Here There Be Whistlers - ancient whistling language, Antia, Evia, Greece

HERE THERE BE WHISTLERS - On a small Greek island, practitioners of an ancient shistling language are holding onto their culture as it slowly dies out.

Published online at - February 5, 2018 - authored by Sarah Souli

Greeks are fabulous at cursing. The innovative insults roll off the tongue as they liken your grandmother’s private parts to a coin-slot receiver, curse the Antichrist, your house, or your bottom. Though usually hissed or shouted, whistled insults don’t disappoint, either. On a recent visit to Antia, a tiny village folded into the green mountains of Evia, Greece’s second largest island, we cajoled Mrs. Katerina, a local octogenarian, to whistle us a blaspheme. “Go to hell,” she whistled, the breathy syllables sounding remarkably bird-like. She leaned back in her chair and dissolved into peals of laughter.

Antia is home to the last whistlers of Greece. Sfyria, as the whistling language is called in Greek — it comes from the Greek word sfyrizo, to whistle — is not technically a language; linguists refer to it as a speech registrar, like shouting or whispering. It’s the same as modern Greek — the grammar, vocabulary, and sentence structure all remain intact — but the sounds come out in high-pitched musical notes. Each letter of the alphabet is individually whistled (alpha, beta, gamma), and strung together to create an ariose warble.