The Critical 'I'

Read. React. Repeat.

Sunday, November 16, 2003

One of the prime impetuses in my buying a cellphone a few years back was finding myself in situations where I'd get separated from my friends in a crowded venue, and then spending hours trying to locate each other. I figured mobile phones would solve that problem much more efficiently.

Little did I know that learning a time-honored whistling language from the Canary Islands was a viable alternative. Well, maybe not viable, exactly, but an alternative... presuming I could get my friends to learn it too. Which would have been unlikely. Ahem.

I wonder what sort of encryption possibilities this unique language has?

Anyway, "Silbo Gomero" is making a comeback after a few decades of disuse, and is being recognized as a unique cultural heritage of the Canary Islanders, predating even the introduction of Spanish culture centuries ago. I like that this AP article included an MP3 sampling of the language; the one-minute exchange translates to the following:

"Hey, Servando!"


"Look, go tell Julio to bring the castanets."

"OK. Hey, Julio!"


"Lili says you should go get the kids and have them bring the castanets for the party."

"OK, OK, OK."

Nope, I can't grock it out either; it sounds like just some random bird whistling. But I'll take the silbadors' word for it.

It might seem appropriate for a language that sounds like birdsong to exist in the Canary Islands, but scholarly theories as to how the archipelago got its name make no mention of whistling.

I wish they had expanded on this a bit... The Canary Islands figured prominently in the Age of Discovery explorations by Spain and Portugal, and having read a good bit of that history, I've run across the guesses on the origin of the name "Canary". Contrary to popular notion, the islands weren't named after the birds; it's more like the reverse, the birds having been introduced to the islands well after the initial naming. The islands have been known to Europeans since at least Roman times, and there's stong evidence that "Canary" is of Roman/Latin origin, being the root word for "canine". Records show that some of the islands were home to breeds of large, wild dogs, and so were named after them. Those dogs, over the centuries, have been hunted out of existence.