Whistled Turkish

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Malin Fezehai, "In Turkey, Keeping a Language of Whistles Alive", NYT 5/30/2019:

Muazzez Kocek, 46, is considered one of the best whistlers in Kuşköy, a village tucked away in the picturesque Pontic Mountains in Turkey’s northern Giresun province. Her whistle can be heard over the area’s vast tea fields and hazelnut orchards, several miles farther than a person’s voice. When President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey visited Kuşköy in 2012, she greeted him and proudly whistled, “Welcome to our village!”

She uses kuş dili, or “bird language,” which transforms the full Turkish vocabulary into varied-pitch frequencies and melodic lines. For hundreds of years, this whistled form of communication has been a critical for the farming community in the region, allowing complex conversations over long distances and facilitating animal herding.

Some earlier coverage, with pretty much the same content, can be found Peter Kenyon, "In A Turkish Village, A Conversation With Whistles, Not Words", NPR 9/26/2015.

Both articles provide several recorded examples, e.g. this sequence of Turkish phrases translated into whistling, from the NYT article:

And the NYT article links to an Android app ("Islık Dili Sözlüğü") offering a whistle-language dictionary. But neither one tells us anything about how Turkish is encoded in these whistles.

For those who are interested in that question, I recommend Julien Meyer, Whistled Languages: A Worldwide Inquiry on Human Whistled Speech (2015), which is "a follow-up of a previous monograph on this subject by Busnel and Classe (entitled "Whistled Languages") published in 1976".

The most relevant part is chapter 7, "Phonetics, Phonology and Typology of Whistled Languages", which I don't have time this morning to describe in detail — but here's a hint for the vowels:

See also Julien Meyer, "Whistled Turkish: Statistical Analysis of Vowel Distribution and Consonant Modulations", ICPhS 2007.


[h/t François Lang]



  1. Yuval said,

    May 31, 2019 @ 8:41 am

    Odd choice of de-re there for NYT. In 2012 Erdoğan was PM, not President.

  2. Victor Mair said,

    May 31, 2019 @ 9:47 am


    "Whistled language" (5/26/17)

    "Transcendent Tonality" (11/5/15)

    "Bird language" (6/15/17)

    "Speech like birds chirping" (2/3/19)

  3. Silbo Gomero said,

    June 2, 2019 @ 7:41 am

    That's interesting. Thanks for sharing.

    In La Gomera, the Canary Islands they have also something similar.

    Furter information:


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