Whistling Up Some Brain Activity: Silbo Gomero—The Whistle Language

The phonemes and morphemes of Silbo Gomero are loud whistles instead of conventional vocalizations. Used by shepherds of the Canary Islands to communicate over long distances, Silbo is actually a stripped down form of Spanish in which whistle sounds substitute for “normal” Spanish speech sounds. Despite it’s highly unusual structure and mode of transmission, communication with silbo involves the same brain mechanisms as with any other language. Here you can listen to a conversation in silbo; English and Spanish translations are provided.

SpanishEnglish
¡SERVANDO!Servando!
¿QUÉ? What?
MIRA, DILE A JULIO QUE VAYA Y QUE TRAIGA LAS CHÁCARAS. Look, tell Julio to go and to bring the chácaras.
YA VOYI’m all over it.
¡JULIO! Julio!
¿QUÉ? What?
QUE DICE LILÍ QUE AVISES A LOS MUCHACHOS Y QUE TRAIGAN LAS CHÁCARAS PARA LA FIESTATell Lilí to notify the boys and that they should bring the chácaras for the party.
BUENO, BUENO, BUENOGood, good, good.

(Silbo sample audio courtesy of www.agulo.net.)

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