In a remote mountain village high above Turkey’s Black Sea coast, there are villagers who still communicate across valleys by whistling.
Not just whistling as in a non-verbal, “Hey, you!” But actually using what they call their “bird language,” Turkish words expressed as a series of piercing whistles.
The village is Kuskoy, and it’s inhabited by farmers who raise tea, corn, beets and other crops and also keep livestock. Everyone in communal settlement of Kuskoy is warm, welcoming and very generous.
Its 500 or so residents cultivate tea and hazelnuts; there is one street with a baker, a butcher, and a few cafes. It is the sounds, not the sights, that make Kuşköy different.
For generations, villagers have conversed using a unique form of whistled communication they call “kuş dili,” or “bird language” in Turkish.
The name Kuşköy itself means “bird village.” In fact, there are claims that the melodies of local birds are often similar to kuş dili; a morning song of the blackbird is the same as a famous verse in the Quran.
Like other forms of whistled communication, kuş dili arose in a region where the rugged ground and sparse population made travel difficult even over short distances. A whistle is said to reverberate for more than a kilometre.
Most villagers believe kuş dili arose about 400 years ago, although no one knows for sure. The “language” is, in fact, a whistled dialect of Turkish, with each syllable rendered in one of about 20 different sounds.
Typical subjects include invitations to tea or to help with work, notifying neighbours about the arrival of a truck to pick up the harvest, or announcements of funerals, births and weddings.
You might need to ask one of your neighbours, ‘Can you help me harvest the corn tomorrow?’ Or, if there’s a funeral, the family would whistle the news throughout the valley.
The spread of cellphones has reduced the need for whistling, but villagers stage a festival each summer to try to keep it alive. Some of the villagers even admit that the language still comes in handy – to warn their gun-carrying neighbours when the police are on patrol.
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