Language had been used for communication since ancient times and often these languages are spoken. In some remote locations in the world, however, there are communities where members use unspoken or non-verbal languages to ”speak” with each other.
It’s surprising to know that these people, who can easily talk with one another without words can do so distantly, something that is not possible with spoken languages. While a person who travels frequently can pick up some words and phrases here and there, it is difficult to learn an unspoken language.
Do you know that some of these unspoken languages are complete and fully developed natural languages? You can compare them to American Sign Language for example. You know it is a complete language like English and users can fully converse, except that people who do not sign are unable to hear the words.
Many of these unspoken languages are used by people who live in remote areas, within forests and across valleys and mountains. Interestingly, several unspoken languages are still extant and people, although dwindling in number, continue to use them. Many are herders and hunters, although you can still find full-grown communities able to use them.
These unspoken languages can be segregated into different categories. Some are whistles; others are clicks. There are hummed languages and some use drums to communicate. There are signed languages that are different from the standard sign language used by people who have speaking and hearing difficulties.
In some cultures, it is believed that whistling on a hot day enables them to call a cooling breeze. Some people are able to whistle a tune, especially if they do not know the lyrics. Whistling is used to get the attention of someone or to pass the time. But for some cultures, whistling is their way to communicate. Some call them bird languages.
Historically, whistles came from cultures living in thick forests, mountainous areas and remote villages, as whistles have the capability to travel across wide areas. Because of the absence of echo in whistles, they can travel without distortion and without alerting possible prey. Speakers do not have to exert too much effort to be heard and due to the high-pitched frequency of whistles, it can reach distances of up to six miles or 10 kilometers. Reportedly, about 70 whistled languages have been identified. Here are some of them:
1. Silbo Gomero
Among the whistled languages, the Silbo Gomero, used in the island of La Gomera in the Canaries, is the most well-known. A wider range of whistle sounds comprises Silbo Gomero, which originated from the Spanish term, silbar, which translates to ”whistle.” Silbo Gomero, as an unspoken language, has around 4, 000 words created from the combination of four vowels and four consonants.
Users of Silbo Gomero are called Silbadors. The whistled language, according to scholars, came from the early settlers on the island who came from Africa. Silbo Gomero can travel for 2 miles or 3.2 kilometers. Right now, Silbo Gomero is flourishing as it’s being taught in La Gomera schools since 1999. It is now a protected language. Silbo Gomero is an intangible cultural heritage as declared by UNESCO.
Listen to two friends conversing in this video:
2. Mazateco whistling
Another whistled language is Mazateco, used by the Mazateco Indians living in Oaxaca, Mexico. Their whistles are used for trade and exchange of greetings. It is not a fully developed whistling language but evolved from the natural tonal characteristics of the Mazatec language. The whistlers simply use the pitch and rhythms of the language, instead of the words. Interestingly, the whistling of the Mazatec language is only taught to males.
2. Sochiapam’s Chinantec
In Southern Central Mexico’s Chiltepec region of San Pedro Sochiapam, speakers of Chinantec whistle their language. Only men whistle, with most of them elderly. Nevertheless, the whistled language is understood by all the people in the community. Most of the speakers live on the mountainside.
Syfria is spoken in Antia in the island of Evia in Greece. Antia is a very small village located in Mount Ochi. The sound of the language uniquely resembles bird sounds. Syfria is one of the world’s most endangered and rarest languages. The whistled language is passed down by speakers to their children through a closely guarded tradition. Most of the speakers are farmers and shepherds in the community. The population of the village went down from 250 to 37. Most of the Syfria speakers have lost their teeth hence unable to whistle. Alas, the unspoken language only has six speakers.
The outside world discovered the whistled language in 1999 when a plane crashed in the mountains close to Antia. Members of the search unit heard shepherds conversing in the whistled language. Syfria can travel across open spaces for about 4 kilometers or 2.4 miles.
Here’s a sample of Syfria whistle.
4. Bird Language of Turkey
Giresun’s Çanakçı district in Northern Turkey’s mountains, the village of Kuşköy, speaks a whistled language. Unnamed, the language is referred to as bird language. Shepherds are the common speakers of the language. Sadly, most of the speakers are elderly and the language has not been passed down to children. Those interested to learn the language today are all males.
5. Himalayan H’mong
The H’mong people who dwell in the Himalayan foothills in Vietnam have their own version of a whistled language that is used by hunters and farmers. However, it has another popular use, as a courtship language.
