News Stories

Whistle Talk

La Gomera is one of the smallest Canary Islands, and it's a place where its inhabitants communicate with each other by whistling. As you walk along the beach in La Gomera, you can hear the sounds of the Gomeran whistle, an ancient language that the locals still use, in which Spanish is replaced by two whistled vowels and four consonants.

No one knows when they started doing this or where it came from, but when the first European settlers arrived in the 15th Century, they were already doing it, and with the arrival of the Spanish, they adapted the whistling language to Spanish.

The original inhabitants were of North African origin, where there other whistled languages exist or existed.

On BBC News, Laura Plitt quotes La Gomera resident Lino Rodriguez as saying, "In the old days, when the mountain caught fire, something that happens quite frequently in the island, the Guardia Civil came to pick us up. And no matter what we were doing, they put us in a truck and drove us to put out the fire.

"So, to avoid them, we passed a message between us whistling: 'You have to hide, the Guardia Civil is coming!' And because they didn't whistle, they didn't understand what we were saying and couldn't find us."

And a whistle travels farther than a shout. "The thing is that here, learning to whistle wasn't a matter of pleasure. It was an obligation, a necessity. If you didn't know how to do it, you would have to walk to give a message. And as the houses are far from each other, and there were no roads or phones, whistling was easier than walking."

By the 1970s and 80s, there were only a few whistlers remaining, but by the end of the 90s, there was renewed interest in it. It's now mostly heard in schools and in restaurants that provide whistling demonstrations for tourists.

In fact, it's a major part of the tourism industry there. Plitt quotes minister of tourism Fernando Mendez as saying, "Just as in the UK there is a branch of tourism linked to learning English, or India sells its yoga workshops, we can make (the whistling language) into something similar."

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