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La Gomera, Canary Islands

La Gomera, Canary Islands, photo by Vilb

How do you communicate over large distances on a mountainous island full of deep ravines? On La Gomera in the Canaries, inhabitants developed a whistling language to save themselves long and arduous treks. Maybe we should all use it rather than reaching for our mobiles – especially as mountainous areas often have poor network coverage!

The whistling mimics the sounds of the local language, using variations in the notes to represent words. Indeed, brain scans show that listeners are exploiting the same parts of the brain used in normal language processing when interpretting the whistling.

Although other places in the world have whistling languages, this one is unusual because it is so sophisticated and practised by thousands of inhabitants. Indeed, the island habitants learn the language at school. It’s importance has been recognized by Unesco.

Waiter demonstrates language for tourists


Credits and sources

  1. Sound extracted from BBC interview
  2. vilb (c) some rights reserved

Suggested by Bernard Berry