The secret language of whistling

January 9, 2019 10:30 am

What would you do if you were lost somewhere in the Amazon rainforest in Brazil? Would you send your position through WhatsApp? But what if there wasn’t any signal? Maybe you should consider using whistling instead. Most often compared to the language used by birds, whistling is in fact a method of communication used by several communities in the world.


A variety of sounds is the equivalent to a phrase with words, with the context being crucial to understanding. It is a system of communication created by local communities and it is an important part of the cultural identity. It is used in the North Africa’s Atlas Mountains, the highlands of northern Laos, the Canary Islands to Mexico and the Pyrenees. The practice, originating from North Africa around the 15th century, and even used during wars, was developed in order to allow farmers and hunters to talk across the fields, because of the steep mountains and long distances.

Whistling is not only used in highlands, it is even used at sea, for example, the Siberian Yupik hunters use whistles to call out commands as they hunt off shore. The whistling language used in Turkey is not the same that they use in La Gomera in the Canary Islands, as it varies from region to region. Unfortunately, as it passes through the generations young people’ use of whistiling languages is diminishing and it risks disappearing entirely, according to UNESCO.


Do you want to know more? Check the following video!




Written by Noelia Soledad Pavin – Terminology Trainee at the Terminology Coordination Unit of the European Parliament (Luxembourg). She holds a Master Degree in Lexicology, Multilingual Terminology and Translation from the University Lumière Lyon II, France.

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