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Posts Tagged ‘uş dili’

Some readers of Suzanne’s Mom’s Blog (Asakiyume, for example) share my interest in obscure, threatened languages. Here is an ancient one that was new to me: Whistling Turkish.

Jay Walz reported in a 1964 NY Times article, “The whistler forms his ‘speech’ with tongue curled around his teeth so that the ‘words’ are forced through lips that are not puckered in the conventional whistling style; they are tensely drawn flat across the face. The palm of the left hand is cupped about the mouth, and high pressure is applied from the lungs.”

Sindya N. Bhanoo added to the science in the September 3, 2015, NY Times, “Unlike all other spoken languages, a whistled form of Turkish requires that ‘speakers’ rely as heavily on the right side of their brains as on the left side.”

In the New Yorker, Michelle Nijhuis describes a town that is unfortunately losing its whistling, “Kuşköy is remarkable not for how it looks but for how it sounds: here, the roar of the water and the daily calls to prayer are often accompanied by loud, lilting whistles — the distinctive tones of the local language. Over the past half-century, linguists and reporters curious about what locals call kuş dili, or ‘bird language,’ have occasionally struggled up the footpaths and dirt roads that lead to Kuşköy. So its thousand or so residents were not all that surprised when, a few years ago, a Turkish-born German biopsychologist named Onur Güntürkün showed up and asked them to participate in a study. …

“In 1964, a stringer for the Times reported that children in Kuşköy were learning to communicate by whistling before they started school, and that both men and women regularly gossiped, argued, and even courted via whistle. Three years later, a team of visiting linguists observed that whistling was widely used in both the village and the surrounding countryside. But Güntürkün found that few, if any, young women had learned the language, and that, although some young men were fluent whistlers, they had learned the skill as teen-agers, more out of pride than any practical need. … In a small town filled with nosy neighbors, texting affords a level of privacy that whistling never did.”

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