fashioning new words from native resources rather than borrowing foreign ones (the so-called nýyrðastefna “policy of new words”). Even prior to 1750 learned Icelanders in Copenhagen or scholars who had studied there began to search for solutions to the problem of there being words for concepts or things they had become acquainted with in Denmark which had no counterparts in Icelandic.

The establishment of Hið íslenzka Lærdómslistafélag (“Society of the Icelandic learned artists”) in 1779, however, gave new impetus to this kind of work within Icelandic. Stated objectives of the Society were published in 1780 to defend and preserve the language and to cleanse foreign words and alien expressions from it:

5. Einninn skal félagið geyma og varðveita norræna tungu sem eitt fagurt aðalmál...og viðleitast að hreinsa hina sömu frá útlendum orðum og tálsháttum, er nú taka henni að spilla. Skal því ei í félagsritum brúka útlend orð um íþróttir, verkfæri og annað, svo fremi menn finni önnur gömul eður miðaldra norræn hetiti.
6. Því má og í stað slíkra útlendra orð smíða ný orð, samansett af öðrum norrænum, er vel útskýri náttúru hlutar þess, er þau þýða eigu....”

(the policy goes on to state that foreign imports already in use in the 13th and 14th centuries are acceptible when more common or better West Norse forms do not exist; quoted from Halldórsson, 1971, p.223).

Substantial quantities of neologisms were devised, sanctioned and published by the Lærdómslistafélag with the express aim of replacing the banished foreign academic loans with terms wholly native (i.e. West Norse) in idiom and thus be transparent in meaning to the general public. This democratic principle – a product of the Enlightenment – of making scholarship and learning available to the ordinary people was a key aim of the society and enshrined in its statutes. There was a strongly-held belief that loanwords excluded most ordinary people from the learned world. What was needed was words that could be easily analyzed (and therefore transparent) to the average speaker. The guiding ideal for the language purists was, as their policy states, the classical Old Icelandic of the sagas, although they also encouraged people to speak the rural speech of the common folk which had remained largely unchanged since the Middle Ages and drew upon it themselves. This policy became known as the hreintungustefna (“policy of a pure language”) and continued throughout the 1800s. Guðrún Kvaran in her article “Þættir úr sögu orðaforðans” notes:

Í ritum félagsins mátti ekki nota erlend orð, nema þau væru orðin gömul í málinu, en reyna í stað þess að finna orð í fornu máli eða búa annars til ný. Þangað er t.d. að rekja orðin farfugl, fellibylur, gróðurhús og steinolía”. (p. 43)

The policy was aided by the fact that there were no real dialect differences in Icelandic and nor was there any class-based speech.

Some of the topics taken up by members of the Lærdómslistafélag had never been tackled in Icelandic before and there was a clear need for new native terms. Published items by the Lærdómslistafélag (appearing during the years 1781-98) clearly show that the scholars and scientists affiliated with it did their best to live up to its ideals - for their works heave with neologisms, of which, some are inspired by foreign forms and some are entirely new. However, only a small number of such words have survived into the modern language. Of these, the following were noted in university dissertations within the natural sciences: blásteinn “bluestone” (copper sulphate), brjóskfiskur “cartilaginous fish”, mannapi “anthropoid ape” and svartþröstur “blackbird”, as well as those mentioned in the quotation from Kvaran directly above which mean “migratory bird”, “hurricane”, “greenhouse” and “paraffin” respectively.

Jón Sigurðsson, who advised Hammershaimb on his new Faroese orthography, was one such writer who expressly adhered to this policy in his works. The hreintungustefna has undoubtedly done a great deal to protect the Icelandic language from the forces that so threatened it in the past. The policy seeks to maintain Icelandic's strength and purity by stressing its link with Old Norse - the language's golden age. Even in this century when so many English loans have been imported (especially in slang), the aim is still to find or devise purely Icelandic equivalents.

The struggle against Danish, German, French and Latin loan-words in the educated Icelandic urban dialects began in the mid-1700s with the Icelandic poet Eggert Ólafsson. He travelled around Iceland in order to gauge the actual speech patterns and lexis used by unlettered rural folk and the common people. Many learned Icelanders felt it was a mark of erudition that their writings were littered with scholarly foreign imports. The average man, however, used an Icelandic far less tainted by borrowings from abroad and Ólafsson regarded this Icelandic as much closer to the pure Icelandic of the sagas. Loans entered into the language mainly as a result of the Danish supremacy in the island. The Danes enjoyed a trade monopoly and legal and public documents were written in Danish.

No doubt influenced by the seminal work of Ólafsson, who, among other things, produced a spelling book for Icelandic, Hið Íslenska Landsuppfræðingarfélag (“The Icelandic Society for National Education”) was founded in 1794 with the aim of disseminating knowledge to ordinary Icelanders and teaching them to read. Such measures appeared to have had widespread success, for by the early 1800s Icelandic literary and scholarly works were noticeably more native in lexis and idiom.

In 1800 Reykjavík only had around 300 inhabitants – almost the entire population was resident in the rural areas. It is on the speech of these ordinary people, including those that later moved to the capital, that the model of a pure Icelandic language was based. This version of Icelandic had the advantage of being purer and less “tainted” by Danish loans. Although at no time were the population officially required to learn Danish, many did so of their own accord, since the only literature of that time was in Danish, and those who wanted to have higher education were required to go to Copenhagen. Obligatory teaching of Danish in schools did not actually begin until 1946. Despite this, Danish was unquestionably the foreign language with which most Icelanders were familiar until well after the Second World War.

The great Danish linguist Rasmus Kristian Rask on a visit to Reykjavík in 1813 was horrified by the Danish-Icelandic admixture used by local merchants, but found, much to his comfort, that the older speech was still preserved in the rural districts. Rask nevertheless predicted the demise of the Icelandic language in the capital within 100 years - a prediction which thankfully did not come to pass. He founded Hið Íslenska Bókmenntafélag (“The Literary Society of Iceland”) in order to help preserve Icelandic language and literary activity. Icelandic gained prestige following the publication of Rask's Vejledning til det Islandske eller gamle Nordiske Sprog (1811) and the language became a model for Romantic and purist users of Faroese and Norwegian. At the same time, new edited and printed editions of some Icelandic sagas were published (before then Icelanders had to read them from manuscripts) and an improved Bible appeared, translated directly from the Hebrew. These undertakings served to reinforce the position of Icelandic in both writing and speech.

Fjölnir, a literary periodical which was published off and on in the period through 1835-47, was used as a medium to attack what was criticised by Icelandic purists as the Danish-coloured lexis, syntax and morphology of certain prominent Icelanders' publications. As such, Fjölnir had quite an important role to play in Icelandic linguistic conservatism. In the second half of that century, the Icelandic literary and general written language as we know it began to be formed.

Indeed, language conservation played a major role in Iceland’s struggle for independence from Denmark. The group who founded Fjölnir and their successors were proactive in cleansing the language of foreign, especially Danish, terms.

Jónas Hallgrímsson proved to be a master within the creative sphere of neologisms. This ability can be best appreciated in his translation of 1842 titled Stjörnufræði Ursins (“The Astronomy of (G.F.) Ursin”). Neologisms which were first promoted in that work and are still current today are for example aðdráttarafl, hitabelti, ljósvaki and sporbaugur (these are glossed later on).

By the close of the 1800s much was being translated into Icelandic within such natural sciences as astronomy, zoology, physics and botany. The authors of these books and articles coined new words to refer to the things and concepts they were describing. The policy of creating and promoting neologisms has continued in these sciences up to the present day.

An important lexicographical work Nýdönsk orðabók með íslenzkum þýðingum was published in Reykjavík in 1896 with Jónas Jónasson as chief author. This dictionary was much used, even by those writing on scientific and technological topics, as it was the only Danish-Icelandic dictionary at the time. The work includes many neologisms and Jónasson also appears to add some of his own making. Verified for the first time are for example sími “telephone” and smásjá “microscope”. From this dictionary words were spread through books and teaching, eventually filtering down into the everyday speech. The orðabók was a small milestone of linguistic purism in Iceland.

Icelanders took to prose once more with the result that religious, legal, educational and commercial texts were all produced increasingly in the native language. Gradually Icelandic became the preferred language in all areas. It had never been officially ruled that Icelanders should speak or understand Danish – not even when the Danish king had supreme sovereignty over the island. The policy of purism and the need to create a modern cultural language able to express all facets of modern existence meant that the native word-stock had to perform the role often previously taken by loanwords, so it is especially during the present century that språkvård has become an issue of increasing importance. Iceland is no longer a purely rural-agricultural society and this must be reflected in Icelandic vocabulary. Changes in society, greater scientific and academic knowledge among Icelanders, in addition to the widespread uptake of modern technology has, since the turn of the century, required even greater numbers of neologisms be admitted into the language more quickly than ever before. The role of the authorities has also been significant (e.g. reading and writing Icelandic became obligatory subjects in schools in 1907 and official spelling rules were passed in 1918) but success ultimately depends upon the acceptance and use of new terms by the general population. Språkvård in Iceland has first and foremost been a concern of the general public. Now when new concepts are imported from abroad, instead of being borrowed wholesale as in the past, they are translated into Icelandic, either by concept or by word-forming elements (calques).

While the conscious programme of purism is difficult to exercise consistently in practice, with especially foreign words for modern cultural phenomena being difficult to replace in the spoken language, the efforts of the language purists have largely met with success. In certain areas such as the fields of aviation, medicine and IT the development of terminology is so rapid that even the very pro-active Icelandic language planning has had a tough task keeping pace. It should be clear from the above that the main focus of Icelandic language planning is not spelling, syntax or pronunciation but vocabulary. It has the aim of making Icelandic a better, more effective, pliant means of expression without changing its structure or switching to another language. Icelandic purism is general – it counteracts loans from all languages, no matter what the source.

Lars. S. Vikør provides a useful summary of the reasons for Icelandic purism. Purism uses indigenous words:

a)      for reasons of purity

b)      because it is more democratic – indigenous elements are easier for users to comprehend

c)      for reasons of structure – foreign words which do not easily assimilate may threaten the very structure of the language

to these I would add:

d)      to maintain an unbroken link with Icelandic cultural heritage and maintain a feeling of nationhood

Halldórsson provides a useful summary of the principles of such purism, namely to:

a)      follow the patterns of speech used by ordinary people, especially those from rural areas or those who have moved into urban areas (intellectuals are more influenced by foreign languages than ordinary people!)

b)      follow the style used in classical Old Icelandic literature

c)      follow the style used by the best writers much read by the ordinary people

d)      avoid loans, unless they can be easily adopted into the linguistic system (e.g. bíll, gír, jeppi)

In general it can be said that drastic changes to structure and/or vocabulary would estrange Icelanders from their cultural heritage and weaken their sense of being a unique people. The most important premise for Icelandic purism is that Icelanders consider modern Icelandic and Old Icelandic as one and the same language, Old Icelandic being, arguably, the vehicle of the finest literature of the Middle Ages. Purism has become a part of the Icelandic identity – indeed perhaps the largest part  – and many consider Icelandic a more noble language than others by virtue of it being more pure.

The influence of purism remains strong, at least in the written language. Purism is supported by both left- and right-wing political parties.

The effect of loanwords on Icelandic and the methods used by Icelanders to coin new native words will be considered in the section on word-formation and neologisms below.

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Faroese language history and purism

There are no substantial undisputed Faroese texts written before the early 1800s. Two medieval runestones dating from approximately (even these dates are debated) the 1000s and 1200 are to be found at Kirkjubø and Sandvág on the islands. A few examples of medieval legal documents written on the islands are still extant, but these seem to have been written by Norwegians (or at any rate Faroemen imitating Norwegian) and are of limited value in determining how far Faroese had deviated from the classical Old West Norse of the sagas. The scanty evidence suggests it had changed rather little, although there are certain idiosyncrasies and forms which appear characteristic of Faroese. As might be expected this earlier language resembles the western Norwegian dialects comtemporary with it. During the late medieval period Norway ruled the Faroes as a crown possession and with a few exceptions the written language used there must have been Norwegian or Latin. Control later passed to Denmark in 1380 and Danish became the language of the courts, the government, the school-house, and the church - especially after the Reformation. Danish indeed remained the primary language of the state until well into this century.

Færeyingasaga is written in Icelandic, and not Faroese, but it describes the background surrounding the settlement of the islands from the time of Grím Kamban (c.825) until the death of Trond the Geat in about 1035. A complete text of the Saga is not extant but the tale can be pieced together with the interpolation of matter from various medieval Icelandic manuscripts, including the Flateyjarbók, the Saga Ólaf hins Helga and Heimskringla, among others. A date of not later than 1200 has been assigned to the original commital of the saga to parchment. A printed version first appeared in 1832 with a Danish translation by Kristian Rafn and a Faroese rendering by the priest J.H. Schrøter.

The period from the late 1200s until the late 1400s have handed down a few legal documents in a Faroese-coloured Norwegian to us. The so-called Seyðabrævið is by far the most important of these. It is dated about 1298 and is both the most extensive and earliest document extant concerning the Faroe Isles. As the name suggests the document deals with the regulation of animal husbandry in the Faroes, in addition to a few other specially Faroese issues. A few later legal documents exist but none are very illuminating when trying to determine the nature of the Faroese language in those days. One has to wait more than five centuries until anything resembling a continous literary tradition appeared in the native language.

After about 1540 Danish influence on Faroese life becomes enormous. As in Norway, the Danish Bible was introduced and with it Danish as the liturgical language. Psalms and other religious texts were not translated into the native language as in Iceland but into Danish. Few Faroese priests travelled the long distance to Copenhagen so Danish priests gradually began to take over Faroese church services, the language of which became exclusively Danish. As early as 1637 local officials could no longer understand the Seyðabrævið of 1298 and it had to be translated into Danish! Almost everything was now written in Danish – the legal language, even personal correspondence. From the time of the Reformation down to modern times, Danish was the only written language used in the Faroes.

A consequence of the Danish language dominance was that the Faroese lexicon did not develop much in fields outside of traditional areas such as farming and fishing. All new impulses from outside came in through Danish, and the Danish influence became so great that it threatened to destroy Faroese.

Despite all this, Faroese still largely remained the spoken language of the common people and to a large extent kept its West Norse character intact. This continuing use among the common folk alone allowed it to survive. Although Faroese has not had any noteworthy literary tradition like Icelandic, its survival relatively intact can probably be mainly explained by the Faroe Islanders’ strong tradition of oral literature, folk-songs and kvæði, which acted as a brake on too rapid lexical change. Thus Faroese survived without a standard written norm for 400 years of Danish domination. The folk-songs may have had an especially pivotal role, as Jóhan Hendrik W. Poulsen suggests: “At sproget dog stort set beholdt sit arkaiske norrøn præg både med hensyn til bøjning og ordforråd kan muligvis tilskrives en bevarende indflydelse fra den store skat af folkeviser (kvæði) og anden mundtlig tradition, der blev overleveret ned gennem tiderne” (Språkene i Norden, p.127). This oral literary tradition was the most precious cultural heritage of the Faroese people and one which distinguised them from other European nations.

The earliest work about Faroese was written by Jens Christian Svabo (1746-1824) - the Faroe Islanders' first major folklorist. Svabo produced a justly famous account of the economic resources and physical characteristics of the Faroe island group. But it is for his philological enquiries that he will be most remembered. He prepared a magnificent Faroese-Danish-Latin dictionary which strangely enough has only seen publication within the last 30 years as Dictionarium Færoense ed. Ch. Matras, 1966-70.

