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ca 1400 __ Whistled languages
Comment : Besides spoken language, some populations in different parts of the world use a complementary system of vocal communication, which is based on modulated whistles and thus called 'whistled language'. Whistled languages can be regarded as a transposition of a given local language into a repertoire of whistles. Reports about whistled languages were documented since the treaty of the Tao in Asia (6th century B.C.) and since the 17th century in the island of La Gomera (Canary Islands). First studies concerned mainly anthropological aspects (Quedenfeldt 1887, Lajard 1891, Labouret 1923, Eboué 1935), whereas later investigations also included linguistic (Cowan 1948, Classe 1956) and acoustical issues (Busnel 1966, 1970b). Today, twelve whistled languages have been partially described and studied linguistically or bioacoustically (see Sebeok and Umiker-Sebeok 1976). In addition, as many as sixty other languages are suspected to still have a whistled equivalent, but these have not been studied yet. The spatial distribution of whistled languages is associated with special conditions of human communication, particularly a) long distance between people living in places where rugged topography separates them in terms of travel times, even when they may be in visual contact (which results in a certain isolation of individuals), or b) local secrecy in speaking about the environment (e.g. for hunting or fishing) or about others (e.g. in terms of love, religious, political or social matters). (Julien Meyer)Silbo, a whistled language used by the shepherds of the Gomera (in the Canary Islands) to talk to others when they are at kilometers from one another (Silbo is still understandable at more than 2 kilometers far) ("Silbo" comes from the Spanish "silbar".to whistle.). The Gomerans have a unique way of communicating across the barrancos (valleys) by an amazing kind of whistled speech called the Silbo. Invented by the original inhabitants of the island, the Guanches, Silbo was adopted by the Spanish settlers in the 16th century and survived after the extinction of the Guanches. When this unique medium of communication was about to die out early in the 21st century, the local government required all children to learn it in school. The Silbo was not an unrelated language but a kind of whistled representation of the spoken language. Where the spoken language had lots of harmonics, the Silbo had only the fundamental curve of the speech plus a few harmonics, and so could be heard farther as the energy was put only in the fundamentals. It seems also that the Silbo originated in the tribes that were in the Canary Islands before the conquest by the Spaniards, and which were exterminated. But their whistled language remained and was adapted to Spanish. the origins of Silbo Gomero remain obscure but that indigenous Canary Islanders, who were of North African extraction, already had a whistled language when Spain conquered the volcanic islands in the 15th century. The inhabitants of the island of Gomera, in the Canaries, converse from mountain to crag across the deep valleys and gorges of their rough little domain. With the aid of tongue, lips, teeth and fingers they make shrill whistles take the form of words. A traveler (Gest Very in New York Times magazine, March 3, 1935) tells how a woman,with her lips drawn tight across her teeth in a sort of death's head grin, made her whistle sound the word, "Pepe". The natives say, "Just whistle and speak the word at the same time"; casier said than done for a beginner. Conversations were held for this traveler, and the answers of the men on the opposite mountain showed that they understood every word. One look at the deep ravines and rugged terrain of La Gomera is enough to understand that there's a need for creative communication. Before the age of paved roads and moutain tunnels, rambling up and down the steep slopes of the island must have become tiring. The aborigine's solution was a whistling language, called Silbo Gomero, that helped them commnicate despite the uncooperative landscape. Silbo Gomero probably began as a greeting or danger signal, but it growns int o a fully functioning language with more than 4000 words. By placing a finger in the mouth and moulding the tongue in various ways, a whistler can create any number of sounds that combine to form words. The other hands is used like a megaphone to project the whistle, which can be heard up to 4km away. Gomero Juan Cabello uses Silbo every day : "It's my mobile phone, ma fax machine and my Internet", says the 50-year-old whistling expert. [...] Historically, Silbo was used to spread important news and to call doctor and priests in cases of emergency. However, in the late 20th century it came close to extinction, nearly killed off by the use of cars and telephones. As a result of his studies of the whistled language of Gomera, in the Canary Islands, M. J. Lajard affirms that it is not a sepcial idiom or a whistle which tries to imitate the Spanish language; but it is the Spanish language strengthened by the aid of whistling. "The Gomerian, while he is speaking, puts one, two, or four fingers in his mouth, as we sometimes see done in the street in order ot make shrill sounds,and at the same time he whistles with force. There results a mixture of words and whistle, untelligible to ears not accustomed to it, but in which can be distinguished the words of the language. [...] The whistling, then, is only an artifice employed to carry to a distance the sound of the voice, to the detriment of its distinctness and tone-quality. This last inconvenience is so great that up to this time travelers have been unable to understand the whistled language. To be able to understand it, you must know how to whistle yourself". It is, however, very limited in its compass, and whistled conversations are of short duration. It exists in other of the Canary Islands than in Gomera, and there is a reason for believing that it was formerly more widespread and more prevalent than now. Rudiments of a whistled language, the mechanism of which is like that of the Canaries, exist even in Paris; it is employed by butchers and by thieves. (Popular Science Monthly, Vol. XLIII, May to October 1893, Edited by William Jay Youmans, New York : D. Appleton and Company, p. 142)Whistled languages survive today in Papua New Guinea, Mexico, Vietnam, Guyana, China, Nepal, Senegal, and a few mountainous pockets in southern Europe. Other whistled