Language Attitudes among Schoolchildren in Post-colonial Situations

Karin Jóhanna L. Knudsen

Center for Local and Regional Development, Faroe Islands


The Faroe Islands, a small group of islands in the middle of the North Atlantic, were officially incorporated into the Kingdom of Denmark in the mid-1800s. Since 1948, the Faroes have had home rule within the Kingdom.

The official language of the islands is Faroese. Some 60,000 people are estimated to have Faroese as their mother tongue. The Home Rule Act states Faroese as the principal language of the country; yet Danish has to be learned thoroughly. Faroese became a school subject only in the 1920s, and became the language of instruction only in the 1930s. At that time, Danish was the dominant and official language in the public domain. Yet, Faroese has never lost its dominance as a home language. Almost every Faroe Islander speaks, reads, and writes at least two languages. At school, pupils must learn two socially active languages – i.e. Faroese and Danish – plus another, this latter being English.

To the present day, Faroese language policy has been dominated by lexical and selective purism. Much effort has been used to create Faroese equivalents for foreign words and to opposing Danish influence in particular and English to some extent. Nevertheless, school still find it necessary to use several Danish textbooks, and most dictionaries, grammars and reference books are in Danish.

The relationship between Danish and Faroese is manifested in many ways in everyday language usage. Some scholars express concern that people often use a Danish-Faroese dictionary to check whether a word or expression is “authentic” or “good enough” Faroese. Another “alarming” observation is that people are very preoccupied with assessing the quality of their own as well as other people’s Faroese.

The Faroes’ post-colonial situation exhibits a special kind of bilingualism with no significant numbers of L1 speakers of Danish present on the islands, while the indigenous language, Faroese, and the colonial language, Danish, coexist with English as an additive language in the educational system.

In the light of this situation, the aim of the study is to elucidate and detect any differences in attitude to the languages Faroese, Danish and English, and how the attitudes may vary according to age, gender, social-economic background, and rural/urban location.

The study is under way and the first results will be presented at the symposium. A questionnaire successfully implemented in other areas has been adapted and is being applied to a sample of 715 pupils in 64 schools across the islands. The sample consists of pupils in lower-secondary education aged 13-14 years (grade 7). Hence, age will be controlled. The questionnaire is divided into sections for biographical information, self-reported language usage, the participants’ beliefs and the affective dimensions of their attitudes to language use.

Faroese is usually considered a positive example of a revitalization of a minority language. The results are not only important for the Faroe Islands, but the experience of the Faroese is also extremely important for international educational language planning. The forthcoming results can be compared to results from post-colonial and revitalization situations elsewhere.

Session: Paper session
Attitude 2
Friday, April 4, 2008, 13:45-15:15
room: 09