About Us
Back Issues
Forthcoming Issues
Print Edition
Contact Us
IOS Minaret Vol-1, No.1 (March 2007)
Vol. 9    Issue 3   16-30 June 2014

Spain’s Whistled Language: A Moroccan Legacy

By Professor A. R. MOMIN

Muslim rule over the Iberian Peninsula which lasted, intermittently, for nearly eight centuries, from 711 to 1492, brought about a positive transformation of Spanish society. It resulted in political stability and economic revival through the introduction of new irrigation methods, new crops, plants and fruits. These included cotton, sugarcane, rice, grapes, figs, apricots, saffron, peaches, cumin, coriander, bananas, pomegranates, lemons and oranges. Trade routes were substantially expanded, which facilitated extensive trading across the Mediterranean as well as the Far East. Canals, streams and windmills were extensively used for supplying water to cities as well as for irrigation. Andalusia’s silk fabrics, jewellery, leather articles, lustre pottery and paper became famous throughout Europe. The first paper factory in Europe was established in the Spanish city of Jativa (Shatiba) in 1150, whence the technology of papermaking passed into Italy and subsequently into other parts of Europe.

Though the Catholic kings expelled Muslims from Spain in 1492, Islamic and Arabic influences continued to reverberate in Spanish society. The deep and pervasive influence of Islamic civilization on Spanish society continues to be reflected in the Spanish language, in agriculture and water harvesting systems, in architectural styles and ornamentation, in arts and crafts, and in everyday life. Castilian or modern Spanish language was literally born out of Arabic. A large number of words of Arabic origin -- estimated at around 4,000 -- continue to be used in modern Spanish. These words include the names of fruits, vegetables, animals and musical instruments and the technical vocabulary in mathematics, astronomy, law, architecture and carpentry. The Spanish language was taken to the Americas as well as to Africa and Asia Pacific in the wake of Spanish colonial expansion. The speakers of Spanish language today are estimated to number around 500 million, making it the third most spoken language in the world after Mandarin Chinese and English. Even today most of the family names in Spain betray their Islamic origins. The regional division of the country into 17 communities, which is still followed, goes back to the Islamic period. One can notice Andalusia’s famous double arches, which adorn the Cordoba Mosque, on the doors and windows of public buildings as well as residential houses.

Silbo Gomero: Spain’s Whistled Language

Sound, which has a physiological basis, is invested with meaning and significance and regulated and modulated through the cultural process. A fascinating example of this phenomenon is provided by what is known as ‘whistled languages.’ Whistled languages, which are used for communication not through words but whistling, are to be found in many parts of the world, including the Canary Islands in Spain, Papua New Guinea, Mexico, Vietnam, Guyana, China, Nepal, Senegal, eastern Turkey, the Greek island of Evia and some mountainous regions in southern Europe. It is estimated that some 70 whistled languages are still in use in different parts of the world.

For centuries, shepherds in La Gomera region in the Canary Islands off the coast of Morocco have been using a distinctive kind of whistled language called Silbo Gomero to communicate with each other across deep valleys and steep ravines. Silbo Gomero, which is based on Castilian Spanish, replaces each vowel or consonant with a distinctive whistling sound. Tones are whistled at different frequencies to communicate specific messages such as “open the gate.” Silbo Gomero can be heard more than two miles away. It was declared as a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by Unesco in 2000. It is believed that Silbo Gomero was borrowed and adapted by the inhabitants of the Canary Islands from the Berbers of Morocco.

Silbo Gomero began to decline with the passing away of the older inhabitants of the Canary Islands and the migration of young people to cities. This prompted the government to launch a campaign to revive Silbo Gomero. It is now taught as a compulsory subject in schools in the region.

Linguists and neurologists, who have made a scientific study of Silbo Gomero, suggest that the brain processes the whistles in Silbo Gomero in a similar way as in the case of language, which shows that the human brain has an amazing ability to adapt to a wide range of signaling forms.

Name * :
E-mail * :
Add Your Comment :
Home About Us Announcement Forthcoming Features Feed Back Contact Us
Copyright © 2014 All rights reserved.