Villagers in the remote and mountainous region of northern Turkey have a reason to rejoice. Their unusual but efficient ‘whistle’ language has entered the UNESCO’s list of Intangible Cultural Heritage. The whistle language is used by the villages as a means of communication. The whistle language is a highly-developed, high-pitch system of communication that is reportedly used by close to 10,000 people residing in the district of Canakci in Giresun province. They resort to whistling to communicate as most of the times, they can’t see each other in the rugged terrain. And UNESCO has accepted the “bird language” of Black Sea villagers as an endangered part of world heritage.
The Xinhua reports that the bird language is in need of urgent protection, according to the UNESCO. Whistling as a language was dates back to 500 years ago, during the Ottoman Empire. Back then, the whistle language was widespread across the Black Sea regions. However, over the past fifty years, this language has been losing its relevance owing to the rapid progress of technology and more recently, the progress of cellular mobile systems. An Economic Times article states that whistle languages have existed through the ages across the world like in Spain’s Canary Islands, in Mexico or in Greek villages, but the Turkish one seems to be the most high-pitched and lexical extended, with more than 400 words and phrases.
The cultural heritage had been passed on from generation to generation to generation. Many who were proficient in the language are now old and physically weak, making it difficult for them to speak in the whistle language that requires the use of one’s teeth, tongue and fingers. The younger generation is no longer interested in learning the unique language, and this puts it at risk of getting wiped off. Muhtar, the elected headman of Kuskoy (translated as “bird village”) says that mobile phones have had a certain impact on their whistle tradition, but they are trying to keep their tradition alive. More than 80 percent of the residents of this village still use the whistle language to communicate.
Muhtar has been quoted saying, “We are very satisfied that our bird language is now a part of the world culture heritage, it was a dream come true because we think that it will also inspire others.” The village is trying to keep the tradition alive by organising the annual Bird Language Festival. Bird language is also a part of the primary school curriculum since 2014.