El Silbo Gomero Posted by Magda on May 26, 2010 in Spanish Culture
There is a tiny little island in Spain called La Gomera. It’s one of the Canary Islands, situated off the northwestern coast of Africa. The population is 22.000, and they have a very special way of communicating with each other. The aboriginal population, the Guanches, used a whistle language to convey complex messages across the deep valleys. Because whistle can be heard from longer distances, it was way more effective than shouting, and much faster than traveling across the jagged landscape. When the Romans arrived in the islands, they documented this language, which in Spanish is known as el silbo gomero, or simply el silbo.
In the 16th century, after islands were colonized by Spanish settlers, this language was adapted to Spanish, and it has survived until modern times. Thanks to a local government initiative, el silbo gomero is now taught at every school in the island, to ensure that future generations will still remember it and use it.
In the following video, you can listen to a silbador (whistler) talking about the island and follow the subtitles in Spanish. If you listen carefully, you will notice that the silbo is actually phonetic, and you can identify the Spanish vowels and consonants for each word.
Pitch, intensity, length, and intermitent or continuous sounds (staccato and glisando, for musicians) are used to distinguish the different phonemes and syntactic structures. The grammar and vocabulary of the silbo are exactly the same as Spanish.
In the next video, the subtitles are in English, and there is a link to a language learning website where you can find out more about the language.
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