languages exist or existed in such parts of the world as Turkey (Kusköy, "Village of the Birds"), France (the village of Aas in the Pyrenees), Greece (Evia), Mexico (Tepehua, the Mazatecs - Mazateco - and Chinantecs of Oaxaca), South America (Pirahã), Asia (the Chepang of Nepal, the H’mongs in Vietnam, the Baï in Yunnan China), Senegal (Diola in Casamance) and New Guinea (Abu’-Wam). They are especially common and robust today in parts of West Africa, used widely in such populous languages as Yoruba and Ewe. Even French is whistled in some areas of western Africa. In the Greek village of Antia on the island of Euboea, only few whistlers remain now (Julien Meyer - Typology and intelligibility of whistled languages, Thesis, 2005) but in 1982 the entire population knew how to whistle their speech. There are thought to be as many as 70 whistled languages still in use, though only 12 have been described and studied scientifically. This form of communication is an adaptation found among cultures where people are often isolated from each other, according to Julien Meyer, a researcher at the Institute of Human Sciences in Lyon, France. "They are mostly used in mountains or dense forests," he said. Whistled languages, Meyer said, "are quite clearly defined and represent an original adaptation of the spoken language.like a local cellular phone.for the needs of isolated human groups." But with modern communication technologies now widely available, researchers say whistled languages like Silbo Gomero are threatened with extinction. "It was a way of communication over deep valleys and steep mountains. Now you can do that with cell phones." "I use it for everything: to call to my wife, to tell my kids something, to find a friend if we get lost in a crowd, everyone on the island would hear what you're saying!" "All whistled languages share one basic characteristic: they function by varying the frequency of a simple wave-form as a function of time, generally with minimal dynamic variations (but see Cowan 1948 see Mazateco), which is readily understandable since in most cases their only purpose is long-distance communication." (Busnel and Classe). (Compiled from various sources)
French comment : Des populations du monde entier utilisent des formes complémentaires de la langue qu'on appelle langues sifflées ou plus justement paroles sifflées car elles utilisent les modulations du sifflement à la place de celles des vibrations des cordes vocales. Elles constituent une forme sifflée de la langue parlée car elles en ont la complexité en termes de syntaxe et de vocabulaire. Elles permettent des communications à plus grande distance que la voix parlée par exemple dans les Pyrénées (autrefois), les îles Canaries ou en Turquie. Elles permettent de se fondre dans les bruits de la forêt pour organiser la chasse comme en Amazonie, elles servent aussi à tenir des conversations amoureuses comme en Asie du Sud-Est (populations Hmong par exemple). Plusieurs navigateurs de l'Antiquité ont rapporté que les Guanches, anciens habitants des îles Canaries, pratiquaient, outre leur parler habituel, un langage sifflé, connu actuellement sous le nom de silbo. Celui-ci leur permettait de communiquer de vallée en vallée sur plusieurs kilomètres. Le silbo est encore pratiqué par quelques Canariens qui tentent de remettre cette langue à l'honneur. Les habitants du village de Aas (Pyrénées-Atlantiques) communiquaient également en sifflant d’un flanc de vallée à l'autre. Pour d'autres navigateurs, un langage du même type aurait existé dans les vallées andines. Aujourd'hui, leur survie est attestée par les travaux du bioacousticien Julien Meyer qui a initié un réseau de collaboration interculturelle sur le sujet.On distingue plusieurs types de langages sifflés : ceux pour les langues à dominante tonale (langues à ton comme le chinois : langues sifflées Mazateco du Mexique, langue sifflée Akha ou Hmong d'Asie du Sud Est, ou Banen du Cameroun), dans ce cas le sifflement des tons portés par les voyelles est la partie la plus importante ; et ceux pour les langues non tonales comme le silbo ou le bearnais ossalien des Pyrénées dont la technique et le décodage s'appuie sur des voyelles sifflées à différentes fréquences qui dépendent de l'articulation. Il existe un troisième type de langages sifflés qui est une recherche d'équilibre entre les deux stratégies précédentes, ce sont ceux s'appuyant sur des langues ayant un statut intermédiaire : langues tonales avec peu de tons (comme le Surui d'Amazonie (voir Meyer 2005)) ou langues sans tons pour lesquelles le timbre et l'intonation de la voyelle jouent tous les deux un rôle important. Elles permettent des communications à plus grande distance que les langues parlées (comme à Kuskoy en Turquie) ou bien en se fondant dans les bruits de la forêt pour la chasse (comme en Guyane ou au Brésil) ou pour des rendez-vous amoureux secrets (chez les Kickapoo au Mexique). Elles interviennent aussi dans les rites religieux et tous les moments forts de la vie. Elles cumulent ainsi les rôles sociaux dévolus au langage et à la musique. (Compiled from various sources)
Source : Meyer, Julien (2005), “Typology and intelligibility of whistled languages”, Thesis, Institute of Human Sciences, France.
Source : Classe, André and Busnel, René-Guy (1976), “Whistled Languages”, New York: Springer-Verlag, p. 32.
Source : Classe, André (1957), "The whistled language of La Gomera", Scientific American 196:4:11, pp. 111-112 and pp. 114-120.
Source : Harlow, Alvin F. (1936), “Old Wires and New Waves”, originally published by D. Appleton-Century company, New York, Read Books Publisher (2008) p. 9.
Source : O'Brien, Sally, and Andrews, Chris, and Roddis, Miles (2004), "Canary Islands", Lovely Planet, p. 179.
Urls : http://www.vaucanson.org/espagnol/linguistique/lenguas_silbogomero_fran.htm (last visited ) http://www.lemondesiffle.free.fr/ (last visited ) http://www.lemondesiffle.free.fr/projet/science/biblio.htm (last visited ) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UbVz_okyY3g (last visited ) http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x4de33_parole-langages-et-langues-sifflees_tech (last visited ) http://www.senegalaisement.com/NOREF/communicationsiffleediola.html (last visited ) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PgEmSb0cKBg (last visited ) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RnOZPTaaiaI (last visited ) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=quZYEXDNaKo (last visited )

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