In some areas of the world, especially areas with low populations and difficult terrain, a whistled form of language has been developed to allow communication when using ordinary language would be difficult. The whistled speech is not a new language, but is instead a literal translation to the new form. In a typical translation:

  • Each phoneme has a whistled equivalent.
  • Vowel aperture is replaced by a set of more or less stable pitch ranges.
  • Consonants are produced by pitch transitions between vowels.
  • Stress is expressed by higher pitch or increased length
  • Intonation exists, but conflicts with segmental pitch changes.
Here's an interesting anecdote:
"My brother was once hiking around Gomera with a friend. They ran out of drinking water and asked a local person for some. This person said she didn't have any (it was a very dry area!) but her neighbor up the mountain could help. "I'll let her know you're coming" she said, and whistled up the mountain. They walked up the mountain. My brother walked ahead and arrived first. When he got to the house, a stranger sitting there said: "Ah, there you are. The water's right around the corner there; but where is your friend?"

Read more in this posting on the Linguist List and in these set of papers.


Very interesting. it reminded me some of the north-east region people of Turkey. There are a lot of mountains and houses are very seerated. They talk with whistles and make moderate complicated "whistle" sentences..

Posted by ahmet on September 02, 2004 at 10:28 AM EDT #

Is there any similarity between how the whistles and the actual phonemes sound?

Posted by M. Mortazavi on September 02, 2004 at 01:19 PM EDT #

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