Icelandic is the official language of Iceland, spoken by the entire population (about 320,000). The Icelandic language is considered one of the cornerstones of the Icelandic culture, in large part due to a strong literary heritage. Since the 18th century, when the Icelandic language was under threat from Danish influence, a movement of language purism rose, and has since been the dominant linguistic policy in the country. Icelandic does not usually adopt foreign words for new concepts, opting instead to coin new words, or give old words new meaning, to keep the language free of outside influence.
Centuries of isolation have helped to insulate the country's Nordic culture from external influence; a prominent example is the preservation of the Icelandic language, which remains the closest to Old Norse of all modern Scandinavian languages except Faroese.
Icelandic literature is extremely popular, in particular the sagas and eddas which were written during the High and Late Middle Ages. Icelanders are avid consumers of literature, with the highest number of bookstores per capita in the world. For its size, Iceland imports and translates more international literature than any other nation. Iceland also has the highest per capita publication of books and magazines with around 10% of the population publishing a book in their lifetime.
Another reason why the Icelandic publishing industry is so healthy is due to government grants. The government runs the Icelandic Literary Fund, which funnels money into the publishing industry and supports literary efforts, translations and writing.
Literature seems to indeed be a passion on the island in the North Atlantic. Each year 1,500 book titles are published in Iceland. In recent years, Iceland has been struggling with a severe financial crisis. However, book sales have not suffered, in fact, Iceland is experiencing a book boom. This island nation has more writers, more books published and more books read, per head, than anywhere else in the world.
Background and status
Faroese is a North Germanic language with around 47,000 speakers in the Faroe Islands. It is closely related to Icelandic and the dialects of western Norway, though as a result of the isolation, the Faroe language has a distinctive character of its own. Faroese has been spoken in the Faroe Islands for about 600 years, when it separated itself from Old Norse. Grammatically Faroese is closest to Icelandic, but in its vocabulary it is closest to many Western Norwegian dialects, although most loan words come from Danish and German. The Faroe-people are multilingual. Besides Faroese, Danish must be learned, and English lessons start in the 5th grade. As all Faroese know Danish, they also understand Norwegian and Swedish.
The Faroese language is considered one of the most important aspects of Faroe cultural identity and Faroe Islanders are conscious of the need to preserve the Faroese language by keeping it resilient in the face of global influences. Research and development of the Faroese language is one of the priorities of the Faroe government. In the twentieth century Faroese became the official language in the Faroe Islands, and has been used in all matters - also within business, administration, political and cultural life except the courts which is still mainly Danish. The laws of the Løgting (the Faroese Parliament) are published in Faroese, but with a Danish parallel text. The endeavours to strengthen the position of the Faroese language within all aspects of society, led in the1960s to the establishment of The Faroese Academy. The aim was to create a scientific environment which should be the framework of the exploration of Faroese language and literature and teach these disciplines at university level. Their efforts have not been in vain, as there is a new surge of young people developing film, theatre and literature in the Faroese language.