Faroese Phonology
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Faroese Phonology

The phonology of Faroese has an inventory similar to the closely related Icelandic language, but markedly different processes differentiate the two. Similarities include an aspiration contrast in stop consonants, the retention of front rounded vowels and vowel quality changes instead of vowel length distinctions.


Faroese vowels
Front Central Back
unrounded rounded
short long short long short long short long
Close ? i: ? (y:) ? u:
Mid ? e: oe ø: ? o:
Open a (a:)
  • /y:/ and /a:/ appear only in loanwords.[1]
  • The long mid vowels /e:, ø:, o:/ tend to be diphthongized to [e?: ~ e?:, øoe: ~ ø?:, o?: ~ o?:].[1]

As with other Germanic languages, Faroese has a large number of vowel phonemes; by one analysis, long and short vowels may be considered separate phonemes, with 26 in total. Vowel distribution is similar to other North Germanic languages in that short vowels appear in closed syllables (those ending in consonant clusters or long consonants) and long vowels appearing in open syllables. Árnason (2011) provides the following alternations:

Faroese vowel alternations[2]
/i/ linur ['li:n] 'soft' lint [l?n?t] 'soft (N.)'
/e/ frekur ['f?e:(?)k ~ 'f?e?:k] 'greedy' frekt [fkt] 'greedy (N.)'
/y/ mytisk ['my:t?sk] 'mythological' mystisk ['m?st?sk] 'mysterious'
/ø/ høgur ['hø: ~ 'høoe:] 'high (M.)' høgt [hoekt] 'high (N.)'
/u/ gulur ['ku:l] 'yellow' gult [k?lt] 'yellow (N.)'
/o/ tola ['t?o:la ~ 't?o?:la] 'to endure' toldi ['tlt?] 'endured'
/a/ Kanada ['k?a:nata] 'Canada' land [lant] 'land'
/?i/ hvítur ['kf?i:t] 'white (M.)' hvítt [kf?i?t:] 'white (N.)'
/?i/ deyður ['tei:j] 'dead (M.)' deytt [tt:] 'dead (N.)'
/ai/ feitur ['fai:t] 'fat (M.)' feitt [fai?t: ~ f?i?t:] 'fat (N.)'
/?i/ gloyma ['kl?i:ma] 'to forget' gloymdi ['kl?imt?] 'forgot'
/?a/ spakur ['sp?a:(?)k] 'calm (M.)' spakt [spakt] 'calm (N.)'
/?a/ vátur ['v?a:t] 'wet (M.)' vátt [vt:] 'wet (N.)'
/?u/ fúlur ['f?u:l] 'foul (M.)' fúlt [f?l?t] 'foul (N.)'
/?u/ tómur ['tu:m ~ 't?oeu:m] 'empty (M.)' tómt [t?oem?t ~ tm?t] 'empty (N.)'

Faroese avoids having a hiatus between two vowels by inserting a glide between them.

There is considerable variation among dialects in the pronunciation of vowels.

Map showing major Faroese isoglosses

The only unstressed vowels in Faroese are short [a, ?, ?]; these appear in inflectional endings: áðrenn (e.g. ['?a:n:] 'before'). Very typical are endings like -ur, -ir, -ar. The dative is often indicated by [?n].

  • [a] - bátar ['p?a:ta?] ('boats'), kallar ['k?atla?] ('[you] call')
  • [?] - gestir ['tst] ('guests'), dugir ['tu:] ('[you] can')
  • [?] - bátur ['p?a:t] ('boat'), gentur [tnt] ('girls'), rennur ['n:] ('[you] run').

In some dialects, unstressed short /?/ is realized as [ø] or is reduced further to [?]. /?/ goes under a similar reduction pattern as it varies between [? ~ ? ~ ?] so unstressed /?/ and /?/ can rhyme. This can cause spelling mistakes related to these two vowels. The following table displays the different realizations in different dialects.

Unstressed /i/ and /u/ in dialects[3]
Word Borðoy
Suðuroy Elsewhere
gulur ('yellow') ['ku:l??] ['ku:l??] ['ku:lø?] ['ku:l]
gulir ('yellow' pl.) ['ku:l??] ['ku:l??] ['ku:lø?] ['ku:l]
bygdin ('town') ['p?kt?n] ['p?kt?n] ['p?ktøn] ['p?kt?n]
bygdum ('towns' dat. pl.) ['p?kt?n] ['p?kt?n] ['p?ktøn] ['p?kt?n]


Written Pronunciation instead of
-ógv- [?kv] *[?ukv]
-úgv- [?kv] *[?ukv]
-eyggj- [?t?:] *[?it?:]
-íggj-, -ýggj- [?t?:] *[?it?:]
-eiggj- [at?:] *[ait?:]
-oyggj- [?t?:] *[?it?:]

The so-called "skerping" ([pk] 'sharpening')[4] is a typical phenomenon of fronting back vowels before [kv] and monophthongizing certain diphthongs before long [t?:]. Skerping is not indicated orthographically.

  • [v]: Jógvan ['j?kvan] (a form of the name John), Gjógv [tkv] ('cleft')
  • [v]: kúgv [kkv] ('cow'), trúgva ['tkva] ('believe'), but: trúleysur ['tu:l?is] ('faithless')
  • [?t?:]: heyggjur ['h?t?:] ('high'), but heygnum ['h?i:n?n] ('high [dat. sg.]')
  • [?t?:]: nýggjur ['n?t?:] ('new [M.]'), but nýtt [n?i?t:] ('New [Nn.]')
  • [at?:]: beiggi ['pat?:?] ('brother')
  • [?t?:]: oyggj [?t?:] ('island'), but oynna ['?itn:a] ('island [acc. sg.]')


