To communicate across the deep ravines of La Gomera in the Canary Islands, a way of speaking was developed composed entirely of whistles. The El Silbo language of the “Whistle Island” only consists of a couple of vowels and four consonants, but can communicate more than 4,000 words.

La Gomera (via Wikimedia)

The “language” isn’t actually its own language, as it can be adapted to just about any existing language (currently on La Gomera, that’s Spanish). The island is a small place, just over 142 square miles, but it’s a mountainous terrain and quick communication has long been a problem, especially when the island was victimized by slave ships. However, the whistles can be transmitted quickly across the peaks and valleys.

article-imageDemonstrations of the whistle language (via Wikimedia)

While La Gomera has developed with the rest of the world and it’s not as essential for communication, it’s still used to announce news of weddings and funerals and other community happenings. However, it almost disappeared, as starting in the 1940s tourism and immigration deteriorated its use. Yet while it practically vanished by the 1990s, children in school are now taught the language as part of their culture, and in this way it is surviving. In 2009, it became protected by UNESCO. 

Here’s a video from UNESCO on the Silbo Whistle Language:



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