Islands of the sheep and paradise of birds

After two months of wandering, urgent matters took time to attend to; I’m still some way off being able to operate seamlessly from my important anywheres. But now I’m settling and my fast-breeding projects are becoming more disciplined and chaste.

Among my more light-hearted occupations, I’m  preparing for a trip to the Faroe Islands in early August.

Knowing Swedish, it’s just about possible to stagger through written Faroese on familiar topics.

”Samgongan hevði mist meirilutan, um løgtingsval var nú. Tað vísir veljarakanning, sum talgilda blaðið hjá, Vikuskifti, kunngjørdi í gjár”.

I love the ancient letters which were used in Old English and now still appear in Icelandic and Faroese. Icelanders and Faroese may be able to understand one another at a very basic level. The sound system of Faroese is, I believe, closer to Norwegian than Danish but the course of inter-Nordic communication would hardly run smooth.

The language was very much a spoken language used most in informal family contexts until at least the latter part of the nineteenth century. Danish was the language of the law and education and children were at least discouraged from using Faroese at school (reminiscent of the treatment of those speaking Tornedal Finnish in northern Sweden).

Jörgen-Frantz Jacobsen wrote his internationally known novel “Barbara” in Danish, later translated to Faroese, as did William  Heinesen with Gryningsvindar among other works.

The situation reminds me of Malta, where Maltese is widely spoken in everyday, familiar use but where English dominates in commercial and formal use.

In the nineteenth century, much work was done by on the orthography and grammar of Faroese and its status has gradually improved since then. According to Wikipedia, Venceslaus Ulricus Hammershaimb and the Icelandic grammarian and politician Jón Sigurðsson published a written standard for Modern Faroese in 1854, which still exists.[10] They set a standard for the orthography of the language, based on its Old Norse roots and similar to that of Icelandic” and “In 1937, Faroese replaced Danish as the official school language, in 1938, as the church language, and in 1948, as the national language by the Home Rule Act of the Faroe Islands”. 

The islands were occupied by the British in the second World War, which spurred hopes for independence (like Iceland). It also apparently led to the Faroese developing a taste for fish and chips and Cadbury’s chocolate.

There was a referendum in 1947, just over 50% being in favour of independence from Denmark. The numbers involved, however, were small, the total vote count being just over 11,000. The Danish government didn’t recognise the referendum result but, after a further general election, gave the Faroe Islands an autonomous status but still within the state of Denmark and with the Danish King as head of state. This status has allowed the Faroes Islands not to be part of the European Community and its habitants, while being Danish citizens do not have the right of freedom of movement in the Schengen area (they can, however, move freely within the Nordic countries by earlier treaty).  I believe the Faroese political parties are split on the independence question. The Faroese are culturally, linguistically and economically distinct from the mainland Danes but the total population is only just over 50,000 and presumably many  younger Faroese value the ease of access to the Danish education system provided by common statehood.

I’d like to find out more about the trade relationship between the Faroes and the EU.

I hope also to find out more about ownership of the Faroese economy. Fishing (and presumably fish processing) have been the most important industry by far although attempts have and are being made to diversify. Russia has been one of the most important countries for Faroese exports. Foreign ownership of Faroese concerns (fishing-related presumably) has been an issue and there is apparently a deadline (in about 25 years,  I believe) when it is to be ended, although that deadline has recently been pushed further into the future.

I’ve recently read and enjoyed Jacobsen’s Barbara and am now reading William Heinesen’s Gryningsvindar. The fine old paperback (published in 1935) is a pleasure in itself with its inscription “Lilla morfar, God Jul” från Ingrid. I see it was translated by Elsa Thulin (1887-1960) whom I had never heard of before but who was a highly regarded literary translator and who also worked hard to improve the poor payment offered to literary translators. Looking for information about her, I find a list of Swedish literary translators (Svenskt Översättarlexikon) and am struck by my only recognising a couple of names on the rather long list. Another gap in my knowledge of Sweden,,,

I’ll probably try and buy a copy of Barbara in Faroese when I’m in Torshavn and work my way through a chapter of two with the aid of a parallel text in Swedish. I´ve done that before with some success with German literature although the novel I read was too interesting and I wearied of the plod and sped ahead with the English translation.

But if I managed to read Barbara in Faroese, it would be a step in learning about the history of Scandinavian languages, which I would like to do.

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