Svabo recorded Faroese words in his own dialect of the island of Vágar, and did so, he said, because he did not expect the Faroese language to survive for long. He abandoned his earlier plans of recovering what had been lost from Faroese from Old Norse as unrealistic and not likely to be accepted by everyday users of the language. His efforts in the sphere of literature helped preserve Faroese. In his lifetime Svabo collected a manuscript of 52 traditional Faroese ballads (some of medieval descent) as handed down in oral tradition. Unfortunately, only one of them was ever printed while he lived and thus, in 1814, became the first Faroese text ever printed. Svabo's Faroese orthography however had the unfortunate drawback of being almost impenetrable for Old Norse scholars and readers of Scandinavian languages to understand - however faithfully it represented the phonology of his local dialect. This was a problem to be resolved by the later language enthusiasts and conservationists.

Svabo's well-intentioned and pioneering work may well have sparked off the passion in ballad collection that now began in earnest. A collection of kvæði (traditional songs) was compiled by Dane H.C. Lyngbye during a botanical investigation on the islands. Professor P. Müller recognised a Faroese version of the Völsunga Saga among Lyngbye's collection and he commissioned two local clergymen to begin collecting oral poetry. The material was collected with great zeal, with the upshot that Lyngbye was soon able to publish his Færøiske Quæder om Sigurd Fofnersbane og hans Æt, which was the first complete book using Faroese as the primary language.

Faroese as an independent language with a literary history (albeit in oral form) was now brought to the attention of Nordic scholars, and not long after this two important publications appeared in Faroese: The Gospel of St. Matthew and the Icelandic Færingasaga.

A native Faroeman Johannes Klemensen collected the most voluminous anthology of ballads ever seen - some 900 pages - which was duly acquired by the great Danish philologist and theologian Nikolai Frederik Severin Grundtvig. Grundtvig named Klemensen's collection the Sandoyarbók and it has begun to appear in printed form within the last 30 years. Another Danish scholar Jørgen Bloch and Grundtvig managed to compile and edit between them almost the entire corpus of traditional Faroese poetry. This was given the title Føroyja Kvæði: Corpus Carminum Færoesium and was completed by 1905.

Among other important conservationists of traditional Faroese oral literature were inventor of the conventional orthography, Vencelaus Hammershaimb (1819-1909), and linguist Jakob Jakobsen (1864-1918). During the 1850s texts were collected by Hammershaimb, who travelled the isles collecting dialect information. Hammershaimb was a Romantic like the Norwegian language purist Ivar Aasen and had the same natural ideals. His orthography of 1846 is a product of its age: the age of Romanticism and Scandinavianism. Some of the prose Hammershaimb collected appeared in his noted Færøsk Anthologi, published between 1886-91 and became the beginning of the Faroese prose tradition. The language in it was free of Danicisms which characterised the spoken language (most Faroese writers, it can be said, have kept to this style, while some like Heðin Brú have introduced many regionalisms into normal prose). His Færøsk Sproglære (the first Faroese grammar) appeared in 1846 and paved the way for later developments within written Faroese, the production of descriptive grammars of the language and a new independent national literature. Jakobsen, however, was to become the single most important enthusiast regarding the recording of traditional prose. Between the years 1898 and 1901 he published his Færøske folkesagn og æventyr which comprised the typical stuff of folk-tales and romantic and magical adventure.

The recording and editing of Faroese ballads and prose literature required the formation of a stable orthography, and that of Svabo, being local and near phonetic, was not suited to this task. Many Danes regarded Faroese as a corrupt dialectal admixture of Danish and Icelandic and not suitable as a medium of instruction in schools or as a viable language of government. Rask was one such eminent scholar who believed this, a belief he stated when including a small grammar of Faroese in his grammar of Icelandic. Orthographies based on etymological principles had been tried before, e.g. by Jacob Nolsøe, but it was the writing system devised by Hammershaimb, with advice from Icelandic friend Jón Sigurðsson, that finally gained acceptance. This new orthography took into account the historical source of the words and had the advantages of being suitable for the representation of all Faroese dialects, providing a stable and dignified written tradition and preserving a link with historical West Norse. Until this time there was no written or prestige language which could act as a unifying force on the various dialects. Now any oral text could be recorded for posterity and be readily comprehensible to Old Norse and Scandinavian scholars. Hammershaimb’s orthography was in part an attempt to embrace all dialects without preferring one over the other. It represents a reconstruction of a past stage in the history of Faroese, as it conceals significant sound changes. A disadvantage still felt are the barriers such an etymologically derived spelling system creates for children learning the language. But this is a price felt worth paying for a system which preserves the historical links and tradition between Faroese, Old Norse, Icelandic and certain western Norwegian dialects. This problem has been partly alleviated by the linguistic suggestions of Jakob Jakobsen, who argued that Hammershaimb's unphonetic orthography would be a stumbling block to learners of the language. The system Hammershaimb actually came up with may well represent the Faroese of some centuries ago, which, had it been written down, would have more closely resembled its Old Norse ancestor, rather than being the bearer of various dipthongised long and short vowels, lost medial ð and g and other phenomena.

A prerequistite for the growth of Faroese language usage was Hammershaimb’s written standard. It proved a pliant tool for the young Faroese poets and a worthy form for their patriotic songs. Most prominent among the Faroese students resident in Copenhagen was Fríðrikur Petersen, whose poem Eg Oyggjar Veit (“I Know Of Islands”) later became a national anthem. In 1881 the Føringafelag (the Faroese Society) was founded in Copenhagen and soon became a hub of Faroese cultural activities in Denmark.

In the 1930s the Føroya málfelag (“Faroese language society”) was active in publishing wordlists under the leadership of Christian Matras. In 1952 the Fróðskaparfelag Føroya (“Faroese Society for Higher Learning”) was founded, and it has since then published an annual journal (Fróðskaparrit) including articles on such diverse subjects as philology, geology, folklore and medicine. The Málstovnur Føroya Fróðskaparfelags (“Language Secretariat to the Faroese Society for Higher Learning”) was established in 1959 as its linguistic division, with the role of providing linguistic advice and producing dictionaries, among others the acclaimed Føroysk-donsk orðabók by M.A. Jacobsen and Christian Matras (1961) and the Donsk-føroysk orðabók by Jóhannes av Skarði (1967). The Secretariat has assumed the management of the Faroese language cultivation programme.

With the development of a Faroese literature and the growing use of written Faroese in private life, it gradually became accepted in public life as well. However, not until the Home Rule Act of 1948 did Faroese achieve legal recognition as the primary language of the islands. Bilinguialism in the Faroes is now enshrined in the Education Act.

A complete, official Faroese Bible appeared in 1961. Another landmark on the way to linguistic independence.

Today, the lower grades are fairly well supplied with books in Faroese, but secondary education fares less well, which may affect the quality of the teaching provided. Foreign languages in general need to be studied with the aid of Danish dictionaries, although this situation is gradually improving.

The Faroese language movement has always had two primary aims: 1) combat Danish domination, 2) make Faroese the language of the schools, church and central administration (the two overlap to a large degree). In an ideal world the Faroese would like to dispense with Danish altogether. But this would necessitate the switching to another (major) language of culture, which considering their political and economic situation would have to be English. Danish continues to play a crucial role in Faroese society as an essential connection to the outside world. 40,000 speakers is too small a linguistic community to provide the social and economic diversification to allow at least some speakers to remain monoglots. Another factor is the Faroe Isles’ total financial dependence on Denmark.  Neighbouring Icelandic, with its much greater degree of linguistic (not to mention financial) independence, shows us how large a population needs to be to function as a monoglot society. With its around 318,000 speakers it is quite probably the smallest linguistic community where a citizen can choose to remain monolingual and still take full part in cultural and economic life.

Most Faroe Islanders seem to agree that one should avoid using superfluous international words or Danicisms. In general, most seem to look positively on Faroese language planning and cultivation. The main issues to be dealt with in the modern language planning are how to resist Danish influence (especially in the spoken language) and how best to develop a lexicon to cover the needs of modern international culture.

In summary, it can be said that the policy of purism has not met with the same success as in Iceland. The Faroese community is less united on purism than the Icelandic one. However, inspite of the difficulties created by following a policy of linguistic purism, Faroese has successfully gone from being for centuries an unwritten peasant language to a written and spoken medium well-suited to meet the needs of modern life.

In the Faroe Islanders’ struggle for cultural independence, the Faroese language was seen as the key symbol which unified all Faroese people, representing their distinct nationhood, and linguistic patriotism was combined in this struggle with political claims for self-rule.

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Loanwords and insular Norse lexical differences

Having briefly surveyed the history and background of puristic trends in Icelandic and Faroese it is time to examine what foreign loanwords both languages aimed to replace and the sources from which these loans came.

Firstly, to put the uptake of loanwords into a linguistic context, some remarks about the relation of Icelandic to Old Norse are appropriate. Much about Modern Icelandic is the same as in Old Norse times. The basis of Modern Icelandic is still very much rooted in Old Norse and the formal grammatical system has changed little since the time of the sagas. There are nevertheless quite a few loanwords, but those from elder times are now fully naturalised. The majority of these earlier loanwords are common to all the Nordic languages. The great majority of the Old Norse wordstock is alive in modern Icelandic. Guðrún Kvaran puts it succinctly when she asserts: “Ef dregið er saman það sem fram hefur komið er kjarni orðaforðans í dag hinn norræni stofn sem landnámsmenn fluttu með sér til landsins.” (p. 46).

Baldur Jónsson (1983) comments further on this theme and refers to a word frequency study conducted some years ago:

Omkring 1940 utfördes en frekvensundersökning av olika moderna texter på ca. 100 000 löpande ord. Knappt 1000 av de mest frekventa ordformerna (drygt 75 procent av hela korpusen) tillhör 520 olika ord. Därav finns 500 belagda i fornisländska källor och endast hälften av återstoden, dvs. 10 ord, kan beläggas först efter 1550 (p.118).

Pétersson (p.141) also remarks on the conservative nature of the Icelandic basic wordstock: “Von insgesamt 2201 bekannten indogermanischen Wurzeln hat das Isländische 1264 bewahrt.” He notes that ¾ of an Icelandic text consists of the most common words (and therefore native), the great majority of which stem from the Indo-European Ursprache or more especially, Germanic roots. Many of these common words have remained unchanged since the oldest extant Icelandic texts.

Also commenting on this theme, Elias Wessén, on page 40 of De Nordiska Språken says: “Bättre än i de andra nordiska språken ha de ursprungliga ordbildningssuffixen förblivit levende och produktiva. Det är därför lättare att skapa nya ord av inhemsk virke.” Wessén is correct in this, but when he argues that the main reason for Icelandic lexical purism is the difficulty of assimilating loans into the native inflectional system, the evidence of several centuries of borrowing does this not fully support this statement. The purism is rather a conscious policy which has only existed for a few centuries. It may be that the complex Icelandic inflectional system both of the past and the present acted as a filter and allowed only a small number of loans into the language (Halldórsson, 1971, p.215 writes: “Það er alkunn staðreynd, að tökuorð eiga ekki eins greiðan aðgang í mál, sem hafa flókið beyginga- og orðmyndunarkerfi...”), while Ottósson is of the view that the route from donor language to full integration in the Icelandic language system is longer and more complex than in other Western European languages (sometimes requiring, among other things, a change in main stress), but I think this is only part of the answer. I would argue that the relatively small impact made by Danish and Norwegian has more to do with i) the natural independent spirit of the Icelanders (the original settlers were after all pioneers); ii) geographical distance and most importantly; iii) a unbroken literary tradition in the native language (remember that the scalds had early on established a tradition of forming new words through heiti and kenningar) - a fact that does not apply to Faroese of course (Jakob Benediktsson argues the case for Icelandic though when he asserts: “ hægt að fullyrða að þjóðsögurnar staðfesta það sem hefur varðveitzt ótrúlega lítið blandaður erlendum áhrifum fram á 19. öld.” (p.107)). Nevertheless the comments made above about continuing proximity to Old Norse and conservative inflexional system apply to a large measure to Faroese. Most proposed loans do not readily fit into the grammatical and phonetical system of either language. We may summarise a few of the main similarities both share with Old Norse:

*3 genders, 4 cases and multiple declensions for each gender
*concord is required between nouns, articles and adjectival endings
*strong and weak verbs are distinguished, with 3 persons each in the singular and the plural
*extensive use of the subjunctive
*no indefinite article

For Icelanders grammatical (and lexical) conservatism is a source of pride and has been consistently raised as a symbol of national resistance to Danish supremacy. The inflectional nature of Icelandic is one reason why the creation of new words – derivatives and compounds – is fairly easy (compared to, say, the Mainland Scandinavian languages). Halldórsson (1979) takes this view a step further and claims that in general inflectional languages are more suited to the formation of new words than non-inflectional ones.

We can in summary state that the causes behind insular Norse lexical purism are several and although important, the affinity of both to the grammatical complexities of Old Norse is only one. After all, Danish, Swedish and Norwegian once had formal grammar as complex of that of Icelandic and proved themselves nonetheless able to important many words through their contact with Middle Low German, language contact which had the effect of simplifying their grammatical systems at the same time as their vocabulary was significantly enriched. The interest in Iceland for using native terms has more to do with politics and culture than the grammatical complexities of the language. Such factors as geographical situation, natural cultural conservatism of the people (a key factor), slow industrial and social development, and, in the case of Icelandic, an unbroken literary tradition may have as much responsibility for it. Indeed, I believe the last of these is the most significant, and can explain why Faroese allowed, and still allows, more loanwords. Conscious policies of lexical purism are a relatively recent phenomenon and do not explain the earlier conservatism. However they are now far more effective than the more natural circumstances which kept loans to a minimum in the past. The aim now is not to restrict loanwords so much but rather to purge them from the language and replace them.

Despite the numerous examples of loanwords given in this article and discussion of Danish domination for centuries of the island's trade and cultural life, Iceland has always been largely monolingual. Danish has had a long and powerful effect on Icelandic but never became the language used by the majority of Icelanders. At least with regard to the common everyday people, the same can be said of Faroese, although in this case bilingualism has become the norm (Danish, however, is not in as strong a position as it used to be). The main threat to Icelandic from Middle Low German and Danish has been on the written and learned language, as well as the speech of the upper classes, officials and merchants. The literary tradition of Iceland was too well established (as explained above) although the potential for serious change was very real (basic, everyday English is still very much the same as its Anglo-Saxon forbear, despite the Norman Conquest). Faroese with a weaker literary tradition and greater dependency faced a greater threat of language extinction.

Now a brief survey of the major periods for loans in Icelandic and Faroese will be presented, along with their major contributors.

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Loanwords in Icelandic

The earliest periods of Icelandic language history (i.e. the landnámsöld from c. 870-930, the so-called “Saga Age” c. 930-1030 and down until early medieval times c. 1100) do not concern us much here. However, we can mention the dozen or so early loans into Icelandic from Gaelic, probably a result of the Irish slaves brought in numbers to Iceland. Of these, Guðrún Kvaran mentions a few (p. 36):

Af tökuorðum úr keltnesku má nefna orðin bagall, brekán, kross, slafak, sem haft er um grænt slý á tjörnum og í mýrum, arfa og æta þörunga, hugsanlega papi, sem haft var um írskan munk, og fuglsheitið jaðrakan (Ásgeir Blöndal Magnússon, 1989).

The Celtic loans quoted mean “crozier”, “blanket, quilt”, “cross”, “pond algae”, “Irish munk” and “black-tailed godwit” respectively. Baldur Jónsson in his article Isländska språket (see the booklist) lists a couple more: bjannak “blessing” and tarfur “bull”. (p.165) Icelandic shows a clearly stronger influence from Celtic than does sister language Norwegian, but the overall influence is still very small. There are also a handful of Celtic-derived personal names such as Njáll and Kjartan.

