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.


Monophthongs of Faroese, based on formant values in Peterson (2000), cited in Árnason (2011:76)
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]
  • According to the mean formant values of the native vowels (so excluding /y:/ and /a:/) in Peterson (2000), cited in Árnason (2011:76):
    • /?, ?, ?/ are more open than the corresponding tense vowels, with /?/ being the most open of the three and having the same F1 value as the back /o:/. The F2 value of /?/ is closer to that of /?/, which means that it is a front vowel.
    • /ø:/ and especially /e:/ are more open than the phonetically close-mid /o:/ (, often diphthongized to [o?: ~ o?:]). Both /ø:/ and /e:/ are more open than the corresponding short vowels; in addition, /ø:/ is more central than any of the mid front vowels, including /oe/, whereas /e:/ is the most front of the mid vowels. This suggests that they are best transcribed and in narrow transcription, at least in the case of the monophthongal variants (Árnason reports opening diphthongs [øoe:] and [e?:] as one common type of realization of /ø:/ and /e:/. Those diphthongs have considerably more close starting points).
    • The F1 value of /a/ is just slightly higher than that of /e:/, suggesting that it is a near-open vowel. In addition, its F2 value is closer to /?/ than /oe/, which suggests that it is a near-open near-back vowel .
    • /oe/ is considerably more close than /a/ but not as close as /o:/. It is more front than /ø:/, which suggests that it is a mid front vowel .
    • /?/ has the same F1 value as /oe/, which suggests that it is also true-mid . The remaining short mid /?/ is more open than those two, suggesting as the best narrow transcription.

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.

Faroese vowel alternations[2]
Long vowel Short vowel
/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?l?t] 'yellow (N.)'
/o/ tola ['t?o:la ~ 't?o?:la] 'to endure' toldi ['tlt?] 'endured'
/a/ Kanada ['k?a:nata] 'Canada' land [lant] 'land'
Long vowel Short vowel
/?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:

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
  • Peterson, Hjalmar P. (2000), "Mátingar af sjálvljóðum í føruyskum", Málting, 28: 37-43

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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