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As in the previous classes we have talked a bit about tangible and intangible heritage, I wanted to share with you one interesting example of intangible heritage that we have in Spain.

Silbo gomero is one of the most curious and unique languages in the world. What makes it so special is that it is not formed by words as most of the other languages are, but because it consists of whistles.

This language was used since early times by the inhabitants of the island La Gomera (Canary Islands) when they were in the ravines and they were far away from each other. They used these whistles for long distance communication, as they could be heard from several kilometers away.

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A fascinating fact about this language is that it has been passed down through the generations for centuries. Moreover, it is the only whistled language in the world that is spoken by more than 22,000 people.

Vowels and consonants are replaced by whistling sounds. There are two different types of whistles for the five vowels in Spanish and four different whistles for the consonants. The different whistles can be distinguished by the tone, its length and its continuity or interruption. With just these 6 sounds more than 4000 words or concepts can be conveyed.

This language is consider by Gomerans as a part of the island’s identity, history and heritage. Additionally, it was declared as a “Masterpiece of the Oral and intangible Heritage of Humanity” by UNESCO in 2009.

In order to prevent this language from disappearing, it is essential to promote its use, its transmission and its teaching, otherwise it will end up as many other minority languages have done. For this reason, Silbo gomero has been taught in schools since 1999. In primary schools Silbo gomero is a mandatory subject, whereas in secondary schools it is optional. There are also some organizations in some of the Canary Islands that give classes to people who would like to learn this language.