SILBO GOMERO.

A charming story (by Sarah Andrews of AP) about a language of whistles:

Juan Cabello takes pride in not using a cell phone or the Internet to communicate. Instead, he puckers up and whistles.
Cabello is a “silbador,” until recently a dying breed on tiny, mountainous La Gomera, one of Spain’s Canary Islands off West Africa. Like his father and grandfather before him, Cabello, 50, knows “Silbo Gomero,” a language that’s whistled, not spoken, and can be heard more than two miles away.

This chirpy brand of chatter is thought to have come over with early African settlers 2,500 years ago. Now, educators are working hard to save it from extinction by making schoolchildren study it up to age 14.
Silbo — the word comes from Spanish verb silbar, meaning to whistle — features four “vowels” and four “consonants” that can be strung together to form more than 4,000 words. It sounds just like bird conversation and Cabello says it has plenty of uses.
“I use it for everything: to call to my wife, to tell my kids something, to find a friend if we get lost in a crowd,” Cabello said.
In fact, he makes a living off Silbo, performing daily exhibitions at a restaurant on this island of 147 square miles and 19,000 people.

The story includes a link to an mp3 file of a whistled conversation.
Update. You can now (Aug. 2007) see a video describing the island of Gomera entirely in Silbo (!) at this page. Thanks, Jeremy!
Further update. See also this 2011 LH post.

Comments

  1. c.rodriguez-feo says:

    The Rodriguez-Feo’s came to the Americas from the
    island of la gomera. My fathe talked to his children with el silbo, calling us by our first name and telling us to do some things like comming to where he was etc…, acording to my recollection was the grandfather of my grandfather the one who migrate to Cuba at the beguining of the 19 century. By the way my father who passed away several years ago never mentioned if he knew anithing about el silbo or the Canary islands. My gradfather never whistle. So must be something that my father did because he carried in his genes.

  2. Fascinating — thanks for telling us about it!

  3. Peter M. DiMaio says:

    I used the article from the Phila. Inquirer on Silbo Gomero and the students were fascinated by it. Thanks for allowing us to learn about something linguistic, historic, anthropologic and aesthetic. Peter

  4. very good

  5. vanessa hernandez says:

    please send me some information on Silbo Gomero language
    Thank you.

  6. I can study this language. Please send me some information on Silbo Gomero language, thank you. Im from czech republic. (diskuss: http://www.spaceinfo.cz) Sandalay

  7. really? do you have information on how we can study this language? please send me some information too if its not too much trouble…
    thanks!

  8. Here you’ll find a wealth of information (in English) on the Gomeran Whistled Language, along with exhaustive bibliographies and the history of the island of La Gomera:
    http://Jeff-Brent.com/Silbo/silbohome.html
    I hope you find this interesting.
    Jeff Brent

  9. I’m reopening this thread and leaving a comment to call attention to the whistled video I’ve added as an update.

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