The early Icelandic church was established by Germans and Englishmen and heralded the first major borrowing period in Icelandic. Old English and Old Saxon had some native derived input, but this was small and most loans were Germanic renderings of Latin or Greek ecclesiastical words. A list of some of these words is given by Guðrún Kvaran (p. 40):

Talsvert er um tökuorð frá þessum tíma sem löguð hafa verið að hljóð- og beygingarkerfi málsins. Sum þeirra má rekja til grísku, önnur til látinu, en flest hafa þau komist inn í íslensku um önnur germönsk mál. Dæmi um orð af þessi tagi eru stöðuheitin biskup, djákni, klerkur, munkur, prestur úr fornensku, og páfi úr fornsaxnesku. Tökuorð úr fornensku eru ennig talin orðin engill, guðspjall, kirkja, klaustur, þolinmóður og þolinmæði og lýsingarorðið kristinn, úr fornsaxnesku altari, djöfull, offur, offra, páskar, pína og synd...”.

Respectively, these loanwords denote “bishop”, “deacon”, “clergyman” (or “scholar”), “monk”, “priest”, “pope”, “angel”, “gospell”, “church”, “cloister”, “patient”, “patience”, “christian”, “altar”, “devil”, “offering”, “(to) sacrifice”, “Easter”, “torment” and “sin”. A few more are supplied by Baldur Jónsson in his article (p.165-6): abbadís “abbess”, ábóti “abbot”, messa “mass” and nunna “nun”. Samviska “conscience” was loan-translated from Latin conscientia. Native Anglo-Saxon and not from the classical languages are the calques bókstafur “letter, character” (OE bôcstæf), hátíð “festival” (OE hêahtîd) and guðspjall “gospel” (OE godspell). In agreement with my definition of “neologism” given below, we can mention terms from pagan culture which took on new Christian meanings (“loanshifts”): freista “tempt” and noun derivative freistni “temptation” came to stand in relation to sin, sæll “happy, fortunate” came to mean “blessed”, fjandi “enemy” (cf. OE fêond) became “(the) Devil”, jól “Yule” (a heathen midwinter feast) became “Christmas”, guð “heathen deity” became “God”, while dygð “manly deed” (cf. OE duguð “strength, power; host, army”) shifted to a Christian meaning of “virtue, good quality, faithfulness”. In hvítaváðir “(white) baptismal dress” and lagasöngr (part of the Catholic mass) we have couple of early ecclesiastical neologisms. Not so immediately Christian but nonetheless connected to the culture of learning fostered by the church and the new religion were the words lesa and skrifa, whose former meanings were “gather, pick” and “paint” but now came to mean “read” and “write” respectively (Jónsson, 1983, p.116). The names for the days of the week that recalled the former veneration of heathen gods also came to be changed through the influence of the church at the beginning of the 1100s. Thus týsdagr (“Týr’s day”, cf. Tuesday, German Dienstag) became þriðjudagr (lit. “the third day”), óðinsdagr (“Òðinn’s day”, cf. Wednesday, Mainland Scandinavian onsdag) became miðvikudagr (lit. “mid-week day”, cf. German Mittwoch), þórsdagr (“Þór’s day”, cf. Thursday, German Donnerstag) became fimmtudagr (lit. “the fifth day”) and friádagr (“Freyja’s day”, cf. Friday, German Freitag) became föstudagur (lit. “day of fasting”) (Jónsson, 1983, p.116). Note that Faroese, however, did not change its days of the week in this way: mánadagur, týsdagur, ónsdagur, hósdagur (< ON Þórsdagr), fríggjadagur (< ON Frjádagr).

Christian terms were early coined or calqued within the written language and helped established a tradition of native word-formation in Icelandic that was maintained in later secular writings and translations. Icelanders travelled all over Europe for study, pilgrimmage or commerce, and this is reflected in many of the loans brought back during the late medieval period, such as silki “silk”, pell “pelt, hide”, buklari “shield” and panzari “armour”.

Old Icelandic and Old Norwegian differed but little until about 1200, when changes such as Norwegian ð to t or d became the norm, while appreciable discrepancies in the vocabularies do not begin to appear until the 1300s. The Mainland Scandinavian languages felt much more strongly the influence of the Middle Low German loanwords that now began to arrive in numbers. Middle Low German not only altered both everyday and specialised vocabulary in the Mainland languages greatly, but also helped cause the inflexional levelling that so distinguishes insular Nordic from its continental relatives.

Guðrún Kvaran notes the modest but nevertheless significant number of loans during the late Middle Ages into Icelandic from Old French and Old/Middle High German. At this time Icelanders were translating and becoming acquainted with the chivalric literature so popular in southern Europe, which was brought to Iceland by Norwegians and Danes. Later the Nordic nations composed their own examples of this genre, and the Icelanders loaned words which expressed the rather foreign sounding courtly life of the European nobility:

En Íslendingar kynntust ennig snemma riddarabókmenntum sem Norðmenn fóru að þýða á öndverðri 13. öld...Þannig komust inn í málið ýmis orð, sem enn eru notuð, flest úr fornháþýsku eða fornfrönsku en sum ennig úr fornensku. Sem dæmi mætti nefna: barón, riddari, knapi, lávarður, júngfrú, herra og frú, en ennig burtreið, fantur, ribbaldi og púta í merkingunni “gleðikona”. Til þessara bókmennta er ennig að rekja orðin kurteisi, sem talið er tökuorð úr fornfrönsku “cortois”, og hæverska úr miðlágþýsku hövesch (Ásgeir Blöndal Magnússon, 1989).” (p. 39)

The loans mentioned above mean “baron”, “knight” (cf. Low German Ridder, German Ritter), “varlet”, “lord” (cf. Old English hlâford), “lady” or “princess”, “lord”, “lady”, “tilt-riding”, “footman”, “savage”, “harlot”, “courtesy” and “courtesy”. To these we could add skvíari “squire”, stívarðr “steward”, burtstöng “tilting lance” and hæverskr “courteous”. Most of these courtly words were merely fashionable (and then in clearly defined circles) and quickly fell out of use when the social fashions changed.

The source of the last mentioned loan leads us nicely on to the next major borrowing period. Icelandic during the late medieval and early modern period was subjected to the huge economic, political and cultural influence of the Hanseatic League. Owing to its remoteness and trade monopolies forced on it by Norway and later Denmark, Iceland escaped most of the loanwords that found their way into the Mainland Nordic languages but it too adopted some of the Low German items that were current at the time. Icelanders were reading Middle Low German books before the Reformation in the late 1400s and the Hanseatic commercial power was first making its presence felt in Iceland around this time. Examples of MLG loans, most of which are still viable today, are: greifi “earl”, hertogi “duke”, jungherra “master, nobleman”, jungfrú “lady”, fursti “prince”, riddari “knight”, lén “fife”, kurteis “courtesy”, handla “act; trade”, smakka “taste”, sykur “sugar”, kokkur “cook”, kokka “cook, boil”, diktur “poem”, forma “form”, klókur “clever, cunning” and mekt “might”. The adoption of Christianity rather earlier also ushered in many loans (and not merely in religious contexts) or else demanded that native words undergo a change in meaning.

Most loans during this period came in from Danish, either directly or as a loaning agent, owing to Danish domination of Icelandic trade and life. Of the loans that came in during this period, however, it is sometimes hard to determine whether the source was MLG coloured Danish or MLG itself, which was still an influential source for loans. (Of the examples of MLG loans below, most are from Christian Westergaard-Nielsen, who provides many examples). Some examples of earlier Danish loans are: ske “happen” (late 1300s, MLG schên; this loan in particular has been the subject of much vitriol from Icelandic language purists), ráðhús “town hall” (cf. Low German Raadhuus, German Rathaus), blífa “become”, brúka “(to) use”, brúk “use”, þenkja “think”, makt “might” (competed with native máttur), selskapur “society, party, association”, skikka “send” (1494, MLG schicken), slekt “kin, lineage” (1499, MLG slechte), undirvísa “educate” (1480, MLG underwîsen) pakki “pack, packet”, þéna (“serve” - MLG thênen). Of these, only þenkja and pakki survive, while þéna now has another meaning. During the mid-1500s, around the time of the Reformation, many ecclesiastical works were translated from Danish and German and with these came many loanwords.  Nouns such as böðull “hangman”, doktor, hýena, jómfrú “virgin” and mínúta appear around this time.

Loans from MLG – either directly or, most commonly, via Danish or Norwegian – represent the largest foreign element in the modern Icelandic vocabulary (although it is clear they existed in greater numbers than they do today). To anyone familiar with Nordic language history, the influence exerted by MLG comes as no surprise. These words entered the language over a long period and belong in the main to the everyday vocabulary. They are conspicuous and an everyday conversation will probably not progress too long without one or more of these words being used.

Several alien prefixes were introduced from Danish and Middle Low German first appearing in the late 1300s and compounded partly with native words and partly with loaned elements. The prefix MLG be- is a lexical item which can be seen as typical of the language of the Hansa (which appears as - as a rule in Icelandic). The oldest example is of bífala “to command” (MLG bevalen) from 1370 and bíhalda “keep, retain” from 1389 (MLG beholden). Bíhaga “please” appears first in 1434. Only twenty or so words appear of this type in the 1400s, including those just given above. Among these can be mentioned bídrifa “commit, do” (MLG bedrîven), bífalning “order, command” (MLG bevalinge), bífela “command” (MLG bevelen), bíhjálpligur “helpful” (MLG behelpelik), bíkenna “confess” (MLG bekennen), bískatta “tax” (MLG beschatten), bítala “to pay”  (MLG betalen), bítaling “payment” (MLG betalinge), bívara “preserve” (MLG bevaren), bívísa “to prove” (MLG bewîsen), bívísing “proof, evidence” (MLG bewîsinge). Such words become more common in the 1500s. Worthy of mention are: bífalningsmaður “commander”, bígáfa “endue” (MLG begâven), bígera “desire, covet” (MLG begeren), bíginna “begin, start” (MLG beginnen), bígrípa “comprehend” (MLG begrîpen), bíhrópa “appeal to, plead” (MLG berôpen), bíkvæmiligur “comfortable” (MLG beqûemelik), bíretta “refer, report” (MLG berichten), bískermelsi protection” (MLG beskermelse), bísluta “decide” (MLG beslûten), bívísan “evidence, proof”, bívísligur “provable”. The number of such words grew in the coming centuries, but they never put down roots in Icelandic and - never (as it did in the Mainland languages) became a productive word-forming element based on native resources. The latter is a very important point. Among other words to be still found in the dictionary are bestikk “cutlery”, bígerð, bílífi, bílæti “picture; ticket”and bínafn “nickname”.

Of the words from this period in for- (MLG vor-) could be mentioned forblífa “remain”, fordæma “condemn”, formega “be able”, forþéna “deserve”, ofurgefa “leave”, forhindra “forestall, prevent”, forlengja “demand, require”, formeta “evaluate”, fornema “feel, perceive”“, forbetra “improve”, forgleyma “forget” and forkasta “reject, decline”. Only a small amount of these words and those in- have been used in spoken language and many were gradually made obsolete. The same applies to the verbal loans in -era derived ultimately from Latin, e.g. emendera, fundera, konfirmera and nótera that were especially common in the Icelandic literature of the 1500s. Although some such words survive, most still feel foreign to Icelandic speakers and many have never been more words in the dictionary. Danish and German influence during this time also affected Icelandic at the levels of syntax and morphology, which suggests just how powerful their effects were. All of the above words have current forms in Modern Danish, but many were purged from Icelandic by the hreintungustefna. Middle Low German words mediated through Danish are also in great evidence in learned written documents from the Icelandic renaissance and later Reformation period. Many Icelandic translations from the Reformation period were poorly done, slavishly imitated German and Danish models and merely disguised foreign loans in Icelandic garb. A great number of the loans taken in by the Icelandic scholars of the Reformation never progressed further than the ecclesiastical register, including most of the verbs formed in their hundreds with various affixes and suffixes (see above), agent nouns formed with -arí (e.g. kettarí “heresy”, snikkarí “joiner”), -erí (e.g. hórerí “prostitution”) and the abstract noun suffix from MLG -sel (e.g. bískermelsi “protection”; cf. the many nouns in the mainland languages with the ending -else). The vocabulary of the everyday people remained much the same as centuries before and a medieval and rural mode of life was still the reality for most Icelanders at the dawn of the early modern period.

Among later loans from MLG could be mentioned: barti “sideburns” (1800s, MLG bart), bómull “cotton” (1656, MLG bômwulle; neologism baðmull has not caught on as a native replacement), flinkur “deft, adept” (1833, MLG flink), gikt “gout” (1800s, MLG gicht), gikkur “fool” (1584, MLG geck), innvortis “inwardly” (1600s, MLG inwordes), keðja “chain” (1584, MLG kede), lukt “light” (1500s, MLG lüchte), munstur “pattern, model” (1584, MLG munster), nettur “nice, fine” (c.1700, MLG nett (from French)), plás “place” (1594, MLG plas (from Latin)).                       

Of the following, all are still current in Danish, although Icelandic has since purged almost all of them - some survive though, e.g. fordæma “condemn”, glas “glass”, spegill “mirror”, slæmur “bad, poor”, spaug “joke, jest” and orsök “cause” (Modern Danish forms are given in brackets): ráðhús (rådhus) “town hall”, blífa (blive) “become”, brúka (bruge) “to use”, þenkja (tænke) “think”, makt (magt) “power”, selskapur (selskab) “party, society”, pakki (pakke) “pack, packet”, þéna (tjene) “serve”, forblífa (forblive) “remain”, fordæma (fordømme), bígríba (begribe) “comprehend”, bífala (befale) “to command”, bítala (betale) “to pay”, slæmur (slem), spaug (spøg), brennivín “spirit” (brændevin), sápa “soap” (sæbe), glas (glas), spegill (spejl), orsök (årsag) and forkasta (forkaste) “to reject”. Kartöflur “potato” appears to have come in a little later either directly from High German or via Danish. Words which are still current in Icelandic and were probably loaned from Early Modern Dutch are rúff “cabin” and dekk “deck” (of a ship).

Danish continued to contribute numerous loans to Icelandic until well into the last century. Some of these are actually Danish in origin (or else had been well naturalised): akkúrat “just, exactly”, altso “thus”, billegur “cheap”, deprimeður “dejected, downcast”, falskur “wrong, false”, fantastískur “fantastic”, fúnkera “function” - these forms are now obsolete in written Icelandic but some lexical items of clear Danish origin are still used in Icelandic speech. However, in many cases Danish provided a medium through which words of international usage could find their way into Icelandic - just as it had earlier provided a medium for Low German loans. Examples are: bíll “car”, bensín “petroleum”, bíó “cinema”, appelsína “orange” (Dan. appelsin; competes with native glóaldinglóaldin (lit. “glowing-fruit”)), doktor, pólítík, tékki “cheque”, kaffi, alkóhol, mínúta, nóta, stúdent, prent, prófessor, hótel, púður “powder”, mótor, vírus, nælon “nylon”, punta “point”, súkkulaði “chocolate”, banki. Further examples of international loans which have come in via Danish during the present and last centuries are: albúm, dívan, klósett “toilet”, banani “banana” (competes with native bjúgaldin (lit. “bowed-fruit”) which is almost never used), krem “cream”, melóna, nikótin, númer “number”, ópera, píanó and vítamín (but native fjörefni is dominant). The use of in certain constructions as an affirmative adverb may well be down to Danish influence and mirrors to some extent the use of jo for this purpose in Danish itself. Many words mediated via Danish still exist in everyday Icelandic speech and especially slang but are unacceptable in written composition.

