Speaking in Whistles: The Whistled Language of Oaxaca, Mexico

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.

Note: This post first appeared on our site back in 2013.

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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.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Learn 40+ Lan­guages for Free: Span­ish, Eng­lish, Chi­nese & More

A Col­or­ful Map Visu­al­izes the Lex­i­cal Dis­tances Between Europe’s Lan­guages: 54 Lan­guages Spo­ken by 670 Mil­lion Peo­ple

The Tree of Lan­guages Illus­trat­ed in a Big, Beau­ti­ful Info­graph­ic

How Lan­guages Evolve: Explained in a Win­ning TED-Ed Ani­ma­tion

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