Speaking in Whistles: The Whistled Language of Oaxaca, Mexico

in Language Lessons | March 31st, 2013

Whistled language is a rare form of communication that can be mostly found in locations with isolating features such as scattered settlements or mountainous terrain. This documentary above shows how Dr. Mark Sicoli, Assistant Professor of Linguistics at Georgetown University, conducts field studies among speakers of a Chinantec language, who live in the mountainous region of northern Oaxaca in Mexico. The Summer Institute of Linguistics in Mexico has recorded and transcribed a whistled conversation in Sochiapam Chinantec between two men in different fields. The result can be seen and heard here.

The most thoroughly-researched whistled language however is Silbo Gomero, the language of the island of La Gomera (Canary Islands). In 2009, it was inscribed on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. The UNESCO website has a good description of this whistled language with photos and a video. Having almost died out, the language is now taught once more in schools.

By profession, Matthias Rascher teaches English and History at a High School in northern Bavaria, Germany. In his free time he scours the web for good links and posts the best finds on Twitter.

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Comments (13)

  1. Merve Hosgor says . . .
    April 1, 2013 / 11:54 pm

    Interesting:) we have in Turkey the same language spoken in the north of country, in a city near black sea, Giresun!! you can see herehttp:


    it’s called ‘bird language’ . in the video they say it is born when they see it’s difficult to comunicate and make your voice hear when someone is in the mountain or in the fields. very similar to this one!

  2. marzipanj says . . .
    April 2, 2013 / 2:06 pm

    MK shout-out to the SIL–but also it’s crazy how any sound that humans can make can be made into meaning. Also reminds me of “Spell of the Sensuous” with people inhabiting different animals in order to communicate to each other…

  3. streetlevel says . . .
    April 3, 2013 / 5:43 pm

    Very interesting! It’s amazing how flexible the human mind is.

  4. Alfredo Amay says . . .
    August 4, 2013 / 6:21 am
  5. Belen says . . .
    February 11, 2014 / 3:21 pm

    This is absolutely amazing. I hope something can be done to prevent this language from extinction and promote it within the regions’ people.

  6. randy says . . .
    June 29, 2014 / 3:16 pm

    This is really cool. It’s worth watching the full 30 minutes.

  7. Nomvelo says . . .
    January 9, 2015 / 4:16 pm

    I thoroughly enjoyed watching the video! I too hope that the this language does not become extinct.

  8. Valerie Proctor says . . .
    June 12, 2015 / 12:08 pm

    This is so interesting. I am sorry though that no time was taken to speaking with the women and finding out their point of view.

  9. Jeanna says . . .
    May 23, 2016 / 5:21 pm
  10. Kate Hall says . . .
    June 19, 2016 / 10:22 am

    Brilliant. This language confirms our social need to communicate by any means. Fantastic!

  11. Denise says . . .
    June 20, 2016 / 8:32 pm

    In the novel “Green Mansions” set in South American, the narrator talks about a young girl and her mother who speak the “bird” language of whistles.

  12. Pamela says . . .
    June 21, 2016 / 1:20 am

    Awesome post and awesome topic :-)

    The whistle language from La Gomera (Canarias, Spain) is considered “the biggest one alive” but still in danger like the rest of alive whistle languages. It is intangible world heritage: http://www.unesco.org/culture/ich/en/RL/whistled-language-of-the-island-of-la-gomera-canary-islands-the-silbo-gomero-00172

    Currently I’m working about its lateralization for my master thesis: http://ruhrwhistles.edublogs.org/
    One of my supervisors is Onur Güntürkün, who studied this in the Turkish one.

  13. Pamela says . . .
    June 21, 2016 / 1:22 am

    Sorry for repeating the info about the Silbo gomero, it did not appear the complete post at the beginning!

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