The influence of English upon Icelandic, although still relatively small, has been a growing factor since World War Two which involved English-speaking occupation of the island and the subsequent Cold War, which involved US military bases stationed on Iceland. Add these factors to growing economic, political and cultural influence on Iceland from English-speaking nations (especially the US) and there is potential for an increasing pressure from English on the Icelandic language in the future. English has thus far mainly affected Icelandic at the level of lexis - especially in slang and jargon - but it has also exerted a mild pressure on Icelandic syntax. English loanwords are quite common in the spoken language, but strongly prohibited in writing. Some examples of English loans which are reasonably certain (i.e. very unlikely to be from Danish) are: absúrd, beibí “baby”, bissness, bjúti “beauty”, boddí, bömmer “bummer” (i.e. a depression), fiftí-fiftí, fixa, flippa, gæi “guy”, geim “game”, gír “gear”, hippi, kikk, kjút “cute”, næs “nice”, meika “make”, pönkari “punk”, séns “sense”, sjoppa “shop”, skáti “scout”, smart and “vow”. To these we could add some Amercianisms popular in young people’s speech: prítti, reddy, smókur and monningur “money” (whose formal native equivalents would be falleg, tilbúin, reykur and peningar).

It is also interesting to note as an aside a few English words and forms in “Western Icelandic” (i.e. the form of the language still spoken by emmigrants to North America): beisment, tóstari “toaster”, dröggbúð “chemist” (= US “drugstore”), kar and koma upp með “come up with”.

The import of a relatively small number of international words has meant that native synonyms are often forced into competition with them. This is also the case with Faroese - but on a larger scale in that language (see the notes and lists below). Some well-known examples of this phenomenon are (it is important to bear in mind in most cases the native words are preferred, and are the only option in some cases in writing): baktería - gerill; spítali - sjúkrahús (hospital); apótek - lyfjabúð (chemist); bíll - bifreið (car); bakarí - brauðgerð (bakery); sígaretta - vindlingur; kíkir - sjónauki (binoculars) and passi - vegabréf (passport); ímeiltölvapóstur (e-mail, lit. “computer post”).

Icelandic has shown to some extent an ability to adapt international words into the Icelandic sound and inflectional system. Veturliði Óskarsson makes the point that there are more loans and international words in Icelandic than is commonly believed, e.g. te, kaffi, kakó, diskur “plate”, kornflex, beikon, gafall “fork”, bíll “car”, mótorhjól “motorbike”, sjoppa “to shop”, pakki, sígarettur, súkkalaði “chocolate”, pólitík (successfully competes with neologism stjórnmál), rokkmúsík, kassetta, sinfónía, stimpla “to stamp”, penni “pen”, firma, arkitekt, klósett “toilet” (cf. German Klo). Efforts have been made to replace some of the above words, especially the more recent arrivals. But this has not always met with success and proposed replacements bifreið, kornflögur, söluturn, vélhjól and vindlingur for car, cornflakes, kiosk, motorbike and cigarette respectively are mainly confined to writing or formal occasions. To the above could be added gír “gear”, skáti “scout”, ál “aluminium”, banki, tékki “cheque”, hotel, jógúrt, alkóhól, vítamín. Some years ago the íslensk málnefnd accepted skvass as an acceptable form of international squash.

Taking Óskarsson’s point into account, it is nevertheless true to say that the upshot of the hreintungustefna is that the vast majority of the obvious loans have been cleansed from Icelandic - at least from the written language, and as a rule, only terms of international currency are loaned and then only under the conditions stated below.

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Loanwords in Faroese

As in the case of Iceland, some of the original settlers of the Faroes would have included speakers of Gaelic languages or persons who had lived in those Norse colonies where these languages were spoken. Ties with Ireland and Gaelic Scotland were no doubt maintained and this may have also facilitated the small but not insignificant number of early Celtic loanwords in Faroese. Some examples are given by Jóhan Hendrik W. Poulsen (1983, p.132): blak “buttermilk”, lámur “paw, large hand; left hand”, slavak “green algae” (cf. Icelandic slafak from the same Gaelic word).

Among the earliest loans are those which entered the language with the introduction of Christianity into Scandinavia (Iceland became officially Christian in 1000 AD and the Faroes must have done so a little before then). Just as in Icelandic, Faroese received the new imports mainly mediated through Old English (or Old Saxon) - but Scandinavian clergy who had already borrowed the terms into their own languages may also have been responsible in spreading them. Aside from those already mentioned in the section on Icelandic above (most of which were adopted into all the Nordic languages) we can add hvítsunna and sál “soul” - both loaned from Old English.

Middle Low German and Danish-mediated MLG had a similar influence on the Faroese lexicon as they had on the Icelandic. From Middle Low German we can assign handil “trade; shop”, bakari “baker”, blíva “become”, mekt “power”, trakt “funnel“ and arbeiði “work” (only bakari is still in Icelandic), as well as many others which have been loaned in via Danish. In this latter category we can place betala “pay” (from betale; obsolete in Icelandic), toy “cloth” (Danish tøj) and vitskapur “science” (Danish videnskab), as well as begynna “begin” (begynde), bevara “preserve” (bevare), forderva “spoil, corrupt” (fordærve), forráða “betray” (forråde) and gemeinur “public, common” (gemen is now not especially favoured in Danish). Danish is also the source of some Faroese abstract nouns terminating in -heit and -ilsi (the Danish endings are themselves derived from Middle Low German) e.g. in words like sannheit “truth” (sandhed) and følilsi “feeling, sensation” (følelse). Some older loans that appear to be purely Danish are forelska “fall in love with” (forelske), melda “report” (melde), treffa “meet” (træffe), vælsigna “bless” (velsigne), bedrøviligur “sad, miserable” (bedrøvelig), herligur “splendid” (herlig), ringur “poor, inferior” (ringe). A calque derived from a (more recent) purely native Danish construction is orðaskifti “debate” (ordskifte), while Hagström mentions the fairly recent calques skaðastova “emergency room” (skadestue) and vøggustova “daycare” (vuggstue), claiming that a Faroese speaker seeing/hearing them for the first time would likely immediately understand them. 

During the Reformation and in the post-Reformation period Danish religious language became so much the norm (e.g. helligond “Holy Ghost”, herligheit “glory, splendour”, kerligheit “love”, trefoldigheit “trinity”, fortapilsi “damnation “), that the Faroese Pater Noster had to be retranslated at the close of the 1800s because it had fallen from folk-memory. Many loans from this period were High German words mediated via Danish which was now the language of the church.

However, in more recent times Faroese has developed its own alternatives to the words listed above, either from its own resources or in imitation of Icelandic or Old Norse (or occassionally Norwegian). So begynna “begin” became byrja, betala “pay” became gjalda, bevara “preserve” became varðveita, forderva “spoil” became spilla, forráða “betray” became svíkja, gemeinur “common, public” became vanligur, sannheit “truth” became sannleiki, følilsi “feeling” became kensla, fortapilsi “damnation” became glatan, herligheit “glory, splendour” became dýrd, helligond became heilagur andi, kerligheit became kærleiki and trefoldigheit became tríeind (Poulsen, 1983, p.133). Concerning international words that have been replaced by native terms we could mention debattur > orðaskifti “debate” (modeled on Danish ordskifte), demonstration > kravgonga “demonstration” (modeled on Ice. kröfuganga), and musikkur > tónleikur “music”. Diskil “diskette” is a Faroese neologism, as is ljómfløga “(music) CD” (lit. “sound-disk”; CD-ROM is teldufløga (lit. “data/computer-disk”)).

As can be seen from the examples just given, compound nouns ending in -heit and -ilsi were perceived as being foreign (from MLG via Danish) and native alternatives were sought either by replacing foreign elements with native ones (sannheit to sannleiki, kerligheit to kærleiki) or where that was not feasible, replacement by a completely different word (gemeinur to vanligur, følilsi to kensla). The revival of a dead word is less commonly seen, but begynna > byrja above is an example of this (cf. Nynorsk børje, Swedish börja).

Some loans, usual in writing, have been taken directly from Danish and are native to that language (i.e. non- international terms), e.g. stavilsi “syllable” (stavelse), skapilsi “creation” (skabelse), fortelja “tell, narrate” (fortælle), lóg “law” (lov), and fairly recent loans møblar “furniture”, súltutoy “jam”, innviklaður “intricate”. This occurs especially when there is no traditional native synonym. But native synonyms are preferred to foreign-derived ones, so broyta “(to) change” is used in preference to competing loanword forandra. Among older loans from Danish we could mention bangheit “fear” (banghed), góðheit “goodness” (godhed), bangilsi “anxiety”, stivilsi “starch” (stivelse), rimpilsi “nymphomania” (?), ørilsi “dizziness” (?), stóragtigur “haughty” (storagtig). Among other more recent words for which Danish has obviously provided the inspiration we could mention pósthús (posthus) “post office”, fortov (fortov) “pavement”, sparikassi (sparekasse) “savings bank”, polistur (politi, politimand) “policeman” and frisødáma (frisørinde) “(female) hairdresser”. It has been proposed that drukkin, fullur replace Danish-derived berúsaður “drunk, intoxicated” (beruset), tosa (a regionalism meaning “buzz, hum”) replaces Danish-derived snakka, and í stundini, alt í einum replace Danish-derived eygablikkliga “at once, immediately” (øjeblikkelig).

Danish has also contributed many words which are used more or less internationally: moturur (as well as the Scandinavian bilur from bil), doktari, lektari “lecturer”, persónur, atom, plast “plastic” (plast), politistoð “police station”, turistur, pensjón, rekord, konservatisma, literaturur, kulturur, opera, kursur “cursor” (competes with native gangvirði) and journalistur. Faroese tends to be more tolerant of these. In Icelandic native words or loan-translations are almost always used in preference: bíll (actually a Danish loan), læknir, fyrirlesari, maður, frumeind, plast (from Danish plast), lögreglustöð, ferðamaður, eftirlaun, hljómplata, íhald, bókmenntir, menning, söngleikur, bendill and blaðamaður.

Danicisms are often used as synonyms for common Faroese words in everyday speech. Many of these in fact never appear in print. Almost any Danish word may be used and pronunced as Faroese, according to Hagström. So instead of syrgin, óneyðugur, øki, vanliga one may hear bedrøvaður, yfirflødigur, umráði and í almindeligheit (< bedrøvet, overflødig, område, i almindelighed – these are all common Danish words/expressions).

Some of the loans in the field of the sciences also illustrate greater tolerance on the part of Faroese in accepting words current on the international scene. Compare for example vitamin, proton, atom, neutron, elektron and moturur with their direct Icelandic equivalents fjörefni (life-stuff), róteind, frumeind (elementary particle), nifteind, rafeind (amber-particle) and hreyfill (something which turns).
On the whole it can be said that Faroese is more willing to accept international terms than Icelandic, and many such words are found, especially in the spoken/everyday language, e.g.
telefon, politi, atom, tomat, system, postur, banki, professari, elekrisitet, veirur “wire” and musikkur. (An Icelandic contact, however, informs me that tómatur is now generally used in Icelandic).

Faroese has also been more affected by English than Icelandic. This is to be expected since the policy of purism in Faroese is less developed, the Faroes are a smaller linguistic community, and finally, their closer proximity to the UK has to be a factor. Early loans from English are húkur and pokari. British seamen are thought to be the donor of the Faroese loan smílur (smell). Occupation by English troops during the Second World War introduced some English words into Faroese such as fittur “nice” (fit) and fokkaður “knackered” (fucked) but most of these were only fashionable for a short period of time. Other older loans are beli, stumbla and trupul. Notable words in Faroese which have come in from English are filmur, smart and hobby. In agreement with Icelandic, Faroese has probably loaned ruff and dekk from Early Modern Dutch. (An Icelandic friend, however, tells me that filmur, smart and hobby are found in Icelandic slang, but only filmur is acceptable in writing). Harðdiskur/harðdiskur “hard disk” has been a successful international loan in both languages (English harddisk perhaps mediated via Danish harddisk). English has also contributed such modern loans as rufla, svinga, keis, fjús, kjokkfullur. More recent loans include bulldosari, sprinkla, skjansur, klips, babysittari, bodybuildari, image, ketsjupp, outsidari, tape and weekendur.

Finally, Icelandic itself has been a major contributor to the Faroese word-stock, either with direct loans, or otherwise providing the necessary lexical and semantic inspiration. This is not simply because of the close geographical proximity of the two island nations nor owing to their historical ties. Neither does Faroese borrow simply because Icelandic is the nearest related language (although this is part of the answer) - after all English does not borrow from the historically close West Frisian. Iceland has managed a successful policy of lexical purism for over a century and formed numerous new coinages from the native word-stock. As such Icelandic provides the ideal source for tried and tested words formed from roots which are historically West Scandinavian in derivation. Icelandic, as a closely related language in structure and lexis, has taken much of the effort away from Faroese linguists and academic bodies requiring the formation of abstract and technical words from native word elements.

Efforts have been made in written Faroese to follow the Icelansdic language example and eschew all Danish loanwords, e.g. mynd instead of bílæti (Ice. mynd), siglingarfrøði instead of navigation (Ice. siglingafræði), halastjørna instead of komet (Ice. halastjarna). Most of what works in Icelandic also works in Faroese – and there are many new words in Faroese based on Icelandic models – but such efforts are not always successful. A parallel might be drawn in some of the American words which sound strange in British English. Sometimes Faroese prefers to alter the loaned elements to more idiomatically or semantically Faroese elements. Faroese might use a Danish loan synomymously or instead, or as in the scientific examples above, it might accept international terms. For example, the Icelandic heimspeki “philosophy” (lit. world-wisdom) has been borrowed directly, but -speki, which is used both as a stand-alone word and as a productive element elsewhere in Icelandic, does not exist in Faroese. So some Faroe Islanders might not understand the meaning of heimspeki although they will doubtless recognise it as an Icelandicism. Similarly fólkaræði is a loan-translation of lýðræði “democracy”, because the element lýð “people, nation” (cf. Low German Lüd, German Leute, Old English lêod) is not much used in Faroese. As mentioned above, Faroese sometimes provides alternative words, one from Icelandic or native stock and the other a Danish or international loan. So we find verkamaður “labourer” (Ice. verkamaður) competing with arbeiðari (Dan. arbejder), løgregla “police” (Ice. lögregla) competes with politi (Dan. politi), landafrøði “geography” (Ice. landafræði) competes with geografi (Dan. geografi), stjørnufrøði “astronomy” (Ice. stjörnufræði) competes with astronomi (Dan. astronomi), skaldsøga “novel” (Ice. skáldsaga) competes with roman (Dan. roman) and ravmagn “electricity” (Ice. rafmagn) competes with el(ektrisitet) (Dan. elektricitet). There are many other examples of this duality, some of which will be detailed in the wordlists that follow.

Despite some competing lexical items, Icelandic has still been the source for many new and accepted words into Faroese, although not everyone is happy about it. Indeed some purists have encouraged a backlash against the perceived “Icelandicisms” just as many earlier did against the then offensive “Danicisms”. A fascinating example of the kind of difficulties faced when loan-translating Icelandic words (and creating neologisms) is reported in p.206 of Haugen, Scandinavian Language Structures. Describing Ella Clausén's investigations into spoken and written Faroese vocabulary (see booklist), he remarks:

Of the 580 “new” words she selected from Fa newspapers 1974-75, 55 proved to be wholly Faroese, 330 were loanwords or loan-translations of Danish terms, 17 were of international origin, and 178 were calqued on Icelandic. The most controversial of these were the Icelandic words, which to Faroese purists represented the best model, while others resented the fact they were novel and almost as foreign as the Danish”.

