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Don't call to say 'hi' – just whistle

By Roberta Beach Jacobson / July 18, 2007



Did you ever hear of a place where people have a special language made up of whistling sounds?

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On the island of La Gomera (one of Spain's Canary Islands, just off the coast of west Africa), people once didn't measure how many miles it was from place to place, but rather how many hours it took to walk the distance.

For what we would consider about a block, it might take an islander three hours. This is because the volcanic island has so many deep valleys in its rugged terrain.

Long ago, locals made up a special way to send messages; They whistled to one another. Whistling carries farther than speech.

The Gomeran whistle (called silbo gomero in Spanish) is done with two fingers at the sides of the mouth. The clear, "chirpy" sounds mimic words, but you must practice to be able do it.

About 4,000 such "whistle words" exist – differing not just in sound, but also in rhythm, speed, and pauses. Some children never learned the whistles from their parents or grandparents, so now youngsters up to age 14 practice the whistles in school.

It's an interesting way to communicate, but probably you would rather e-mail or call friends from your home telephone or a cellphone.

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