The BBC reports on an almost-musical language:
On a Spanish island, an ancient whistling language that once seemed to be dying out is now undergoing a revival. Silbo gomero or Gomeran whistle is an ancient language the locals have assured me is still in use.
This method of communication, in which the Spanish language is replaced by two whistled vowels and four consonants, has a peculiarity perfectly suited to this landscape of deep valleys and steep ravines. It has the ability to travel up to two miles, much further and with less effort than shouting.
It is known that when the first European settlers arrived at La Gomera in the 15th Century, the inhabitants of the island – of North African origin – communicated with whistles. The arrival of the Spanish, the locals adapted the whistling language to Spanish. So the most likely theory is that the whistle came with the settlers from Africa, where there are records of other whistled languages.
Some locals recall its widespread use in the 1940s and 50s. By the 1970s and 80s, there were only a few whistlers remaining, but at the end of the 90s there was renewed interest in silbo, in part due to an initiative to make it a compulsory subject at primary school.
It is known that the Gomera whistle co-exists with other whistling languages in the world – on the Greek island of Evia, in the town of Kuskoy, eastern Turkey, and in a town of the French Pyrenees. But the whistling language of La Gomera is the only one that has been studied in depth and is used by the largest community of speakers, and probably the only one that is learned in school as a subject.
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