Haugen goes on to mention that lýðveldi, a calque from Icelandic (discussed above), when broadcast on Faroese radio, was only known to 18 out of 70 randomly questioned Faroese speakers.

From the many examples of Icelandic to Faroese loans that could be cited I will confine myself to the following (Danish words in brackets): frummaður “primitive man” (urmenneske), frumrit “original text” (urtekst), mentan “education” (Ice. menntun) (uddanelse), sjónvarp “television” (although this still competes with fjernsyn from Danish fjernsyn), útvarp “radio” (radio), kervi “system” (system), meginreglu “principle, maxim” (grundsætning), krabbamein “cancer” (lit. crab-tumour) (kræft), vistfrøði “ecology” (økologi), løgfrøði “law” (lov), framleiða “produce, manufacture” (frembringe), framleiðsla “production, manufacturing” (produktion, frembringelse), skjalasavn “archive” (arkiv), bókasafn “library” (bibliotek), bókavørður “librarian” (book-ward) (bibliotekar), fjølmiðil “mass-medium” (medie), tøkni “technology” (Ice. tækni) (teknologi), trygging “insurance” (forsikring), sáttmáli “contract” (kontrakt, aftale), umhvørvi “environment” (omgivelser, miljø), tyrla “helicopter” (Ice. þyrla) (helikopter), verkfrøði “engineering” (Ice. verkfræði) (ingeniørvidenskab), verkfrøðingur “engineer” (ingeniør), bókmentir “literature” (literatur), einahandil “monopoly” (monopol), ravmagn “electricity” (Ice. rafmagn) (elektricitet), skrá “programme” (køreplan), telda “computer” (Ice. tölva has no doubt been influential) (datamaskine), -virki “factory” (-fabrik), -savn “archive, collection” (-samling), -stova “office” (-kontor), -frøði “-ology, -science” (-videnskab, -ologi). More examples can be found in the word-lists below.

Words of Danish origin are used more liberally in writing than in Icelandic. This is even more the case in speech, in which Danish forms are also more acceptable than in Icelandic. Even so, most Danicisms have been eradicated from the formal written language. A good deal depends upon the nature of the speech made or the article written - formal prose and speeches usually require a native vocabulary and idiom which closely resembles the Icelandic. Written Faroese tends to either be associated with traditional culture or high culture. Neologisms, loan-translations and “neo-archaisms” are often used for more literary and higher registers. As in the case of Icelandic, the main driving principle of the lexically puristic policy pursued has been to eradicate obvious Danicisms. It does not help that the most popular and widespread reading matter – such as weekly magazines and illustrated papers – is nearly all in Danish. The printed word remains a very important contact interface Danish > Faroese. Similarly, films are usually shown with Danish subtitles. Despite some concerns that television would harm traditional Faroese culture, TV programmes are transmitted in the Faroes and most, as we would expect, are imported from Denmark. Programmes are subtitled in Danish, if they are already not in that language.

In other words, “popular culture” has not been conquered by Faroese. Faroese scholar Jóhan Hendrik W. Poulsen notes that he is so accustomed to Danish that, when writing Faroese texts outside the scope of everyday life, Danish often first springs to his mind. On the plus side, compared to population size, book production is now abundant in Faroese and covers all literary genres and many branches of science and knowledge. Perhaps one day popular culture will be become a Faroese domain, too.

As indicated by the discussion above, Faroese adults are bilingual, with their reading competency in Danish often being rather better than their spoken skills. Indeed, not a few people have a wider reading vocabulary in Danish than in Faroese in some areas! A constant case of language interference is the fact that a Faroeman has the entire Danish lexicon at his disposal. Being bilingual, the speaker can fill in the gaps from his knowledge of Danish if no suitable Faroese terms exist. Danish is also used when Faroese speakers wish to communicate with Norwegians and Swedes. Danes can expect to be addressed in Danish, so placing the full burden of bilingualism on the shoulders of the Faroese.

In general it can be said that Faroese embraces a greater number of loans than Icelandic, and many are an accepted part of the language. It is fruitless to try to replace them.

The task of developing a language to meet the needs of modern life is not a simple one; Faroese has a rich vocabulary in the fields of nature, daily life and traditional work, but is less sufficient in abstract, philosophical and modern technical terms. It is the role of the national language council to come up with such terms.

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The following table shows some loan-translations into Faroese from Icelandic and any Danish or internationally derived lexical alternatives in Faroese that compete with them:

<div align="center">


Icelandic model

Danish-derived rival

International rival





















































ljósritunarvél (older fjölritari)









































































principle, maxim















external marker

















sjúkrabíll, sjúkrabifreið









































































labourer, workman












It is not easy to determine in some cases whether the international terms have been loaned via Danish or have come in directly. In the case where the two insular languages and Danish concord on the form of a word - either fully or in part - Danish has usually been the donor language.

The following list of examples shows either some Icelandic or Faroese words (or occassionally both) obviously derived from or influenced by Danish:

<div align="center">


Danish model

Icelandic rival

International rival











love poem





atomic power










blood transfusion





blood test



bókaútgafa, forlag












data processing










expert, specialist





fatal traffic accident










exhibition hall





means of payment










world war










purchasing power





driving license





war crime















human rights















police station





raw material















solar system















summer holiday










tooth brush










security council















weight lifter







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Word-formation and Neologisms in Insular West Norse

Having surveyed the various sources for loans in the two languages, the advent of movements to purge them and why these policies might have arisen, it is time to examine what methods Icelandic and Faroese use to replace these ejected words.

Firstly, a quick explanation of what neologisms are. By neologism we simply mean:

a) all new words formed from stems or base words which are already, or have been, present in the lexicon. Such therefore includes derivatives, compounds of all types as well as the root form itself when b) applies. An example of modern derivative is the verb toga “trawl, fish the sea bed” (glossed by Halldórsson as “fiska með botnvörpu”), which was formed from the agent noun togari “trawler”.

b) obsolete, archaic, dialectal or extinct words which have been revived, acquired a change of meaning in their revival, or else simply current words which have acquired a change of meaning (those of the last type which occur in order to signify the meaning of a word from an exterior foreign source are called “loanshifts”). The first of these therefore applies to Modern Icelandic mengi, which has been revived from ON mengi with the same meaning of “crowd, multitude”, while ON sími “thread” has been revived as “telephone” into Modern Icelandic and ON þulr “sage” has become Modern Icelandic þulur “announcer”. A contemporary word which has undergone a change of meaning is, for example, vél “motor, engine” (older meaning “trick, deception”) - more examples of this semantic change are given below. Some writers have preferred to call this category of neologisms “neo-archaisms” since they are not in the truest sense pure neologisms.

c) words created by specialists or professionals within their respective fields and which function as technical terms or jargon. Some of these are clearly based on foreign forms (although of course they are not loan-translations) e.g. bíll “car” (cf. Scandinavian bil), gír “gear” and jeppi “jeep, offroad vehicle”. The medical neologism berklar has as its inspiration the international medical term tubercolosis.

The policy in both languages, but especially in Icelandic, to purge the vocabulary as far as possible of foreign (usually Danish) matter has required the formation of new replacement words formed from native elements. Various methods of neologism creation have been current in Icelandic for over a century now but in Faroese the tradition is weaker and more recent. However in Faroese too progress in this direction has been made, especially recently. As mentioned above, an Icelandic dictionary from the last century, Nýdönsk orðabók með íslenskum þýðingum (1896) provided many neologisms, among them sími and smásjá, the first of these later combining with other productive elements to make new compounds such as símstöð “telephone exchange”, símtæki “telephone apparatus”, bréfsími “fax-machine”, símsvari “telephone answering machine”, símamaður “telephonist” and many others, and the latter creating by analogy ratsjá “radar” and fisksjá (echo location device for fishing). Uncountable numbers of new Icelandic words have been coined with this method of simple combination of meaningful productive elements. Despite the general acceptance of the puristic policy in Iceland, not all are happy about what they argue is uneccessary extremism, and writers such as Kristján Albertsson have complained that the newly coined native words are clumsy, opaque and just as objectionable as the unwanted foreign loans.

The systematic and organised collection of neologisms in Icelandic can be said to really begin with the formation of Orðanefndar Verkfræðingafélags Íslands (“Lexical Advisory Council for the Icelandic Society of Engineers”) in 1919. It worked with great industry in the years 1919-27 and coined words in various areas such as ship-building, engineering, commerce and electrics and had a significant on Icelandic lexical development.

In Iceland, and now to a lesser extent in the Faroes, when new words are required - especially for science, technology or media - they are created by experts who work within the field in which the word is needed. So physicists may create new native terms for physics which are lacking in the vocabulary, doctors will create new terms in medicine, lawyers in law, printers in print technology, editors in journalese and so on. In Iceland the major sciences and other professional bodies have a dedicated panel of expert consultants who work within the field and coin new words as and when these are required, which are then published as wordlists. About 45 committees are registered with the Íslensk málstöð which have the role of creating and managing new terminology within their specialist or professional occupations. The aim is to find a native alternative for an international or English term before it can take root in the language as permanent loanword. For example Nýyrði I (1953) suggested offical Icelandic terms for quite a few international scientific words such as for fjörefni for “vitamin”, róteind for “proton”, frumeind for “atom”, nifteind for “neutron” and rafeind for “electron”, among others. Native terms given in this way are meant for official and permanent use, as far as possible replacing international words. It has to be said though that the lists of words published by these bodies carry no force of law and are meant to be proposals. Nevertheless, the activity of these engineers and techologists has been crucial. Many of their coinages have become part of the vocabulary; for example, almost every word in use concerning electricity is native in origin.

Iceland has an offical language council, the Íslenska málnefnd formed in 1964 by the Minister for Culture, and one of its chief roles is to publish wordlists such as the Nýyrði series in order to publicly sanction and promote the neologisms of the various advisory panels. It also functions as an advisory body both for public organisations and the private citizen and represents Iceland at meetings of the Nordic Language Councils. The council was enlarged to 15 members in 1990. The Faroes has its own Føroyska málnevndin set up to provide language consulting to individuals and public bodies. It also helps in the creation of new words. Also from the Faroes we could mention Føroysk Mállæruheiti, a manual of Faroese grammatical terminology published by the Føroya Lærarafelag in 1970. Many such manuals of officially sanctioned terminology exist in both languages but in Icelandic in particular. Iceland has also drawn up official policies governing the orthography of place-names and the idiom of personal-name giving and usage. Occassionally, however, one recognised or famous individual is credited with creating neologisms in Icelandic which have become an official and enduring part of the vocabulary. These eminent or renowned men coined the following neologisms:

Guðmundur Björnsson - doctor - created gerill “germ”, iðjuhöldur “industrialist”, orkuver “power plant”, met “record, measurement”, lífrænn “organic”, verb toga “trawl” from noun togari “trawler” influenced by trollari or botnvörpungur (earlier terms for “trawler”), smitta (now smita) “infect” and smitt (now smit) “infection” (cf. Danish smitte, English smite, smitten).

Arnljótur Ólafsson - pastor - made vindill “cigar”, kennd “sentiment” and hugtak “concept”.

Guðmundur Kamban - author - made hljómleikar “concert” and tjáning “expression” and both have spawned numerous derivatives or compounds.

Hallbjörn Halldórsson - printer - made stæði “standard class ticket”, vígorð “slogan” (to replace slagorð from Danish slagord) and þjóðnýting “nationalisation”.

Helgi Hjörvar - author - made sjónvarp “television” which has given rise to many derivatives and gave the old word þulur “announcer” a new meaning (in Old Norse mythology it meant “sage, wise man, one who tells”).

Jón Ólafsson - editor - made málgagn “organ, journal” and skilgreina “define”.

Sigurður L. Jónasson - secretary in Danish Foreign Office - devised landhelgi “territorial waters, fishing limits” which has also resulted in several compounds and served as a model for the neologism lofthelgi “(national) airspace”.

Guðmundur Magnússon first used the word berklar “tubercolosis” in an article of 1895 and it has since formed several compounds.

Bjarni Sæmundsson created svif for “plankton” and smásjá for “microscope”.

Björn Bjarnason frá Viðfirði devised tækni “technology” and using the Old Norse úð “sense, attitude” samúð “sympathy, compassion” (which provided the model for antonym andúð “antipathy”).

Guðmundur Finnbogason - professor - coined the verb sefja “hypnotise” and noun derivative sefjan (now sefjun) “hypnotism, suggestion”, bannhelgi for “taboo” and tíðni “frequency”.

Sigurður Guðmundsson - teacher - has formed a small number of words which are still current, e.g. háttvís “tactful, discreet”, háttvísi “tact, discretion”, róttækur “radical” and andúð “antipathy”.

Sigurður Nordal - professor - has shown himself to have good taste and a high level of productivity concerning the formation of new Icelandic words. Some of his creations are einbeiting “concentration”, dróttkvæði “court poetry” (an ON poetic metre), snyrting “bathroom, toilet” (has formed several compounds), tölva “computer” and útvarp “radio”.

Nobel Prize winning author Halldór Kiljan Laxness has also had his influence in this area. We can mention drengjukollur “bobbed hair”, samyrkjubú “collective farm” and stéttvís “class-conscious”.

Vilmundur Jónsson - former doctor - formed among other terms sýni “specimen”, fúkalyf “antibiotic”, hvotsótt “Bornholm disease” and visna “atrophy”.

Alexander Jóhannesson created the verb hanna “design” and noun derivative hönn “design”.

Jónas Hallgrímsson – poet - coined, among other words, aðdráttarafl “(gravitational) pull” (to-drawing-force), hitabelti “tropics” (heat-belt), ljósvaki “ether” and sporbaugur “(orbital) ellipse”. These are still used in daily speech. He is also credited with having radically changed the dominant poetic style in Icelandic to one closer to the medieval literature.

Konráð Gíslason – professor of Nordic Philiology at the University of Copenhagen – was an expert on the history and structure of Icelandic, and an ardent purist. He sought to purge Danicisms and imitate the style of the Sagas.

Regarding Faroese, these men have made some notable contributions:

Christian Matras (1900-1988) - linguist, author - one of the most important innovators and inventors in the Faroese language. His numerous neologisms are now an accepted part of the Faroese lexicon and feel as if they always have been.

Jóannes Patursson (1866-1946) - farmer, politician and a journalist for the Føringatíðindi newspaper, the first paper in Faroese (published 1890-1906). Patursson was a keen creator of new words.

Rasmus Rasmussen (1871-1962) - teacher, botanist - created a complete Faroese terminology for botany and contributed to the development of academic Faroese.

Rasmus Effersøe (1857-1916) - agricultural consultant, author and poet - a fine stylist in Faroese. Uttered the now famous words that he could not have a thought that he could not fully express in Faroese.

Jákup Dahl (1878-1944) - priest and linguist - wrote Føroysk Mállæra (Faroese Grammar) in 1907 and created a Faroese grammatical terminology. He is the father of the Faroese liturgical language, and in the 20s and 30s he translated most of the holy scriptures, and also the order of service and general prayer-book. Dahl translated the Nýggja testamenti (1937) into Faroese. He also composed and translated many hymns.

Hans Debes Joensen (1913-95) - physicist and anatomist - wrote the greatest single contribution to Faroese neologisms to date in the form of Alisfrøði (1969), a 640-page textbook of physics. He created new words and expanded the meanings of existing ones. Joensen also contributed new words for anatomy and contributed to the development of academic Faroese.

