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Turkey’s ‘bird language’ enters Unesco list

Black Sea villagers’ endangered tongue is now part of world heritage

IANS
15:05 December 31, 2017

Ankara — The unusual and very efficient whistle language used as a means of communication by villagers in remote northern Turkey entered the Unesco list of Intangible Cultural Heritage.

Unesco has accepted the “bird language” of Black Sea villagers as an endangered part of world heritage in need of urgent protection, Xinhua News Agency reported on Sunday.

Around 10,000 people, mostly in the district of Canakci in Giresun province, still use the highly-developed and high pitch system of whistling to communicate in the rugged terrain where most of the times they cannot see each other.

This form of communication which dates to some 500 years ago, during the Ottoman Empire, was widespread across the Black Sea regions, but 50 years ago it suffered the impact of the progression of technology and nowadays the ever rapid growth of cellular mobile systems has put this cultural heritage under serious threat.

For centuries, the language has been passed on from grandparent to parent, from parent to child. Now, though, many of its most proficient speakers who use their tongue, teeth and fingers, are ageing and becoming physically weak.

Young people are no longer interested in either learning the language, or in finding ways to update its vocabulary with new words, and in a few generations it may be gone for good.

“The mobile phones have had a certain impact on our whistle tradition here, but we are trying to keep our culture alive,” said the Muhtar, the elected headman of Kuskoy (literally translated as “bird village”).

This village of some 400 people where tea and hazelnuts are cultivated is located in the heart of “whistle country” and more than 80 per cent of its inhabitants practice this incredible method of communication.

“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,” said the Muhtar, adding that Kuskoy is making efforts to keep the practice alive through its annual Bird Language Festival.

District authorities have started teaching the language at the primary school level since 2014.

According to experts, 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.

—IANS