Faroese

Flag of the Faroe Islands. Wikipedia.

From BBC Travel (hat tip: Pam Wilson):

The Faroe Islands’ 500-year-old fight to save its language

Situated between Iceland and Scotland, the isolated Faroe Islands are in a unique position. For years, their remoteness kept locals out of reach of their Danish rulers.

“The people of the Faroe Islands have been raised in the belief that we can manage our own destiny,” said Magni Arge, Faroe Islands MP in the Danish Parliament.

A long struggle for independence

The Faroes are an archipelago of 18 verdant, volcanic islands jutting out of the Atlantic Ocean between Scotland, Iceland and Norway. With a Celtic and Viking heritage – and a population of about 50,000 – they’re semi-autonomous but still a Danish dependency, having been ruled by both Denmark and Norway for centuries.

The Faroese have had a long struggle for self-rule, which had a turning point during World War II. Denmark was occupied by the Nazis, and it was Britain that provided protection from German invasion due to the islands’ proximity to the Shetland Islands and UK mainland. With no contact with Denmark for five years during the war, the islanders began to forge their own path.

Over the last few decades, many Faroese have been building towards a new wave of independence, including the struggle to not only hold on to their native tongue, but also to help it flourish.

The fight to keep a language alive

The Faroese people have been fighting to keep their language alive ever since it was suppressed by the Danish, when the islands became part of the Dano-Norwegian Kingdom in 1380. With the Reformation, that stronghold was reinforced and Faroese was completely banned in schools. People had no choice but to succumb to the vernacular of the law courts and the Danish parliament.

While Danish dominated official realms for centuries, the wider community continued to speak and sing in Faroese. The written language they use now only formally came into being in 1846, and over the next few decades an upturn in the Faroese economy, caused by sloop fishing and the end of the Danish trade monopoly, further increased national confidence.

With greater links to the outside world in the late 1800s, people began to assert the integrity of their own tongue, and oral Faroese became a school subject in 1912, followed by the written language in 1920. After the establishment of Home Rule in 1948, Faroese was recognised as the official language of government; however, Danish is still taught as a compulsory subject, and all the Faroes’ parliamentary laws still need to be translated into Danish.

Read the whole thing – which is a slideshow; make sure you watch the fourth slide, which is a short video proposing why Faroese, which is related to Icelandic, survived Danish proscription:

“Our own language was very much tied into the way we lived. So each and every bit of a boat has its distinct name, and each tool has its name, and each walk path. Everything had its name tied into the old Faroese language. And if they lost that they probably would lose the ability to live here as well.”

The Faroese passed on their stories through kvæði, ballades that accompany the chain dance.

“Our language has lived through these stories, that have been told from generation to generation. Now we have around 17000 verses. And I think that’s a lot because we should remember it was only 5000 people on these islands at the time. It’s been verses that they have remembered in their heads.”

I was also interested in their attempts at updating their language while avoiding Anglicisms and other loan words:

“We Faroese are a bit puristic, so we like to have our own words, like Icelanders. We think, ‘Why should we all take the English words? We should all make something ourselves! I speculated, ‘What should we call a computer?’ ‘Tel’ is a number. So ‘telda.’ Everybody called it ‘telda’ – computer!”

“When we were kids, we were always thinking this sounded a bit weird. But nowadays, you think it’s weird if anybody says ‘helicopter’ or if anybody says ‘computer’ instead of ‘telda’ and such.”

I applaud such efforts, which you can also see in Quebec and Israel. I actually don’t like how internationally influential English is. The great thing about making up words self-consciously is that you can control for euphony and brevity as well as meaning. “Telda” is just a nicer word than “computer”!

Slide sixteen addresses Faroese political nationalism. I guess that the Faroe Islands are a few steps behind Iceland on this front, which won home rule in 1874, “extended” home rule in 1904, sovereignty in 1918, and compete republican independence in 1944.

The Faroese have a long history of discussion, democracy and government, and Tinganes (pictured) in the capital Tórshavn is claimed by the Faroese to be one of the oldest parliamentary meeting places in the world. The current building inhabits the site of the first Viking parliament that met here sometime after 900AD.

The current drive to write their own constitution is the next stage in the movement towards what many Faroese hope will be self-governance, though it’s a controversial issue for some, given how much financial support is received from Denmark.

Nevertheless, the Faroese are keeping a close eye on how Catalonia’s bid for independence progresses, as well as Britain after Brexit. Separatists feel that independence is long overdue, though for many, the spike in taxes if they were to lose Danish support is more than enough reason to keep some of the ties that bind them. Whatever does happen in the future though, the fight to keep Faroese as a living, breathing language will endure.

Looks like I’ve got another place to add to my bucket list!

Vikings in Greenland

From the Guardian:

New analysis casts doubt on theory that change in climate influenced Vikings to move to Greenland in 985, and posits it would have been relatively cold

The Vikings’ arrival and departure from Greenland was not heavily influenced by the so-called medieval warm period, according to new research that casts doubt that the climatic change was a global phenomenon.

Viking seafarers, led by Erik the Red, are understood to have expanded from Iceland to south-western Greenland around 985. The Norse population grew to about 3,000 to 5,000 settlers, harvesting walrus ivory and raising livestock. But the colonies disappeared by 1460, with the local Inuit population remaining as the only inhabitants before Europeans again arrived in the 1700s.

Previous theories have suggested that a warming climate allowed Norse people to push further north to the frigid expanses of Greenland, before leaving as temperatures dropped again. In what has become known as the medieval warm period, temperatures rose from around 950, with the generally balmier conditions lasting until 1250, before the arrival of what is known as the little ice age.

But new analysis of glaciers in Greenland shows that there was no significant change in their extent during the medieval warm period, suggesting that it remained relatively cold throughout the Viking colonisation of Greenland.

Iceland

Speaking of immigration, here is further evidence that the first people to reach Iceland were not Vikings, but Celts:

The research is revealed in the book, Into the Ocean: Vikings, Irish, and Environmental Change in Iceland and the North, which has recently been published by University of Toronto Press. Written by archaeologist Dr Kristján Ahronson of Bangor University, it shows he found these cross markings in these caves which are very similar found in Scotland and Ireland.

There are about 200 man-made caves in southern Iceland, and Ahronson focused on several located at Seljaland, which lies near the Isle of Heimaey. He explains, “In our work at Seljaland, we recorded over 100 simple crosses and 24 more elaborately carved or sculpted examples. The crosses bear a range of striking stylistic similarities to early medieval sculpture in the West Highlands and Islands of Scotland, such as that found at the important early medieval monastery of Iona in Argyll as well as more extreme locales for Scotland’s early Christian communities such as St Molaise’s Cave on Holy Island (off Arran) and at isolated north Atlantic places such as the tiny island of North Rona (north of Lewis and the Scottish mainland). The Seljaland caves are remarkable in their own right for the concentration of sculpture found there and because of the very fact that they’ve been dug out of the rock, and form part of a poorly understand yet distinctively Icelandic phenomenon, now dated to Iceland’s earliest settlement.” –

In an article for The Conversation, Ahronson offers more details on this site: “We were able to accurately date one of these caves by finding construction waste from where it had been excavated from the Icelandic rock. We related this waste material to layers of volcanic airfall, ash layers that have been dated by international teams of researchers with remarkable precision and are a powerful dating tool for this part of the world. And we developed new methods to study the surface of volcanic ash layers that helped us to better understand the processes by which people cleared and managed that woodland, and contributed to creating the pastoral landscape that we recognise today. Again, these human activities can be accurately dated and chime with the our other lines of investigation.”

Interesting. I wonder what became of these people once the Vikings arrived…