Norn and Faroese

Two of the West Scandinavian languages have survived, Icelandic and Faroese, while one, Norn, originally spoken in at least Orkney and Shetland (and very possibly, Caithness, the Western Isles and the Isle of Man) is a dead language.  Faroese could well have gone the same way as Norn. For a large part of the nineteenth century, it was a spoken language, the official and educational language was Danish and active efforts were made to promote Danish at the expense of Faroese. Its survival was helped by the isolation of the Faroe Islands, low population “cburn” and that it was still part of the Nordic world.

The Shetlands became part of Scotland in 1472. There is some dispute among linguists as to how Norn declined, whether it was increasingly penetrated by Scottish and gradually deteriorated or whether it remained distinct to the end. The last speaker is said to have been William Sutherland (died 1850) although there are indications of later traces. There are many words of Scandinavian origin in the Shetland dialect.

We would know far less about Norn, had it not been for the efforts of the first man in the Faroes to obtain a PhD, the linguist Jakob Jakobsen (Jakup doctari). He was in Shetland from 1893-95. According to Michael Barnes (Jakob Jakobsen and the Norn language of Shetland), “,,,working with singlemindedness and dedication to record every remnant of Norn, he could find.  Words, phrases, snatches of conversation, proverbs, rhymes, riddles, place names – as well as other less conspicuous items”. As well as his doctoral thesis, Jakobsen also produced “An etymological dictionary of the Norn Language in Shetland” (1908-21, English translation 1928-32, reprinted 1985). The death of Norn was a warning example of what could happen to Faroese. Jakobsen and other cultural figures made great efforts to ensure the survival of Faroese, in among other ways, by developing it as a written language and writing literature in Faroese. According to Barnes, “it would not be inappropriate to call Jakobsen “the father of modern written Faroese”. He also points out that, while not detracting from Jakobsen’s contribution, there have been major developments in linguistics since Jakobsen’s time.

Despite Jacobsen’s efforts, we still know little about the pronunciation and grammatical structure of later Norn. There is very little written Norn although we do have a version of the Lord’s Prayer in Norn (date unknown), compared by Wikipedia in its article on the Norn language with (presumably current) versions in Icelandic and Faroese.

To a layman, the version of the Lord’s Prayer seems to show signs of penetration by English (Scots).

Lord’s prayer in Norn, Faroese and Icelandic (source: Wikepedia)


Fy vor or er i Chimeri. / Halaght vara nam dit.

La Konungdum din cumma. / La vill din vera guerde

i vrildin sindaeri chimeri. / Gav vus dagh u dagloght brau.

Forgive sindorwara / sin vi forgiva gem ao sinda gainst wus.

Lia wus ikè o vera tempa, / but delivra wus fro adlu idlu.

[For do i ir Kongungdum, u puri, u glori.] Amen.



Faðir vár, tú sum ert í himlinum. / Heilagt verði navnið títt.

Komi ríkið títt. / Verði vilji tín,

so sum á himli, so á jørð. / Gev okkum í dag okkara dagliga breyð.

Fyrigev okkum syndir okkara, / so sum vit eisini fyrigeva teimum, ið móti okkum synda.

Leið okkum ikki í freistingar, / men frels okkum frá tí illa.

[Tí at títt er ríkið, valdið og heiðurin um aldur og allar ævir.] Amen.



Faðir vor, þú sem ert á himnum. / Helgist þitt nafn,

til komi þitt ríki, / verði þinn vilji,

svo á jörðu sem á himni. / Gef oss í dag vort daglegt brauð.

Fyrirgef oss vorar skuldir, / svo sem vér og fyrirgefum vorum skuldunautum.

Og eigi leið þú oss í freistni, / heldur frelsa oss frá illu.

[Því að þitt er ríkið, mátturinn og dýrðin að eilífu.] Amen.

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