On the small Canary island of La Gomera, an unusual language can be heard in the mountains: the whistled language Silbo Gomero. Thanks to Silbo Gomero, the population of La Gomera was able to communicate across distances of up to three kilometers long before cell phones were around, and arrange meetings or transmit messages.
Silbo Gomero features two whistled vowels and four consonants. By varying the order, volume, and pitch, these six sounds can be strung together to form 4,000 words – with context helping to determine the precise meaning. Many of the more than 40 whistled languages known worldwide are threatened with extinction. But on La Gomera the tradition is being kept alive. Silbo Gomero is taught in elementary schools, and in 2009, the language became a UNESCO Intangible World Heritage.
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