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.

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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

Forensic Linguistics: Finding a Murderer Through Text Messages

Mal­colm Coulthard teach­es Foren­sic Lin­guis­tics at Aston Uni­ver­si­ty, Birm­ing­ham. And, in case you’re won­der­ing what this means, foren­sic lin­guis­tics is all about “tak­ing lin­guis­tic knowl­edge, meth­ods and insight, and apply­ing these to the foren­sic con­text of law, inves­ti­ga­tion, tri­al, pun­ish­ment and reha­bil­i­ta­tion.” Or solv­ing crimes, in short.  This may sound rather dry, but when Pro­fes­sor Coulthard talks about his work we get a fas­ci­nat­ing glimpse into what foren­sic lin­guis­tics looks like in prac­tice. In the video above, an excerpt from his inau­gur­al lec­ture at Aston Uni­ver­si­ty (watch the full ver­sion here), Coulthard explains how the analy­sis of text mes­sages helped solve a recent mur­der case. This puts him on the new fron­tier of police work.

Mean­while, in an inter­view with the BBC, Tim Grant, Deputy Direc­tor at the Cen­tre for Foren­sic Lin­guis­tics at Aston Uni­ver­si­ty, explains how his team’s analy­sis of doc­u­ments and writ­ings can help police with their inves­ti­ga­tions. The video does not work in all regions, but there is a tran­script below the video.

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.

Stephen Fry Gets Animated about Language

For a brief time in 2008, Stephen Fry, the pop­u­lar British author, writer and come­di­an, pro­duced a series of pod­casts – called “Pod­grams” – that drew on his writ­ings, speech­es and col­lec­tive thoughts. (Find them on RSS and iTunes here). Dur­ing one par­tic­u­lar episode, Fry med­i­tat­ed on lan­guage (the Eng­lish lan­guage & his own lan­guage) and a lit­tle on Barthes, Chom­sky, Pinker and even Eddie Izzard. Then Matthew Rogers took that med­i­ta­tion and ran with it, pro­duc­ing a “kinet­ic typog­ra­phy ani­ma­tion” that art­ful­ly illus­trates a six minute seg­ment of the longer talk. Watch it above, and if you’re cap­ti­vat­ed by what Fry has to say, don’t miss his pop­u­lar video, What I Wish I Had Known When I Was 18.

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Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.