Jakob Jakobsen (1864-1918) - linguist - founded the Faroese academic language (together with Poul Nolsøe) with the publication in 1907 of his Diplomatarium Færoense. Jakobsen (and Nolsøe) developed many new Faroese words for concepts which were previously lacking in Faroese, e.g. kollvelting “revolution” – a purely native neologism and now a well-established word. Further now well-established words created by Jakobsen are einahandil “monopoly”, mentir “culture” and skjalasavn “archive”. Christian Matras later continued the work of Jakobsen and Nolsøe.

Mikkjal Dánjalsson á Ryggi (1879-1956) - scientist - made important contributions in the fields of zoology and geography, and contributed to the development of academic Faroese.

Jóannes Rasmussen (1912-1992) - geologist - devised terms within geology - an essential branch of studies in the Faroe Isles.

Bjarni Niclasen (1918-80) - chemist - developed the terminology of chemistry during this century and contributed to the development of academic Faroese.

It is sometimes the case that a new concept or object will be represented by more than one word before one lexical form becomes the accepted norm and this can often be an interesting situation. The current word for “telephone” sími was not the first word to denote this new technology and neither did it gain universal acceptance. The first word to denote “telephone” alone (and not cover “telegraph” as well) was hljómþráður (“sound-thread”) coined in 1877, followed by the competing terms hljóðberi (“sound-bearer”) in 1878, hljóðþráður (“sound-thread”) in 1889 and talþráður (“speech-thread”) that same year. Sími was taken from Old Norse at the end of the 1800s by college teacher Pálmi Pálsson and over the following 10-15 years, sími gradually edged out its competition and become the standard accepted term, forming numerous compound derivatives. The current word for radio útvarp (“out-caster”) is another case in point. Coined by Sigurður Nordal, útvarp ousted early competator víðboð (“wide-message”) and the later more potent competition from víðvarp (“wide-casting”, which corresponds perfectly with English “broadcasting”). Finally, there is for example þota “jet plane”, which was coined in 1956 by journalist Högni Torfason and completely ousted the previous inelegant compound term þrýstiloftsflugvél (“compressed air flight-machine”). Torfason derived his noun from the verb þjóta “dart, rush” and many words have since been formed from this stem, e.g. þotaflugmaður “jet pilot” (which replaced the earlier cumbersome þrýstiloftsflugvélarmaður). As can be seen from the last example the users of the language typically favour simple, transparent solutions.

Often several alternatives are devised for a foreign word. One usually becomes dominant while the others disappear. For example, AIDS has been called aðnæmi, alnæmi, eisuveki, eyðni, eyðsli, fjölnæmi, ínæming, næma, næming, ónæmistæring, ónæmivisna, ótsýki, ótveiki, óvar, varnarkröm. A study in 1987 showed that almost 60% of respondents used eyðni, 35% alnæmi and 1% ónæmistæring. The word eyðni has become dominant.

An interesting case is afforded by the neologism created by Dr. Björn Bjarnason in 1912, tækni, which denotes “technology” (in general). This new word partially draws on Modern Icelandic tæki “tool, implement, device” and partially on Danish (and ultimately international) teknik. Bjarnason's word can therefore be seen as a kind of agglutinating compromise which merges the form and meaning of native and foreign (using native suffix -ni).

It must be borne in mind that neologisms are unlike most linguistic phenomena in that they generally have their origins in the written language, especially that of the learned or literary variety. As neologisms are mainly coined by authors, scholars, scientists or journalists, many of the older terms will live on in the mouths of the everyday people, even if the new words often - but not always - eventually become the norm for society as a whole. Since many who are faced with the need to create a new word for a new concept usually prefer to coin a term rather than borrow one, this serves to increase the time it takes for a newly constructed word to become dominant. The examples given above and elsewhere in this article show that it may take some time for native neologisms to become accepted and even then a foreign loan may still exist in the colloquial language. A good example of this is hreyfill which competes with non-native mótor in several different contexts. Hreyfill has now the more widespread general usage, but seamen still use mótor (or indeed vél) when referring to boats - e.g. as in mótorbátur “motor boat”. Furthermore, hreyfill is never used in reference to car engines, where vél is the preferred term (although mótor is also used). Similarly, it is worth noting that despite ratsjá having been coined just after the last World War (modelled on smásjá), the international term radar is still used in Icelandic (especially speech) and has not been defeated by the neologism. Vindlingur “cigarette” is sometimes found in print but not at all in the less formal, spoken language. Many farmers report that they prefer the loan traktor in speech to the coined dráttarvél (“pulling-machine”) or even the neater post-war neologism dragi (“something that draws, pulls”). However in print, dráttarvél is the prestige term. The neologisms glóaldin “orange” and bjúgaldin “banana” were ridiculed by some when they first appeared in the 1920s. They have failed to oust borrowed appelsína and banani, although they sometimes appear in print. As so many times before, we see here a clear disparity between the uptake and acceptance of neologisms in spoken and written Icelandic. It has in some cases not proven possible to replace commonly used words with neologisms and in other cases, e.g. in the international world of ideas, abstract words have often fared well against their proposed native replacements: pólitík, kommúnismi, symfónia, barokk.

In other cases, however, the neologism has succeeded in driving the Danish-derived or international term from the common language. Ottósson notes that in the early decades of last century the words kókkhús “kitchen” and fortó “pavement” (cf. Danish fortov) were used in speech, but one now no longer hears them – they have been entirely displaced by native eldhús and gangstétt. Similarly, kompás was in general use as late as the 1960s, but those born after 1950 almost only use neologism áttaviti. In textbooks in schools children now learn the Icelandic new words for things for which their parents or grandparents may have used old loanwords.

Sometimes it happens that no immediate native equivalent can be created to cover a foreign word. So, for example, Birgitta Lindgren notes that no fewer than 5 Icelandic words have been proposed to cover the meaning of the (admittedly complex) English word project.

Icelandic has a more or less fixed policy on the issue of neologisms:

i) Create new words or revive/adapt old ones (“neo-archaisms”) as soon as new concepts come into the language before foreign words can take root
ii) If no native words can be made or adapted, loan-translate the word preferably from Danish or less ideally from an international source or reproduce its literal meaning
iii) As a last resort loan the word more or less directly from Danish, or from elsewhere, but adapt its form to the Icelandic sound and inflexional system.

Concerning i) examples are given below in the section on word-forming. The creation of entirely new words from indigenous resources is often the most interesting aspect of the Icelandic puristic policy. The ideal is to find a self-explanatory term for the object or concept being denoted, e.g. the neologism gervihnöttur “satellite” (lit. artificial heavenly body).

With regard to iii) we could give the examples of berkill, kofti and bíll (from German Tuberkel, English helicopter and Danish (automo)-bil)

Many, many words have coming into being via route ii) above and this can be seen in the examples given throughout this article. It has often been necessary to loan-translate the elements of an international term or else reproduce its literal meaning if no other expedient word can be created through compounding, derivation or revival, e.g. hitaeining “calorie” (heat-unit), bætiefni “vitamin” (extra-substance), dulspeki “mysticism, occultism” (secret-wisdom), hljóðvarp “umlaut” (sound-cast), hljóðfall “accent” (sound-fall), háskóli “university, college” (cf. German Hochschule), stýrikerfi “operating system” (steering-system), lesminni “ROM” (a calque on read-(only)-memory; Faroese also has lesiminni probably in imitation of the Icelandic).  It is also a much quicker and easier method than i) and for this reason is a better safeguard against the ever-increasing stream of international technological terms and concepts that demand Icelandic words. However, as words such as tolvä, sími, þota, sjónvarp, rafmagn, bréfsími “fax”, geisladiskur “CD” and many others show, Icelandic is quite capable of going its own way and forming words that differ entirely both in construction and concept from their international equivalents.

Allowing for such differences as Latin and Middle Low German being in earlier periods the main influences rather than Danish and international words mediated from English, it can be safely said that the three principles just stated have always formed the unconscious policy of the Icelandic language towards the expansion of the vocabulary and the admission of loanwords. As Wessén puts it (p.49) “Den gamla ordbildningen är i den nutida isländskan levande och produktiv på ett helt annat sätt än i de andra nordiska språken.”  The great Danish linguist Rasmus Rask thought that Icelandic had in place a better linguistic environment for the creation of new words than any other modern language. This was especially due to the systematic vowel changes and the many suffixes available to users.

Faroese has much the same policy albeit more relaxed and less efficient. Faroese is more willing to accept international loans than Icelandic, as we have already seen. It also is more tolerant of Danish loans. However to the above three points we could amend ii) to read thus for Faroese:

ii) If no native words can be made or adapted, loan directly or loan-translate a word from Icelandic. In default of this, loan-translate the word preferably from Danish and less ideally from an international source or reproduce its literal meaning

Faroese has loaned directly or else loan-translated many such words for abstract or scientific concepts from Icelandic. This makes the burden on the official bodies lighter and means that neologism activity is not as well developed or urgent in the Faroes - they can in many cases simply borrow or adapt an Icelandic creation which has already proven its worth. Faroese neologisms, just like loan-translations from Icelandic, will have to compete with already established terms from other sources. Good examples of Faroese neologisms which have failed to oust international rivals are fjarrøðil “telephone” and ravmagn “electricity”, competing against international telefon and elektrisitet, both borrowed from Danish (computari has yielded to telda though).  The ever-present and growing external pressure of the foreign media has proved a problem, as has devising a Faroese alternative before a foreign word can establish itself. Poulsen (1983, p.133-4) mentions a few more independent Faroese neologisms: hentleiki “convenience”, kollvelting “revolution”, snyril  “spiral”, mýl “molecule”, fjarrit “telegram”, almannamál “social matters”, almannastova “social services”, búskapur “economy”, flogbóltur “volleyball” and the suffix -virki to form compounds meaning “-factory”.

Points ii) and iii) will be illustrated in more detail by the comparative wordlists that follow, but we ought now to examine i) to see how Icelandic and Faroese construct their new words (literal translations to show constructional idiom are given in parentheses).

We should note at this point that Faroese is more liberal in its use of (originally) foreign affixes than is Icelandic. Faroese has adapted the following for its own uses, be-, for-, as well as the suffixes -arí and -ilsi which it shares with Icelandic. For example, forferdiligur, bakarí, bangilsi. Of these words, only bakarí is permissible in Icelandic.

In general, though, the Faroese case system is resistant to Danish influence, and foreign suffixes are as a rule transformed or substituted if they fail to fit into the language structure. Thus Danish -er appears as -er, -ar, -ur or -arí (the latter of which is especially productive in creating nomina agentis – e.g. keypa > keyparí, velja > veljarí). Nouns ending in -ur are often abstract qualities or conditions, e.g. hungur, heiður, myrkur. The choice between -arí and -ur for Danish -er is mainly down to semantics. More examples of the above endings can be seen below in the lists on word formation from affixes.

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Methods of native new word-formation in Faroese and Icelandic

1) Old words are revived and renewed:

Icelandic: sími “telephone” (Old Norse “thread”); þulur “announcer” (ON “sage”); skrá “catalogue, register” (ON “parchment skin”); vél “motor” (used to mean “trick”); gögn “data” (used to mean “tools”); skjár “TV/computer screen” (archaic word once meaning “window-frame”); háseti “sailor” (ON “oarsman“); lyf “medicament, drug” (meant “potent substance” (poison or medicine) in ON); list “art” (meant “art, craft”); mótald “modem” (mót- meant “against”).

Faroese: byrja “begin”.


2) Current words acquire more or new meanings or form new derivatives:

Icelandic: kerfi “system” (previous meaning “sheaf”); tölva “computer” (from tala “number” and völva “prophetess” (the earliest computers were held to have magical powers)); hjól “bicycle” (previously only meant “wheel“); flokkur “political party” (previously only meant “group”); bylting “revolution” (previously meant “overturning“); sjóður “cash; fund” (previously meant “treasure“); erindreki “agent” (previously meaning “envoy“); deild “faculty” (from deild “division”); vetni “hydrogen” (from vatn “water”); gjörvi “processor/CPU” (from gera “do”).

Faroese: telda “computer” (from derived from tal “number”); góðska “quality”; ítriv “hobby”; básur “showcase”; horn “telephone receiver”.


3) Compound existing lexical elements:

a) Noun + Noun

Icelandic: flugvél “plane” (fly-machine); ritvél “typewriter” (write-machine); dráttarvél “tractor” (pulling-machine); sjónvarp “television” (vision-caster); myndvarpi “overhead projector” (image-caster); ferðamaður “tourist” (journey-man); krabbamein “cancer” (crab-tumour); myndvél “camera” (image-machine); skurðlæknir “surgeon” (incision-doctor); bílstjóri “driver, chauffeur” (car-steerer); skáldsaga “novel” (poet-story); verkfall “strike” (work-drop); tónlist “music” (tone-craft); fjörefni “vitamin” (life-stuff); eimreið “locomotive” (steam-ride); hárskeri “hairdresser, barber” (hair-cutter, cf. klæðskeri “tailor”); hitageymir “thermos” (heat-storer); hitamælir “thermometer” (heat-measurer); efnishyggja “materialism” (material-thinking); efnafræði “chemistry” (substance-science); hugbúnaður “software” (thought-equipment); símaskrá “telephone directory”; gagnvinnsla “data processing”; stýrikerfi “operating system”; vegabréf “passport”; leikhús “theatre”, jarðfræði “geology” (cf. German Erdkunde); fjárfesting “investment”; myndband “video”.
fótbóltur “soccer” (foot-ball); landavegur “highway” (national-road); fuglasongur “birdsong” (bird-song); skriviborð “desk” (writing-table); berghol “tunnel” (rock-hole); ritmynd “diagram” (written-image); orðaskifti “discussion; debate” (word-exchange); flogfar “aeroplane” (flight-craft); flogberi “aircraft-carrier” (flight(-craft)-bearer); almannastova “social services” (public-office); eyðkvæmi “AIDS”.

b) Adjective + Noun

Icelandic: rafmagn “electricity” (amber-power (Greek elektron means amber)); smásjá “microscope” (small-sight); hráefni “raw material” (raw-stuff); svartþröstur “blackbird” (swarthy-thrush); smásaga “novella, short-story” (small-story); fornsaga “antiquity” (ancient-history); margföldun “multiplication” (many-increase); fjölmiðill “media” (many-medium); bjartsyni “optimism” (bright-view).
hálvleikur “half-time” (half-play); frummaður “primitive man” (elemental-man); fjarrit “telegram” (far-writing); stuttsøga “novella, short-story” (short-story); meginregla “maxim” (main-rule); fjølritari “photocopier” (multi-writer); súrevni “oxygen” (sour-stuff); stórveldi “empire” (great-power).

c) Adjective + Adjective

Icelandic: gildvaxinn “stout, robust” (thick-grown); sjálfmenntaður “self-taught” (self-instructed).
bikasvartur “pitch darkness” (pitch-black); stjørnklárur “radiant” (star-clear).

d) Noun + Verb

Icelandic: arfleiða “bequeath” (inheritance-lead); skilgreina “define” (division-discern); vélrita “typewrite” (machine-write); dagsetja “date” (day-set).
hálshøgga “behead” (neck-hew); skráseta “record, register” (list-set).

e) Adjective + Verb

Icelandic: snöggsjóða “parboil” (quick-seethe); rangfæra “distort, pervert” (wrong-lead).
hámeta “value, esteem” (high-measure); stórgráta “weep, lament” (great-cry).

f) Adverb/Preposition + Noun

Icelandic: útvarp “radio” (out-caster); eftirlaun “pension” (after-payment); framleiðsla “manufacturing” (forward-leading); íhald “conservatism” (on-holding); frásögn “report, account” (about-tale); útflutningur “export” (out-transport); íbúi “resident” (in-dweller); þvermál “diameter” (cross-measurement); niðurstaða “outcome, conclusion” (down-situation).
undirskrivning “signature” (under-writing); andstøða “opposition” (against-standing); frásøgn “report” (about-tale); afturhald “conservatism” (back-holding); tvørmál “diameter” (cross-measurement); útvarpan “broadcasting” (out-casting); uppvørpa “overhead projector” (up-thrower); samkoma “conference” (together-coming).


g) Adverb/Preposition + Verb

Icelandic: aðstoða “support” (against-back); mótmæla “deny, refute, speak against” (against-speak); yfirvega “consider, think on, reflect” (over-weigh); ummynda “transform” (about-shape); endurþekkja “recognise” (re-know).
undirskriva “sign” (under-write); undirvísa “teach” (under-show); útleggja “translate, explain” (lay-out); andstøða “oppose, resist” (against-stand).




