Silbo Gomero – An ancient and fascinating ‘whistle language’ still survives on one of the Canary Islands, it’s used to talk across the island’s steep ravines

December 13th, 2016 by With the advent of the internet, communication technology has evolved to a point where you are just one click away from interacting with the world. Recently, however, we heard about a rather amazing part of the world where the locals use an ancient form of communication. In the rugged mountains of La Gomera, in the Canary Islands, the locals “speak” Silbo Gomero – an elaborate “whistle language” that allows them to communicate across the deep ravines and narrow valleys that radiate out across the island. The human voice can only travel so far, but a whistle can carry on for miles. The speakers of Silbo Gomero can exchange messages over a distance of up to 5 kilometers.This peculiar yet fascinating method of communication is a transposition of Spanish from speech to whistling, replaced by four whistled consonants and two vowels. The whistles can be distinguished according to pitch and continuity. The exact origin of the language is unknown, although in the 15th Century when the first European settlers arrived in La Gomera, the locals of the island were already using the whistle language. The Silbo Gomero was used as a common form of communication until the mid-20th Century. In the 1950s, due to economic decline, many Silbo Gomero speakers were forced to flee La Gomera and seek better jobs elsewhere. The innovation of the phone also contributed to the decline of the whistle language, as its role was mainly to help to overcome distance and terrain. Read more: The Vintage News

“Whistled Languages” Reveal How the Brain Processes Information

November 22nd, 2016 by Before electronic communications became a ubiquitous part of people's lives, rural villagers created whistled versions of their native languages to speak from hillside to hillside or even house to house. Herodotus mentioned whistled languages in the fourth book of his work The Histories, but until recently linguists had done little research on the sounds and meanings of this now endangered form of communication. New investigations have discovered the presence of whistled speech all over the globe. About 70 populations worldwide communicate this way, a far greater number than the dozen or so groups that had been previously identified. Linguists have tried to promote interest in these languages—and schools in the Canary Islands now teach its local variant. A whistled language represents both a cultural heritage and a way to study how the brain processes information. Read more: Scientific American

In A Turkish Village, A Conversation With Whistles, Not Words

September 28th, 2015 by In a remote mountain village high above Turkey's Black Sea coast, there are villagers who still communicate across valleys by whistling. Not just whistling as in a non-verbal, "Hey, you!" But actually using what they call their "bird language," Turkish words expressed as a series of piercing whistles. The village is Kuskoy, and it's inhabited by farmers who raise tea, corn, beets and other crops, and also keep livestock. The landscape is unusual by Turkish standards, and the residents are also considered a bit eccentric by other Turks. Everyone we met in Kuskoy was warm, welcoming and very generous. But when our meeting with Nazmiye Cakir, 60, was interrupted by an eruption of gunfire from across the valley, our hosts smiled reassuringly and paused, as if waiting for more. Sure enough, a few seconds later came an even louder volley – a response from our side of the mountain. Read more: NPR