The Silbo Gomero, a unique language in the world

The Silbo Gomero is an idiomatic whistled language characteristic of the island of La Gomera and representative of Canarian culture. This language, unique in the world, has been used since time immemorial on the island to communicate over long distances through the ravines.

The whistled language of La Gomera represents one of the most original manifestations of the archipelago and the tradition of the islands' pre-Hispanic past that has survived the longest to the present day.

Mr. practising the Silbo Gomero

For centuries it has been a cohesive element for the inhabitants of the island of Gomera, capable of adapting to different historical events and sociological transformations. Due to its particularities, in 2009, the Silbo Gomero was declared Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO.

A truly articulate and social language

Silbo Gomero is not a series of pre-established codes, but a real articulated, reductive, non-conventional language, which allows an unlimited range of messages to be exchanged by reproducing the sound characteristics of a spoken language through whistles. At present, it reproduces the Spanish spoken in the Canary Islands, but it could do the same with any other language.

Mr. practising the Silbo Gomero

Its main function is communication over long distances, which requires great power when emitting the sound, but the most remarkable thing is the difficulty of reproducing a complete tongue. The Silbo Gomero uses all the phonatory resources of the mouth cavity and its corresponding subcavities by means of the whistling mechanism, which only allows frequency variations of the same fundamental tone. To be able to control and reproduce the whistled language implies a great deal of practice and knowledge that has been developed over centuries.

On the other hand, the whistled language is characterised by the fact that it is primarily a social language . Although throughout history it has been used as a secret language, the messages emitted by means of whistling are public because the very nature of the language demands it.

The Silbo Gomero, on the verge of extinction

The social changes experienced during the last half of the 20th century meant that the Silbo Gomero was on the verge of extinction, with only a few dozen elderly people able to practice it. The initiatives of various social agents on the island of La Gomera and various members of parliament led the Parliament and the Canary Islands Government to draw up specific legislation to safeguard and revitalise the Silbo Gomero.

Children learning the Silbo Gomero

These laws, unique in the world, include the teaching of the whistled language of La Gomera in the Primary and Compulsory Secondary Education plans of all the schools on the island. All these measures are what have allowed the survival of the silbo among the new generations.

If you still don't know the Silbo Gomero and you haven't been able to listen to this Canarian wonder, we leave you here this link so you can do it:

Paula Vera

Photos: Government of the Canary Islands


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