4) Use of Suffixes

A Nouns

a) -un/-an

Icelandic: skoðun “opinion”; gölvun “electro-plating”; endurholdgun “reincarnation”; þornun “dehydration”; tvímyndun “dimorphism”; æxlun “generation, reproduction”; tilvitnun “quotation, citation”; ákvörðun “decision, resolution”; herskipan “military planning”; stjórnun “administration, management”; þéttun “condensation”; mengun “pollution”.
granskan “research”; útvarpan “broadcasting”; reinskan “cleansing”; vitan “knowledge”; dyrkan “cultivation; worship”; skapan “creation”; betran “improvement”; remban “exertion, effort”; líðan “suffering”; kannan “examination, inspection”.

b) -ing/-ning

Icelandic: tjáning “expression”; þjóðnýting “nationalisation”; menning “culture”; greining “distinction, separation”; litasamsetning “colouring, colourisation”; kveiking “ignition”; ísetning “installation”; eiming “distillation”; smurning “lubrication”; skilning “understanding”; aukning “increase”; játning “consent”; samning “composition, written piece”.
bygging “building, structure”; gransking “research”; skriving “writing”; geisling “radiation”; orðing “expression, formulation”; tendring “lighting, ignition”; lodding “soldering”; fastsetning “provision, stipulation”; siðing “civilisation”; tiðarmerking “dating”; rokning “account; calculation”; evnasambinding “chemical compound”.


c) -ill/-il  (derivation morpheme)

Icelandic: berkill “tubercolosis”, hreyfill “motor”; vindill “cigar”; gerill “bacteria”; tengill “connection”; bendill “cursor”; sendill “errand boy, messenger”; hefill “plane”; ristill “colon”; þinill “dilator”; víxill “bill of exchange”; þyrill “helicopter rotor”; fetill “strap, baldric”; slagþrýstill “pulse-jet”; sníkill “bacterium, parasite”; smyrill “lubricant”; snertill “(electrical) contact”, biðill “suitor”.
geril “bacteria”; hitil “calorie”; snyril “spiral”; brigdil “variable”; teyggil “connection”; vøðil “muscle(?)”; diskil “diskette”; mýl “molecule”; tvingsil “compulsion, coercion”; stongsil “bar, bolt, barrier”; kyndil “torch”.

d) -sla

Icelandic: eyðsla “consumption”; leiðsla “guidance, leading”; uppfræðsla “teaching, instruction”; brennsla “incineration, combustion”; innleiðsla “introduction”; yfirheyrsla “interrogation”; aflfærsla “power transmission”; sýnikennsla “demonstration”; skírsla “ablution”; víglsa “consecration”; guðhræðsla “piety”; herzla “hardening”.
goymsla “keeping, care”; ferðsla “traffic”; rørsla “movement, current”; heimanýtsla “domestic comsumption”; føðsla “food, nourishment”; kensla “feeling, sensation; instruction”; veitsla “gift; help; feast, good food”; nýtsla “use, consumption, application”; greiðsla “payment; dissemtanglement”; breiðsla “fertilizer”.

e) -ingur

Icelandic: spekingur “sage”; innflutningur “import”; fræðingur “scholar”; hugspekingur “speculative philosopher”; samningur “agreement, contract”; ágreiningur “difference, disagreement”; snillingur “genius, virtuoso”; gáningur “heed, attention”; dulspekingur “mystic”, disklingur “diskette”.
føroyingur “Faroe Islander”; pollendingur “Pole”; finningur “find, discovery”; ávinningur “profit, gain”; degningur “dawn, daybreak”; arvingur “heir, inheritor”; skilningur “understanding, comprehension”; klædningur “suit; covering, boarding”; redningur “rescue”.


                f) -leiki/-leikur

Icelandic: sjúkleiki “illness”; veruleiki “reality”; myndugleiki “authority”; möguleiki “possibility”; örðugleiki “difficulty”; eiginleiki “quality, characteristic”; næmleiki “sensitivity”; seljanleiki “vendibility”; nýtileiki “adaption”; tærleiki “transparency”; mjúkleikur ”softness”; skjótleikur ”quickness”.
beturleiki “improvement”; strangleiki “hardness, austerity”; einleiki “unit(y)”; dugileiki “fitness, capability”; ævinleiki “eternity”; dapurleiki “grief, sorrow”; skuldugleiki “duty”; svakleiki “insanity, madness”; samleiki “identity”; fjarleiki “distance”.


                        g) -ari

Icelandic: skipuleggjari “planner”; borgari “citizen”; nefnari “denominator”; leikari “actor, player”; bakari “baker”; teljari “numerator”; falsari “forger, falsifier”; sjálfmiðlari “automatic direction finder”; endurnýjari “regenerator”; kviðdómari “juror”; myndhöggari “sculptor”.
fjarritari “telegramist”; málari “painter”; droymari “dreamer”; grannskoðari “auditor”; freistari “tempter”; vekslari “stockbroker”; deilari “divisor”; klagari “prosecutor”; svikari “fraudster, swindler”; sigrari “conquerer, victor”; granskari “investigator, researcher”; tónleikari “musician”.


                    h) -ni, -i (Ice.), -i (Far.)

Icelandic: eyðni “AIDS” (incorporates the phonology of the international term but is also partly based on a derivation from the verb eyðna “deplete” (cf. eyðsla “consumption”, eyðing “destruction”, Norwegian øyde ”desolate”)); tvístirni “binary star system”; tækni “technology”; tíðni “frequency”; hlýðni “obedience”; fælni “phobia”; einkvæni “monogamy”; þjálni “plasticity”; glettni “humour”; virkni “activity”; beiðni “request, petition”; nýtni “economy, thrift”; sjálfvirkni “automation”; einbúi “hermit”; landnemi “colonist”; farþegi “passenger”.

Faroese: ráðgevi “advisor”; geri “generator”; málverji “goalkeeper”; kveiki “enzyme”; roykilsi “incense”; landi “compatriot”; dølski “dullness, lethargy”; ovasti “commander-in-chief”; snøri “line, cord”; spurni “question, matter, issue”; vandi “difficulty”; eyðkenni “characteristic; symptom”; iðri “remorse, contrition”; treiski “obstinacy; defiance”; vøddi “muscle”; høvi “opportunity”; rættvísi “justice”; fimleiki “gymnastics”.


                i) -skapur

Icelandic: boðskapur “announcement”; fláttskapur “duplicity”; kveðskapur “poetry”; drengskapur “honour”; aumingjaskapur “weakness”; dónaskapur “lowness, rudeness, churlishness”; afskræmiskapur “monstrosity, hideousness”; höfðingskapur “magnificence, generosity”; klókskapur “wisdom”.
vitskapur “science”; búskapur “husbandry; economy”; feginskapur “pleasure, joy”; fyllskapur “drunkeness, inebriation”; errinskapur “conceit, self-aggrandizement”; ørskapur “madness, insanity”; heiðinskapur “heathendom, paganism”; bóndaskapur “agricultural industry”; villskapur “wildness, savagery”; søluskapur “merchandise”; tvørskapur “obstinacy”.


To those noun forming elements discussed by Clausén I would append:


            j) -naður (sometimes shortened to -ni in Faroese)

Icelandic: hagnaður “profit, benefit”; þrifnaður “cleanliness, purity”; fagnaður “rejoicing, jubilation”; fráskilnaður “detachment, disconnection”; fatnaður “clothing, clothes”; iðnaður “industry, manufacture; handicraft”; skapnaður “creation, form”; getnaður “conception, procreation”; vefnaður “fabric, textile”; kostnaður “cost, expense”; batnaður  “improvement”.

Faroese: trivni “vigorous development, growth; industry”; dugni “ability, capability”; búni “dress, attire”; lýdni “obedience”; spurni “question, issue, matter”; lesnaður “reading”; trúnaður “faith, confidence, trust”; hugnaður “pleasure, satisfaction”; marknaður “market”; skilnaður “separation, divorce”; sparnaður “economy, thrift”; javnaður “likeness, resemblance”; søknaður “application, petition”; hernaður “war; anger, fury”.


                k) -domúr

Icelandic: manndómur “bravery”; vesaldómur “misery; feebleness”; læknisdómur “medicine”; biskupsdómur “episcopate”; ekkjudómur “widowhood”; leyndardómur “mystery”; kennidómur “priesthood”; helgidómur “sanctuary, temple”.

Faroese: loynidómur “secret”; spádómur “prophecy”; lærdómur “learning, scholarship”; moydómur “virginity, maidenhead”; hordómur “adultery”; trældómur “servitude, bondage”; trølldómur “witchcraft, sorcery, magic”.


                l) -semd, -semi (from adjectives in -samur)

Icelandic: meinsemd “tumour, disease”; röksemd “logic”; framkvæmdarsemi “enterprise”; samsemd “sameness”; spurulsemi “inquisitiveness”; regulsemi “orderliness, regularity”; athugasemd “remark, note, annotation”; vegsemd “honour, glory”; einsemd “loneliness, solitude”; nægjusemi “contentment”; gagnsemi “usefulness, profitibility”; friðsemd “peacefulness”; liðsemi “assistance, aid”; ástsemd “affection”; hlutsemi “meddling, interference”; íhaldssemi “conservatism”; umhyggjusemi “caution, care”.

Faroese: hjálpsemi “helpfulness”; beinasemi “willingness, co-operativeness”; nøgdsemi “frugality, moderation”; reinsemi “cleanliness”; varsemi “care, caution, alertness”; arbeiðssemi “industry”; leiðisemi “boredom”; starvsemi “industry, activity”; góðsemi “agreement, concord, harmony”; tolsemi “toleration, patience”.


                m) -leysa (Ice.), -loysi (Far.)

                (from adjectives in -laus, -loys)

Icelandic: staðleysi “absurdity”; tilfinningarleysi “insensitivity”; aðgerðaleysi “inactivity, idleness”; siðleysi “immorality, barbarism”; meðvitundarleysi “unconciousness”; kunnáttuleysi “ignorance”; nafnleysi “anonymity”; guðleysi “atheism; impiety”; þróunarleysi “stagnation, lack of progression”.

Faroese: mótloysi “depression”; miskunnarloysi “ruthlessness”; mannloysi “labour shortage”; æruloysi “infamy”; ansaloysi “indifference”; ráðaloysi “perplexity; despondancy”; endaloysi “infinity, endlessness”; ampaloysi “freedom, liberty”; tarvloysi “superfluosity”; friðloysi “outlawry”.


                n) -læti (from adjectives in -látur)

Icelandic: hreinlæti “cleanliness, neatness”; þakklæti “gratitude”; meinlæti “penance”; örlæti “generosity, munificence”; stórlæti “pride”; vandlæti “zeal”; ranglæti “injustice”.

Faroese: eftirlæti “compliancy, compliance”; góðlæti “good disposition”; fagurlæti “friendly remark, kind comment”; yvirlæti “simulation, pretence”; lítillæti “humility”.


                        o) -lyndi (often denotes mentality, diposition, temperament)

Icelandic: léttlyndi “buoyancy, lightheartedness”; umburðarlyndi “forbearance, tolerance”; þrællyndi “servility”; stríðlyndi “obstinacy”; þjóðlyndi “patriotism”; félagslyndi “sociability”; frómlyndi “honesty”.

Faroese: manslyndi “masculinity, virility”; huglyndi “temper, disposition”; spaklyndi “mildness, gentleness”; tunglyndi “depression, melacholy”; trúlyndi “faithfulness, loyalty”; bráðlyndi “violence, vehemence”; skaplyndi “mind, disposition, character”.


                                                    p) -andi (often the present participle of strong verbs)

Icelandic: eigandi “owner” (eiga); leikandi “actor” (leika); þiggjandi “recipient” (þiggja); áheyrandi “listener” (heyra á); stofnandi “founder” (stofna); lesandi “reader” (lesa).

Faroese:  lesandi “student” (lesa “read”).


                                    q) -ska and -mennska (from nouns in -maður or -menni) - both often form abstracts from adjectives or or simplex nouns

Icelandic: dirfska “daring, boldness, bravery” (djarfur “brave”); fyrnska “antiquity” (forn “ancient”); bernska “childhood” (barn “child”); blaðamennska “journalism” (blaðamaður “journalist”); lítilmennska “meanness” (lítillmenni “ignoble, mean-spirited character”); sjómennska “seamanship” (sjómaður “sailor, seaman”).

Faroesefámenska “sparse population” (fámentur “few in number”); ilska “anger” (illur “angry”).


                                                        r) nouns in -i formed from adjectives

Icelandic: ergi “annoyance, vexation” (argur “angry, vexed”); feiti ”fat, grease” (feitur ”fat”); fimi ”agility” (fimur ”agile, nimble”); fræði ”knowledge, learning” (fróður “learned”); gremi “anger, vexation” (gramur “angry, vexed”); mildi “mildness, gentleness” (mildur “mild, gentle”).

Faroesefrøði ”knowledge, learning” (fróður “learned”); gleði “pleasure, joy” (glaður “happy, pleased”).


                                                            s) nouns in -ð, -d and -t from adjectives

Icelandic: depurð “depression” (dapur “depressed”); fegurð “beauty” (fagur “beautiful, fair”); frægð “fame, renown” (frægur “famous”); heild “wholeness, unity” (heill “whole”); spekt “restfulness, peace” (spakur “quiet”); stærð “size” (stór “large”); sæld “bliss, happiness” (sæll “blessed, happy”).

Faroese: spekt “quietness, mildness” (spakur “quiet”).

                                                                                t) nouns in -ingi

Icelandic: aumingi “wretch”; erfingi “heir, inheritor”; fresingi “freeman”; greifingi “badger”; kunningi “acquaintance”; morðingi ”murderer, assassin”; ræningi ”robber, plunderer”.

Faroesearmingi “poor creature” (armur “poor”); letingi “idler” (latur “lazy, idle”).



