Man whistling Silbo GomeroI’m coming to the end of my time here in the Canary Islands, and I thought it would be interesting to highlight one of the many interesting things about the islands – the language known as Silbo Gomero.

Silbo Gomero is unusual as it is a form of whistled Spanish. Silbo comes from the Spanish verb silbar meaning to whistle. Speakers are known as Silbadores.

Used on the island of La Gomera to communicate over long distances, it’s uncertain when and where the language originated. It’s known that Silbo was used when the Spanish conquered the island in the 15th Century, and experts think it may have originated in Africa.

The use of Silbo went into decline in the late 20th Century with the introduction of modern technologies – the telephone meant that whistling was no longer needed. However, the Canaries government saw the importance of the language and introduced it in to schools, meaning that today around 3,000 of the island’s 18,000 strong population can ‘speak’ Silbo.

It’s not just a case of whistling a tune though – the language has only four vowels and four consonants from which more than 4000 words can be expressed. Meaning is derived from tone and context, and the technique used to whistle is very important.

Wondering what Silbo sounds like? Watch this video on the island, narrated entirely in the whistling language (with Spanish subtitles).