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Silbo Gomero: The Whistled Language

Silbo Gomero language
Silbo Gomero: The Whistled Language
on February, 11 2014

The Silbo Gomero language has a unique quality that is not present in all other languages. Languages are usually spoken in terms of comprehensible sounds that can either be vowels or consonants. Each word is distinct. If the same word is being pronounced but the meaning is different, the tone or stress could spell the difference. In other cases, a language should be spoken in a complete sentence to ensure that the words are meant differently.

The Silbo Gomero language is a special language in La Gomera in the Canary Islands. Instead of the actual spoken words, their language is made up of whistles. This is called the Silbo Gomero language. The entire language is comprehensible to the native speakers even if for non-native speakers, the sound is nothing but a pure whistle.

History of the Language

It is quite uncertain how the Silbo Gomero language started. According to researchers, it could be the original language of the first settlers on the island. Others say it was brought by migrants from another place when they decided to settle in La Gomera. The structure of the place is also pointed out as the reason why the people find it necessary to use whistle when communicating. Houses are located far from each other and whistling is the easiest way to communicate with those who live from far places.

Just like many languages, the Silbo Gomero language also suffered from a great loss of native speakers due to depopulation, emigration, and adoption of the Spanish language as the lingua franca. The reason why the language survived is because the last Guanches settlers passed on the language to the Spanish settlers during the 16th century. The first Spanish settlers eventually passed it on to their descendants. The language eventually flourished until such time that it continued throughout the next centuries. In 2009, the Silbo Gomero language was declared by the UNESCO as the Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity. It is protected and efforts for its conservation are established.

When is the Language Used?

The Silbo Gomero language is not designed for intimate conversations. It is usually used for public communication. In doing loud whistles, it is expected that everyone could hear the news and understand the message being conveyed. It could be an invitation to a birthday party or a wedding. It could also be about recent news of someone who died or public information advisory. La Gomera is a very huge piece of land and people who lived in the area maximized its use by tilling the land up to the summit. This is why settlers started to live apart from each other. Hence, the whistle became even more essential.

Watch the video and listen to a man demonstrating the language.

How is the Language Spoken?

Linguists and researchers tried to understand how the language is being spoken. According to the native speakers, the language is basically just like Spanish. It is reduced into sounds that can be easily understood. It has 2 vowels and 4 consonants. The whistle goes high and low to distinguish one sound from another. The finger placed on the mouth is also essential in order to amplify the volume as well as to create the necessary distinction. The whistle can also be broken to indicate the end of a sentence. The sounds can also be glottal, fricative, labial or pharyngeal just like the sounds of other languages.

Conservation Efforts

Learning this language is definitely difficult. Furthermore, it is not the type of language that is necessary for personal conversations. This is why a lot of children don’t find it important to learn the language. Since conservation efforts were made by UNESCO and the local government, learning the language has become a part of the educational curriculum in the islands. It is expected that this language will flourish again and will continue to be passed on the next generations.


Bernadine Racoma

Bernadine is a writer, researcher, professional and multi-awarded blogger and new media consultant. She brings with her a rich set of experience in the corporate world, as well as in the field of research and writing. Having taken early retirement after working as an international civil servant and traveling the world for 22 years, she has aggressively pursued her main interest in writing and research. You can also find Bernadine Racoma at .

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