B Adjectives

a) -legur/-ligur

Icelandic: eðilegur “natural”; nytsamlegur “useful”; faglegur “professional”; mánaðarlegur “monthly”; kynlegur “odd”; hugsanlegur “conceivable”; sorglegur “sorrowful”; ókennilegur “unrecognisible”; fræðslulegur “pedagogic”; draugalegur “ghostly, ethereal”; uppbyggilegur “edifying”; stjórnfræðilegur “astronomical”; greinilegur “plain, distinct, well-conceived”; ættfræðilegur “geneological”.
mansligur “masculine”; brotsligur “criminal”; kirkjuligur “ecclesiastical”; søguligur “historical”; deyðsamligur “lethargic, apathetic”; fáfeingiligur “vain”; týðuligur “clear, distinct; obvious”; eiriligur “sociable, companionable”; ordiligur “orderly, correct”; ítøkiligur “palpable, concrete”; inniligur “cordial, sincere, heartfelt”; evnafrøðilgur “chemical”; eiturligur “poisonous, venomous”; skaldsligur “poetical”.

b) -ugur

Icelandic: kyndugur “peculiar”; rykugur “dusty”; auðugur “rich, wealthy”; heiftugur “violent, vehement”; skítugur “filthy, dirty”; voldugur “powerful, mighty”.
syndugur “sinful”; liðugur “finished, complete”; hurtugur “lively, animated”; óverdugur “unworthy”; vitugur “wise, intelligent”; viljugur “willing, ready”.

c) -samur

Icelandic: erilsamur “troublesome”; kappsamur “energetic”; nytsamur “useful”; líknsamur “merciful”; framtakssamur “enterprising”; ráðdeildarsamur “sagacious, provident”; eyðslusamur “extravagant, profligate”; auðnasamur “lucky, fortunate”; yfirgangssamur “encroaching, usurping”; friðsamur “peaceful”.
hugsanarsamur “thoughtful”; møðsamur “tiring, exhausting”; hevnisamur “vindictive, vengeful”; undursamur “wonderful, marvellous”; samvitskusamur “conscientious”; arbeiðssamur “industrious”; loynisamur “mysterious”.


                    d) -látur

Icelandic: vorkunnlátur “compassionate”; rembilátur “arrogant, haughty”; hóflátur “moderate”; siðlátur “moral, well-behaved”; lítillátur “humble”; drjúglátur “self-important”; stýrilátur “controllable, managable”; mjúklátur “gentle”; hreinlátur “pure”.
Faroese: dramblátur “arrogant”; fagurlátur kind, friendly”; lítillátur “humble”.

                        e) -lyndur (adjectival suffix derived from lyndi [see above]

Icelandic: drenglyndur “noble-minded”; þýðlyndur “gentle, kind, amiable”; snögglyndur “quick-tempered, hasty”; þverlyndur “bloody-minded”.

Faroese: frílyndur “liberal, broad-minded”; góðlyndur “good natured, well disposed”; harðlyndur “harsh, severe disposition”; glaðlyndur “cheerful, merry”.


                                                                                    f) -lægur

Icelandic: huglægur “abstract”; fjarlægur “distant”; hlutlægur “objective”.                       

Faroese: N/A


                                g) -inn (common – often has meaning “inclined, disposed”)

Icelandic: fyndinn “witty, funny” (finna “find”, fundur “discovery”)

Faroese: N/A


                                                                                    h) -rænn

Icelandic: norræn “Scandinavian”; suðrænn “southern”; dulrænn “mystical”; hugrænn “subjective”; listrænn “artistic”; ljóðrænn “poetic”; táknrænn “symbolic”; einrænn ”odd, singular”; vélrænn “mechanical”.

Faroese: N/A



                                                                                    i) -sær

Icelandic: gagnsær “transparent”;

Faroese: N/A



C Nouns from inchoative verbs

Icelandic: sorti “blackness” - sortna “blacken”; rauð “red” - roðna “blush, redden”; rot “putrefaction, corruption” - rotna “decompose, putrify”; þrot “lack, want” - þrotna “cease, run short, want”; betnaður, bötnun “improvement, change for the better” - batna “improve, recover”; neitun “refusal, denial; negation” - neita “refuse, deny”.
hvítur “white” - hvítna “whiten, grow pale”; myrkur “gloom” - myrkna “darken”; ljósur “light, brightness” - lýsna “lighten”; veikur “weakness” - vikna “grow weak”; søtur “sweet” - søtna “become sweeter, sweeten”; brot “fragment; crime” - brotna “shatter, break asunder”.


D Verbs in -ka and -ga (mainly from adjectives)

Icelandic: blóðga “make bleed”; fjölga “increase, propagate”; auðga “enrich”; lifga “revive, invigorate”; dýpka “deepen”; ljótka “make uglier”; greiðka “hasten, quicken”.

Faroesebreiðka “broaden”; fríðka “make more beautiful”; blóðga “make bleed”.


E Nouns from pure verbal stems

Icelandic: bölv “cursing, swearing” - bölva “swear, curse”; gort “boasting” - gorta “boast”; reið “riding” - ríða “ride”; rek “driftage” - reka “drift; drive, run”.

Faroeserák “driftage” – reka “drift; drive, run”.


                    5) Prefixes


Icelandic and Faroese both make liberal use of a number of common prefixes, as listed below:

al- (“all, general”)

all- (“all, general”)

and- (“contrary, against”)

endur- (”re-”)

fyrir- (limited usage)

for- (limited usage)

jafn- (”even, equal”)

mis- (“mis-, un-”)

ó- (“un-“)

sam- (“together”)

sí- (“ever”)

úr- (“proto-”)

There are also a number of common intensifying prefixes, e.g.:

Bráð-, geipi-, geysi-, gjör-, afar-.

It is fitting to end this brief survey of Icelandic word-formation with a mention of two noun-forming patterns that have taken on a particularly prominent place in the language. These are nouns in -maður (“man, person” – therefore forming nomen agentis) and -fræði (from fræði “knowledge, learning”). The latter is especially used to form nouns corresponding to international -ology and -graphy). Using -maður, there is almost an unlimited scope for forming agent nouns, as the following list will show (maður refers to both genders – Icelandic lacks a specifically feminine suffix as found in German and Swedish, for example. If a specifically female agent or a female role is being referred to, nouns will often being suffixed with -kona or -frú: þvottakona “washerwoman”; vinkona “female friend”; greifafrú “countess”; barónsfrú “baroness”; lauslætiskona “harlot”). Likewise, -fræði has proven to be equally flexible, able to cover almost anything ending in, or meaning, “-ology”, “-graphy”, “-ics”, “the science of X” or “the study of X, X studies”.

i)                    Selection of nomen agentis formed from -maður:


kommumaður “stranger, guest”;

tamningarmaður “horse-breaker”

ökumaður “driver”

göngumaður “pedestrian”

matsmaður “valuator”

hvatamaður “encourager, incitor”

drykkjumaður “drunkard”

blekkingamaður “deceiver”

flugumsjónarmaður “flight operation officer”

kennimaður “cleric, priest”

There are many, many possible words in -maður.


ii)                  Selection of words for abstract scientific disciplines and humanities formed from -fræði:


aðferðafræði                                                  methodology

ættfræði                                                         genealogy

ættgengisfræði                                              genetics

ásatrú                                                            Old Norse heathen religion

atómvísindi                                                    atomic research

bergfræði                                                       petrography

beygingarfræði                                              morphology, accidence

bókfræði                                                         bibliography

bókmenntafræði                                             literary studies

bragfræði                                                        prosody, metrics

byggingarverkfræði                                        civil engineering

dýrafræði                                                        zoology

dýrasálfræði                                                   animal psychology

eðlisfræði                                                       physics

efnafræði                                                        chemistry

efnaverkfræði                                                 chemical engineering

eldfjallfræði                                                    volcanology

erfðafræði                                                       genetics

fagurfræði                                                       aesthetics

fiskifræði                                                         icthyology

flugveðurfræði                                                aviation meteorology

flugvélaverkfræði                                           aeronautical engineering

formfræði                                                       morphology

fornfræði                                                        archaeology

fornleiðafræði                                                archaeology

fornlífsfræði                                                   palaeontology

fræði                                                              learning, science, -ology

fuglafræði                                                      ornithology

geimvísindi                                                    space research

gerlafræði                                                      bacteriology

goðafræði                                                      mythology

grasafræði                                                     botany

guðfræði                                                        theology

haffræði                                                         oceanography

haflíffræði                                                      marine biology

hagfræði                                                        economics

hagkerfi                                                          economic system

heilsufræði                                                     hygiene, sanitation

heimsfræði                                                     cosmology

heimspeki                                                       philosophy

hernaðarfræði                                                 military science

hjátrú                                                              superstition

hljóðfræði                                                       phonetics

hljómfræði                                                      acoustics

hornafræði                                                      trigonometry

hugvísindi                                                       humanities

iðnfræði                                                          technology

jarðeðlisfræði                                                 geophysics

jarðefnafræði                                                 mineralogy

jarðfræði                                                        geology

jarðræktarfræði                                              agricultural science

jarðvegsfræði                                                 soil science

jarðyrkjufræði                                                 agrononomy

jarmyndunarfræði                                           geogony

jöklafræði                                                        glaciology

kennslufræði                                                   educational theory

kerfisfræði                                                       system analysis

kerfun                                                              systemisation 

kerlingabók                                                     superstition

kjarneðlisfræði                                                nuclear physics

kjarnfræði                                                        nuclear physics

læknavísindi                                                    medicine, medical sciences

læknisfræði                                                     medicine

lækningafræði                                                 therapeutics

landafræði                                                       geography

líffærafræði                                                     anatomy

líffræði                                                             biology

ljósfræði                                                           optics

loftsiglingafræði                                              aeronautics

loftslagsfræði                                                  climatology

lögfræði                                                           law

lyfjafræði                                                         pharmacology

málfræði                                                          grammar

mállýzkafræði                                                  dialectology

málmfræði                                                       metallurgy

málmyndafræði                                               etymology

málmyndunarfræði                                          transformational grammar

málvísindi                                                        linguistics

manneldisfræði                                               dietetics

mannfræði                                                       anthropology

mannkynsfræði                                                world history

mannvísindi                                                     anthropology

myntfræði                                                        numisastics

náttúrfræði                                                      natural history

náttúrvísindi                                                    natural sciences

orðbókafræði                                                   lexicography

orðfræði                                                           lexicology

orðmyndunarfræði                                          etymology

orðsifjafræði                                                   etymology

orðskipanunarfræði                                        syntax

orðtækjafræði                                                 phraseology

ónæmisfræði                                                   immunology

rafefnafræði                                                    electrochemistry

rafeindafræði                                                  electronics

rafmagnsfræði                                                electrical science

rafmagnsverkfræði                                          electrical engineering

rithandafræði                                                   graphology

rökfræði                                                           logic

rökþróunarfræði                                              dialectics

röntgenfræði                                                   x-rayology

rúmfræði                                                         geometry

rúnafræði                                                        runology

sagnfræði                                                        history

sálfræði                                                           psychology

sálgreining                                                      psychoanalysis

sálkönnun                                                        psychoanalysis

samanburðarmálfræði                                    comparative linguistics

samfélagsfræði                                               sociology

setningafræði                                                  syntax

siðfræði                                                           ethics

siglingafræði                                                   navigation

sjónfræði                                                         optics

sjukdómafræði                                                pathology

sjúkrafæðisfræði                                             dietics

skáldskaparfræði                                            poetics

skordýrafræði                                                 entomology

staðfræði                                                        topography

stærðfræði                                                      mathematics

staffræði                                                         orthography

steinafræði                                                      minerology

steinatrú                                                          stone-worship

steingervingarfræði                                        palaeography

stjarneðlisfræði                                              astrophysics

stjarnvísindi                                                    astronomy

stjórnarskrá                                                     constitution

stjórnmál                                                         politics

stjörnspeki                                                       astrology

stjörnufræði                                                     astronomy

tæknifræði                                                       technology

tannleiknisfræði                                              dentistry

töfrafræði                                                        magic, conjuring

tölfræði                                                            statistics

tölvafræði                                                        computer science

tölvunarfræði                                                   computer problem-solving

tónfræði                                                           musicology

uppeldisfræði                                                   pedagogy

vatnfræði                                                          hydrography

vatnsaflsfræði                                                  hydraulics

veðurfræði                                                       meteorology

vélaverkfræði                                                   mechanical engineering

vélfræði                                                            engineering, mechanics

verkfræði                                                         engineering

vísindi                                                              science

vistfræði                                                           ecology

þekkingarfræði                                                theory of knowledge

þjóðfélagsfræði                                               sociology

þjóðfélagsvísindi                                             social sciences

þjóðfræði                                                         ethnology

þjóðhagfræði                                                   national economics

þjóðhagfræði                                                   national economy

þjóðháttafræði                                                 folklore studies

þjóðkynjafræði                                                 ethnology

þjóðmenningurfræði                                        ethnology

þjóðréttarfræði                                                international law

þjóðtrú                                                             folk belief; state religion

þýðingarfræði                                                  translation science


There are also some words in -vísindi “science”, -trú belief” and -speki “wisdom” in the above list.



A random selection of 72 words from all the Icelandic words given above have been taken and looked up in Svavar Sigmundsson's (ed.) Íslensk samheitaorðabók. This revealed the following information:

i.        Icelandic words with formal synonyms derived from international sources:

námsmaður - stúdent; kvikmyndahús - bío (cinema); áfengi - alkóhol; gistihús - hótel (cf. English guesthouse); peningastofnun - banki; salerni - klósett (toilet, WC); söngleikur - ópera; fjörefni - vítamin; ferðamaður - túristi; hreyfill - mótor, maskína; rauðaldin - tómatur (rauðaldin is a neologism fighting a losing battle against the international word); frumeind - atóm; tónlist - músík; tækni - tekník; þyrla - kopti; bifreiði - kar (car); bjúgaldin - banani (banana); veira - vírus; dráttarvél - traktor.

ii.      Icelandic words with formal synonyms derived from Danish (or MLG via Danish) sources:

glóaldin - appelsína (orange; < Danish appelsin); hugsa - þenkja (think); ódyr, verðlítill - billegur (cheap); bifreiði - bíll (car); skáldsaga - róman (novel); sérfræðingur - fagmaður (expert; < Danish fagmand); súrefni - ildi (oxygen; < Danish ilt); formælandi - talsmaður (spokesman; < Danish talsmand); fræðsla - undervísun (teaching, instruction; < Danish undervisning).

iii.    Icelandic words with formal synonyms only of foreign origin:

tékki - ávísun (cheque).


Formally competing synonyms of foreign origin are certainly a minor element of the Icelandic lexicon and are less conspicuous than in Faroese. Of the 72 words sampled for synonyms, most had several, while some of the words checked had many synonyms. But in the great majority of cases, the synonyms were native only. For example, the word ávinningur “profit, gain” has 26 synonyms listed in the samheitaorðabók but not one has a direct equivalent with this meaning in any European language. Or take the example of hræðsla “fear, fright, dread” which has 29 entries beside it. Of these, only one is of foreign origin, i.e. angist, and that from older Danish angest! In the cases where neologisms and foreign loans live side by side the choice of word is really a matter for the individual user and may depend on the medium of communication (letter, conversation etc.) and the way the user wishes to express himself.

While, like Faroese, Icelandic does have lexical items of international or Scandinavian origin and these formally compete with synonymous native words, they are rather fewer in number and very few make it into the formal written language or ritmál of Icelanders. Such words tend to be more used in the spoken language and so a stylistic gap may open between native-based neologisms in the written language and foreign loaned synonyms in the spoken language. However, the most fervent puristic tendencies in Icelandic have cooled off somewhat in recent years. Foreign words are being imported into Icelandic having been adapted to a greater or lesser degree. As Baldur Jónsson (1983. p. 117) points out, the Icelandic vocabulary still grows and is affected in the same ways as in the past: “När allt kommer omkring växer ordförrådet och påverkas enligt samma principer som det i stort sett alltid har gjort”.

In summary of Faroese it may be said that Faroese language cultivation is still largely a matter of whether to follow a puristic route and model policy on Icelandic, or to face up to the reality of the everyday billinguialism and freely draw on Danish sources. The actual route taken appears to be a middle way – readily replace Danicisms with suitable neologisms based on ON or Icelandic sources, but also incorporate Danish words into the Faroese language system as the need arises.


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