Report: Turkish/Spanish Whistling Languages (Mini Paper)

Whistled languages are one of the most elusive areas of linguistics: neither music nor an individual language in themselves, they are an enigma in the world of communication. Surprisingly, whistled languages are exactly the same translation-wise as the spoken language around them: if I were to translate the whistled language from the Canary Islands to written word, the language is identical to the Spanish dialect spoken on Silbo Gomero. There is nothing to make whistled languages any different than the languages spoken in the area of origin, other than the fact that the language does not use the vocal cords and creates a traditionally musical sound.

After a significant amount of research, there seems to be more material on Silbo Gomero than for kuş dili,the Turkish whistled language. I have reformatted my research to include whistled languages as a whole, of which there seem to be five major ones (Le Monde Siffle). These are whistled tongues from the following regions: Greece, Mexico, the Canary Islands, Turkey, and the Pyrenees. There are also whistled languages native to Cameroon, the Amazon, and Southeast Asia, apparently (Le Monde Siffle).

In Turkey, Onur Güntürkün of Bochum University has recorded a large number of Turkish whistling language native speakers and performed significant scientific studies which are currently not in my possession (Siegel). Surprisingly enough, his research showed that the processing of whistled languages in Turkey used not only one half of the brain but both halves in order to understand the language (Nijhuis). To listen to an NPR interview with the professor and listen to some examples of real-life usage of this language, take a look at this article. To listen to more examples and read the New Yorker article on kuş dili, read this article.

In the Canary Islands, the whistled language of Silbo Gomero rules the hills. This whistled language had a practical purpose: to escape the Civil Guards during periods of conflict, whistled messages were sent instead of speaking, since the guards did not whistle (Plitt). Although this whistled language is on a downward trend in terms of usage, it is still being used – check out the BBC article on Silbo Gomero with a fantastic video here.

Whistled languages as a whole are on the verge of disappearing as a whole. Concerns by both Güntürkün and BBC, among other organizations, have expressed concern through the media and publishing about the rapid decrease of whistling languages used in a practical manner. Nowadays the most they are used for generally are tourism attractions in the form of performances and contests (Nijhuis).

As previously mentioned, Turkish and Gomerian whistling languages are not the only whistled languages in existence. I recently discovered a brief NPR clip on a whistled language much closer to home than the Canary Islands and Turkey: Alaska, too, has its own native whistled language. The Yupik eskimos converse in whistles, too, and share the concerns mentioned above about the whistled tongue disappearing from their culture in the waves of assimilation and globalization that are rippling through the community (Spitzer).

Next up:

Whistled languages in Oaxaca, Mexico (documentary)

Bioacoustics of Whistled Languages

Identification of Whistled Vowels by Non-Whistlers

Works Cited:

Les langues siffleés. Association de Recherche Le Monde Siffle. Le Monde Siffle, 2009. Web. 7 Oct. 2015. <;.

Nijhuis, Michelle. The Whistled Language of Northern Turkey. The New Yorker. Condé Nast, Aug. 17 2015. Web. 7 Oct. 2015. <;.

Plitt, Laura. Silbo gomero: A whistling language revived.BBC Mundo. BBC News Services, 11 Jan. 2013. Web. 7 Oct. 2015. <;.

Spitzer, Gabriel. Whistling to Communicate In Alaska. New England Public Radio. National Public Radio, 21 Jun. 2005. Web. 7 Oct. 2015. <;.

Güntürkün, Onur. Interview by Robert Siegel. New England Public Radio. National Public Radio, 20 Aug. 2015. Web. 7 Oct. 2015. <;.


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