For some people, whistling is more than just a way to hail a cab. The language of “Silbo Gomero,” found on the Canary Islands, is whistled instead of spoken. Not only is this a unique way of communicating, but it also has an incredibly long range – without technological aid, it can be used to to communicate over distances of more than two miles.

Silbo Gomero has been in use for thousands of years on the Canary Islands, and used to be extremely useful before cell phones existed. In the past, a simple whistle could save a person a journey across the island, or be used to find someone in a crowd.

To us, all of it just sounds like the birds.

To “speak,” a “silbador” (the Spanish word for one who “speaks” Silbo Gomero) simply sticks a finger in his mouth to change the whistle’s pitch while cupping his second hand over his mouth to direct the sound. The language is a whistled form of a local dialect of Spanish; through the use of five “vowels” and four “consonants,” a silbador can “speak” over 4,000 words. Unfortunately, whistling is not always clear, so silbadors often have to repeat themselves and depend on context for understanding.

Not much is known about the origin of the language. It was invented by the original inhabitants of the islands, and eventually adapted to Spanish when they took over in the 16th century. Similar whistling languages have been found in Greece, Turkey, China and Mexico, though none of them are as advanced as Silbo Gomero.

Unfortunately, in recent years Silbo Gomero has gone into disuse, especially since the impressive distance of the whistled word has been overshadowed by telephones. Luckily, some are fighting to save the language, requiring education in Silbo Gomero for the youth. Imagine going to school and being forced to whistle for an hour each day.

Translation:
Hey, Servando!
What?
Look, go tell Julio to bring the castanets.
OK.
Hey, Julio!
What?
Lili says you should go get the kids and have them bring the castanets for the party.
OK.OK.OK.