Learn a new foreign language (with no words...)

The whistle language of La Gomera is among the many places where communication does not rely on words

Scholastic opinion varies on the percentage to which body language is part of human communication. But verbal communication needn't be the only alternative. Fascinatingly, there are still places where people are actually not lost without words.

On La Gomera, in the Canary Islands, there is a language called silbo Gomero that uses a variety of whistles instead of words (in Spanish silbar means "to whistle"). There are four "vowels" and four "consonants" that can be strung together to form more than four thousand "words". It can be heard at distances of up to two miles and silbadors were until recently a dying breed. Since 1999, however, silbo has been a required language in La Gomera schools.

Other whistling communicators include the Mazateco Indians of Oaxaca, Mexico. Their whistling is not really a language or even a code; it simply uses the rhythms and pitch of ordinary speech without the words.

Similar languages are found in Greece, Turkey, and China, while other forms of wordless communication include the talking drums (ntumpane) of the Kele in Congo, the xylophones used by the Northern Chin of Burma, and the banging on the roots of trees practised by the Melanesians.

Elsewhere, there are kinds of speech sound that do not use an air stream from the lungs. Native speakers of Xhosa, one of the official Bantu languages of South Africa, use words that contain click consonants.

Two countries, Papua New Guinea (with more than 850) and Indonesia (with around 67), are home to a quarter of the world's spoken languages because the terrain can be so rough that language and communication are often keenly affected. This sense of the intransigible has brought about a vocabulary of its own. Krosa is Sanskrit for a cry, and thus has come to mean the distance over which a man's call can be heard: roughly two miles. In Sri Lanka's central forests, calculations of distance are also made by sound: a dog's bark indicates a quarter of a mile; a cock's crow something more; and so on. In the Yakut language of Siberia, kiosses represents a specific distance calculated in terms of the time taken to cook a piece of meat. My favourite is the Finnish word poronkusema – the distance equal to how far a reindeer can travel without a comfort break. It's about three miles and literally means "reindeer's piss".

Adam Jacot de Boinod is the author of The Meaning of Tingo and Other Extraordinary Words from around the World (Penguin), and creator of the iPhone App Tingo, a quiz on interesting words

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Web Developer - Junior / Mid Weight

    £15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: To support their continued grow...

    Recruitment Genius: Transportation Contracting Manager

    £33000 - £38000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A global player and world leade...

    Recruitment Genius: Hotel and Spa Duty Manager

    £18000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you are friendly, sociable, ...

    Recruitment Genius: Payroll and Benefits Co-ordinator

    £22300 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This museum group is looking for a Payro...

    Day In a Page

    Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

    Is this the future of flying?

    Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
    Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

    Isis are barbarians

    but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
    The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

    Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

    Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
    Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

    'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

    Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
    Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

    Call of the wild

    How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
    Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

    'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

    If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
    The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

    The science of swearing

    What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
    Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

    Africa on the menu

    Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
    Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

    Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

    The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
    10 best statement lightbulbs

    10 best statement lightbulbs

    Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
    Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

    Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

    Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
    Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

    Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

    It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
    Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

    Dustin Brown

    Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
    Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

    Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

    Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test