Go whistle

On the tiny mountainous Canary Island of La Gomera there is a language called Silbo Gomero that uses a variation of whistles instead of words (in Spanish silbar means to whistle). There are four ‘vowels’ and four ‘consonants’, which can be strung together to form more than four thousand ‘words’. This birdlike means of communication is thought to have come over with early African settlers over 2500 years ago. Able to be heard at distances of up to two miles, the silbador was until recently a dying breed. Since 1999, however, Silbo has been a required language in La Gomera schools.

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The Mazateco Indians of Oxaca, Mexico, are frequently seen whistling back and forth, exchanging greetings or buying and selling goods with no risk of misunderstanding. The whistling is not really a language ore even a code; it simple uses the rhythms and pitch of ordinary speech without the words. Similar whistling languages have been found in Greece, Turkey and China, whilst other forms of wordless communication include the talking drums (ntumpane) of the Kele in Congo, the xylophones used by the Northern Chin of Burma (Myanmar), the banging on the roots of trees practised by the Melanesians, the yodeling of the Swiss, the humming of the Chekiang Chinese and the smoke signals of the American Indians.

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