Year of grant:
Føroyska málvistfrøðin: Varðveiting av einum minnilutamáli umvegis útvarp og bøkur
(The Language Ecology of the Faroe Islands: maintaining a minority language through radio and book)
Stephen Pax Leonard
Trinity Hall, Cambridge, og Føroyamálsdeildin,Fróðskaparsetur Føroya
Grant from the FRC in DKK:
The Faroese have managed to maintain their language in the face of colonial domination and subjugation. This small, densely networked community where the majority of the people are connected to one another in some way has harvested what Haugen (1979: 255) calls a ‘high-intimacy’ language. This project studies the Faroese model of language maintenance in order to see whether this formula can be applied to the many thousands of endangered languages spoken in the world today. Of the world’s 6,500 languages, it is thought that 50 per cent of them will not be spoken by the end of the century. The world is losing languages, and the indigenous knowledge tied up in these idioms that have no written form, at an unprecedented rate. Linguists are now urgently looking at examples of minority languages which have been successfully revitalised to gauge what we can from these case-studies.
The approach taken to the ‘elaboration’ of the Faroese ‘norm’ is to study in detail the radio archives and the Faroese literature written in the twentieth century. It is with the aid of media such as the radio with its inter-generational appeal and a collective concern for the language as the key identity marker that a certain Faroese ethnolinguistic consciousness has come into being. These two different registers go hand-in-hand: at the time the Faroese language was being lexically ‘elaborated’ through radio programmes and other means, a Faroese literature showing great creative potential was becoming rapidly much richer.
The radio programmes and literary texts make for a unique corpus of contributions towards the development of a small, minority language whose very existence was once threatened and facilitate an ethnographic bottom-up description of language development. The objective of this study is to examine the ‘elaboration’ of the Faroese norm from a linguistic and literary perspective enabling us to understand better what Haugen (1972) calls the ‘language ecology’ of Faroese.