  • /f, v/ are normally labiodental, but may sometimes be bilabial. Intervocalic /v/ is normally an approximant , whereas word-initial /v/ varies between an approximant and a fricative .[5]
  • /n/ is dental , whereas /t?, t/ vary between being dental [t, t?] and (less commonly) alveolar [t?, t].[5]
  • Initial /l/ is dental or alveolar . Postvocalic /l/ may be more of a postalveolar lateral , especially after back vowels.[5]
  • /t, t?/ are palato-alveolar, and vary between stops [t, t] and affricates [t, t?].[6]
  • /?, k?, k/ are velar, whereas /h/ is glottal.[7]

There are several phonological processes involved in Faroese, including:

  • Liquids are devoiced before voiceless consonants
  • Nasals generally assume the place of articulation and laryngeal settings of following consonants.
  • Velar stops palatalize to postalveolar affricates before /i:, ?, e:, ?, ?i, j/.
  • /v/ becomes /f/ before voiceless consonants
  • /s/ before another consonant becomes /?/ after /?i, ai, ?i/
  • /sk/ becomes /?/ before /i:, ?, e:, ?, ?i, j/ (but in morphological forms often /st?/ word internally, i.e. elski [st] 'I love')
  • /?/ retroflexes itself as well as following consonants in consonant clusters, yielding the allophones [?, ?, ?, ?] while /?/ itself becomes [?], example: ⟨rd⟩ []; preaspirated consonants devoice the rhotic: example: ⟨rt⟩ []; ⟨rs⟩ is usually [?:] (only in some loanwords []). Voiceless [] is usually realised as [?].
  • Pre-stopping of original ⟨ll⟩ to [tl] and ⟨nn⟩ to [tn].
  • Intervocalically the aspirated consonants become pre-aspirated unless followed by a closed vowel. In clusters, the preaspiration merges with a preceding nasal or apical approximant, rendering them voiceless, example: ⟨nt⟩ [n?t]

Omissions in consonant clusters

Faroese tends to omit the first or second consonant in clusters of different consonants:

  • fjals [fjals] ('mountain's') instead of *[fjatls] from [fjatl] (nom.). Other examples for genitives are: barns ['pans] ('child's'), vatns [van?s] ('water's').
  • hjálpti [jt?] ('helped') past sg. instead of *['jpt?] from hjálpa ['jpa]. Other examples for past forms are: sigldi ['s?lt?] ('sailed'), yrkti ['] ('wrote poetry').
  • homophone are fylgdi ('followed') and fygldi ('caught birds with a net'): ['f?lt?].
  • skt will be:
    1. [st] in words of more than one syllable: føroyskt ['fø:st] ('Faroese' n. sg.;) russiskt ['s:?st] ('Russian' n. sg.), íslendskt ['lst] ('Icelandic' n. sg.).
    2. [kst] in monosyllables: enskt [kst] ('English' n. sg.), danskt [takst] ('Danish' n. sg.), franskt [f?akst] ('French' n. sg.), spanskt [spakst] ('Spanish' n. sg.), svenskt [svkst] ('Swedish' n. sg.), týskt [tikst] ('German' n. sg.).
      • However [?t] in: írskt [t] ('Irish' n. sg.), norskt [nt] ('Norwegian' n. sg.)


  1. ^ a b Árnason (2011), p. 75.
  2. ^ Árnason (2011), p. 68.
  3. ^ Þráinsson (2004), p. 350.
  4. ^ Þráinsson et al. use the term "Faroese Verschärfung"
  5. ^ a b c Árnason (2011), p. 115.
  6. ^ Árnason (2011), p. 116.
  7. ^ Árnason (2011), p. 114.


  • Árnason, Kristján (2011), The Phonology of Icelandic and Faroese, Oxford University Press, ISBN 0199229317
  • Þráinsson, Höskuldur (2004), Faroese: An Overview and Reference Grammar, Føroya Fróðskaparfelag, ISBN 978-9991841854

Further reading

  • Barnes, Michael P.; Weyhe, Eivind (2013) [First published 1994], "7 Faroese", in van der Auwera, Johan; König, Ekkehard (eds.), The Germanic Languages, Routledge, pp. 190-218, ISBN 0-415-05768-X
  • Cathey, James (1997), "Variation and reduction in Modern Faroese vowels", in Birkmann, Thomas; Klingenberg, Heinz; Nübling, Damaris; Ronneberger-Sibold, Elke (eds.), Vergleichende germanische Philologie und Skandinavistik: Festschrift für Otmar Werner, Tübingen: Max Niemeyer Verlag, pp. 91-100, ISBN 978-3484730311
  • O'Neil, Wayne A. (1964), "Faroese Vowel Morphophonemics", Language, Linguistic Society of America, 40 (3): 366-371, doi:10.2307/411501, JSTOR 411501
  • Rischel, Jørgen (1964), "Toward the phonetic description of Faroese vowels", Fróðskaparrit, 13: 99-113

  This article uses material from the Wikipedia page available here. It is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.



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