While rarely practiced today, the H’mong’s whistled language has been used by boys and girls as a flirting language. Boys would wander through the villages while whistling poems they love. If a girl responds, it could be the start of a blossoming relationship.
Whistled languages are spoken in several areas in the Americas, Asia, Europe, Africa and Oceania.
Almost anyone knows how to click their tongue, creating a ”tsk” sound. In modern use, it can be employed to prod a horse to move and some people make the sound if they are perplexed, exasperated or probably expressing pity. However, did you know that click is also a language?
The Xhosa people of South Africa speak a form of Bantu click language. If you have watched “The Black Panther” then you have heard how Xhosa is spoken in a series of clicks. Clicks are part of the unique features of the Khoisan languages that were eventually incorporated into other languages of the Cushitic and Bantu groups.
Clicks only form part of any of the language in the click group of languages and are all consonants. The click sound is very distinct, which could either be a sucking sound, a smacking sound or a popping sound depending on the position of the lips and tongue.
The Khoisan click languages have four sounds. In the Southern click languages, the fifth sound is labeled as ”kiss” click. The Bantu languages of Namibia (Yei) and Botswana (Gciriku) adapted the four clicks of Khoisan. Xhosa and Zulu only have three clicks. In Kenya, Dahalo, which is a Cushitic language, uses only one click.
The meaning of a word or phrase in the click language varies depending on high, low, falling or rising intonation of the speaker.
Here’s a sample of the Xhosa clicks.
Outside of Africa, only one place has a click language. This is in Northern Queensland in Australia, where the Aboriginal Lardil and Yangkaal peoples inhabit the Mornington Island and the Forsyth Islands respectively. These islands are located in the Gulf of Carpentaria.
Damin is a ceremonial language and used by elders when boys are initiated into manhood. It means ‘being silent’ in English.
Aside from whistles and clicks, another form of unspoken language is humming. This is used by the Pirahã people living deep in the forests of the Amazon close to the Maici River. This is the language they use to communicate while hunting. However, it does not travel very far compared to other unspoken languages. In China’s Zhenjiang province, a type of humming is also used.
Humming is one of the world’s rarest form of non-verbal communication. Listen to it here.
More and more people with hearing and speaking disabilities can easily communicate through sign language. Each country has its own form of sign language.
1. Bedouin sign language
In a Bedouin community found in the Negev Desert in Israel, it was surprising to discover a group of people with one common genetic disability – deafness. The disability has plagued three generations, including their families at Al-Sayyid. The tribe has 3,500 members and more than 150 of them are deaf. Because of necessity, the community was able to construct their own form of sign language. The Al-Sayyid Bedouin Sign Language (ABSL) was formed 80 years ago,
Linguists and researchers are eager to study the language because they are excited about the possibility of learning how language is formed. The ABSL does not have much in common with other sign or spoken language. Moreover, it does not have characteristics found in other languages spoken in the region, including Israeli Sign Language, Modern Standard Arabic and Bedouin Arabic dialect. All three are spoken in the Bedouin village.
See how they use ABSL here.
2. Monastic sign languages
Christian monks in Europe developed their own monastic sign language around the 10th century. They are not sign languages per se but more like sign lexicons or symbolic gestures for the internal use of monks who have to remain silent in specific parts of the monastery. The monks developed a series of hand movements and gestures that they use for wordless communication.
The sound of the drums can carry over long distances. The Kale people of the Congo call their talking drums ntumpane, which they use for fast communication over long distances. The process uses a repeating pattern with help from an expert drummer from each village. Depending on the where the message is to be delivered, the original message is repeated by the next drummer until the intended recipient is reached. In Africa, a drum message can travel 100 miles or roughly 161 kilometers in one hour. Famous among these are the ‘talking drums’ of West Africa, followed by East Africa
Here is how it is done.
Communication through drums is not considered a language. However, the drumbeats are representations of speech patterns of natural languages. In East and Central Africa, the drumbeats represent the tone, syllable lengths and stresses of the specific language they are using.
These are some of the unspoken languages in the world. Learn more from our infographic. All of them are fascinating and intriguing. Although most are languages, they are language forms that are challenging to learn. However, it would be great if linguists will be able to preserve them.
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These unspoken languages are unique but do not have a written form. However, we at Day Translations, Inc. welcome their discovery. For spoken languages with written forms that you want to be translated into other languages, you have come to the right place. We have thousands of native-speaking translators residing worldwide, ready to take on your translation project. You can get in touch with us through 1-800-969-6853 or by email at Contact us. We are open 24/7, each day of the year so you can get in touch with us anytime.
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