There is no arguing that all of us are ready to tap away on our screens to talk to our friends. Often, we would speak over calls, in languages we acquired. Would you spend time learning a language you inherited, though? Residents of La Gomera in the Canary Islands communicate by whistling, and the results are truly sonorous. The whistle language, called Silbo Gomero, has been in existence for centuries, and in 2009, UNESCO listed down the language as a part of the Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity. But how can one carry out extensive conversations through whistles, and why exactly was this language created in the first place?
Silbo Gomero’s history is still unclear, but experts believed it has roots in the Guanche language, which was spoken by the Gaunche, the group believed to have migrated from northern Africa to the Canary Islands. People would speak and whistle Guanche, and with the conquest, Spanish is thought to have replaced both the spoken and written forms of this language.
Silbo Gomero sounds like whistled Spanish, and has four consonant sounds, along with two to four sounds for vowels. Originally, it was used to communicate long-distance for, owing to the terrain, the whistles could be heard for two miles. The whistle language was also used as a quick warning, code language, and an invitation to gatherings. For two decades now, it has become a compulsory subject in public schools, and over 22,000 inhabitants of the Canary Islands can understand it. That is not to say everyone can ‘whistle’ this language. Whistling is complicated, and only the elder members of the community, along with those who have formal tutoring of Silbo Gomero are able to whistle it.
Nevertheless, the charming sounds we’ve heard have made the Canary Islands even more mysterious and magical!
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