I love quirky things. Quirky foods, quirky hats, and quirky languages. Quirky quirky quirk quirk (and now I’ve hit semantic satiation: the point at which the word loses all meaning!)
From an outsiders point of view, Silbo Gomero is just one of those quirky things that also just happens to form a complete language. I remember hearing about it long ago but I was then reminded by this article on BBC News earlier today.
Silbo Gomero – used on La Gomera, one of the smallest of the Canary Islands – is a language based on whistling.
More specifically, a whistled that is emitted from a mouth with a finger tucked into it. This forms an aperture for air to escape, that can be modified in the mouth through articulation (just like you do when you speak your native language – consider how much your entire mouth moves when you speak!), creating a set of quiet to loud, differently toned whistles.
While there are other whistling languages out there, this one uses Spanish as a base. In fact, it uses the phonetics of spoken Spanish and adapts them into whistled tones. Unfortunately, it’s very difficult to transcribe a whistle, so I recommend having a look at the BBC link as it provides some introductory phrases and their Silbo Gomero equivalents.
The languages was used to aid communication over large distances when technology couldn’t do that for us. Those who have used the language for decades have mastered the language to an extent that they can whistle for up to 2 miles! By the looks of the layout of the island, there are many mountains and hills, so I could imagine it being interesting acoustically, especially when trying to reflect and deflect sound to another person based so far away that they’re effectively a dot.
The language is taught in all schools on the island, and I think that’s superb. So technology may reduce the need for it, but it’s a huge part of the heritage and culture of the island, and it would be such a shame if it were lost. In larger lands, governments occasionally intervene to help safeguard a language, such as the Welsh Language Act of 1993, but sometimes languages are lost either due to an ageing community, government influence, or cultural changes/stigma (for more on language loss, have a mooch around this article).
What’s nice about Silbo Gomero is that this protection and evolution of the language seems community driven; something you don’t see that often nowadays. I hope that it long continues, even if everyone has access to (a)synchronous communication technology.