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Silbo Gomero in the Canary Islands, Spain

Language designations:

  • In the language itself: audio file needed
  • In Spanish: Silbo Gomero
  • ISO 639-3 standard: Silbo Gomero is not included in this standard

About Silbo Gomero:

The Silbo Gomero is a cultural manifestation dating from the pre-Hispanic age, inherited from the aboriginal inhabitants of the Canaries who were conquered by the Spanish. Although its relevance in the island decreased until the second half of the 20th century, nowadays, the whistle is a living and useful cultural manifestation, which, due to its vitality and large expressive possibilities, is on its way to universalization. Nevertheless, the results of efforts made by both the institutions and educators still remain to be seen. Certainly, the whistled practised in La Gomera is neither one of those rural symbols of identity that people are often ashamed of, nor a patriotic feature that institutions of power artificially create in order to manipulate citizens; instead, it is a genuine cultural practice, which the Canaries are very proud of, but which still needs more time to give evidence of progress. (reference needed)

Listen to the language:

Videos on the language:

Language vitality according to:

Linguistic aspects:

  • Classification: Silbo Gomero was created by the first indigenous inhabitants of the Canary Islands. It is speculated that it was originally based on the the Guanche language, but after Guanche's disappearance, the whistling was adapted to Spanish.
  • Script: not a written language, instead, whistled.

Language standardization

There is no institution regulating this language. (reference needed)


Language Area


Silbo Gomero is a whistled language used by the inhabitants of La Gomera, an island located in the west coast of Africa, in the Spanish Canary Islands. It is considered the only whistled language in the world that is fully developed and practised by a large community. Certainly, it is estimated to be spoken by more than 22,000 inhabitants. Initially, it was used to solve the serious problems of communication suffered by the inhabitants caused by the difficult orography of the island, which is formed by deep valleys and rifts. It was also employed during the activities of shepherding.4)

Education of the language

History of language education:

Silbo Gomero is understood and practiced by the vast majority of all islanders, especially the elderly. Today, like centuries ago, the whistled language was used to transmit news, announce celebrations, funerals, pilgrimages, weddings and baptisms. It is not meant to communicate with the intimate, instead, it is for the public, transmitted out loud, and heard by everyone on the island. It is not a language itself, since the whistled tones reproduce the language talked by its users, in this case, Spanish. However, it has its own linguistic characteristics: the language contains two vowels and four consonants, each vowel or consonant matched by a whistling sound.5) Besides, whistles can be distinguished by pitch and by whether they are interrupted or continuous. 6)

The use of the whistle declined gradually in La Gomera until the end of the 1970s, when local and cultural entities of the island started promoting its revitalization.7) By the end of the 20th century it became a compulsory subject in primary education. On July 26, 1997, the Parliament of the Canary Islands approved the proposal to introduce Silbo Gomero as a subject in schools. Later, in 1998, the first technical committee for Silbo Gomero, which included linguists and didactics from the University of La Laguna, instructors of the whistled language, and the president of the AMPAS federation of La Gomera. The committee's main task was to supervise the development of didactic materials, and regulate of the contents. Finally, since July 1999, Silbo Gomero is taught in schools so to guarantee that knowledge of the language is transmitted to new generations.8)

Legislation of language education:

A specific legal framework exists to protect and revitalize Silbo Gomero, which resulted from the aspirations of several social bodies on the Island of La Gomera.

Legislation of the Autonomous Community of the Canary Islands:

  • The Government of the Canary Islands is fully competent in the educational matters regarding the Silbo Gomero.
  • On July 26, 1997, the Parliament of the Canary Islands passed a Non-Law Proposition requesting the Government of the Canary Islands to include the whistle of La Gomera in the education system of the island.
  • In addition, the Law 4/1999 from March 15th (the Historic Patrimony of the Canary Islands) defines Silbo Gomero as part of the ethnographic heritage of the Canary Islands.
  • Law 4/1999 gave rise to order 1118/2001, which defined the Regulation of the Historic Heritage Council of the Canary Islands. This council has several functions, including the raising to the Public Administration of the Autonomous Community of the Canaries of a policy for the elaboration of a plan of conservation of the historical heritage9).

UNESCO legislation:

On September 30, 2009, Silbo Gomero was included in the UNESCO’s Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity10), which requires the commitment of the State to put into practice specific protection plans. In addition, the Silbo Gomero may be provided with financial assistance from a fund created for that purpose.

Support structure

Silbo Gomero's so-called Technical Commission, formed by experts from different fields has carried out many of the initiatives and activities aimed at the revitalization and preservation of La Gomera’s whistled language. It is an intermediary between administrative bodies and educational and cultural initiatives, controls proposals from the field and co-operating with the field.(reference needed)

The government supported the establishment of a Silbo Gomero curriculum with the publication of “El Silbo Gomero, Materiales didácticos”, which contains materials for all education levels (Educational Materials on the Silbo Gomero), and is the main learning resource for Silbo Gomero. This publication was developed by by a group of experts from different fields. It includes:

  • the didactic proposals for the teaching of the Silbo Gomero,
  • the contents and evaluation criteria
  • a proposal of continuity adapted to the student level.

Education in practice

All schools, both primary and secondary, on Gomera teach Silbo Gomero during the hours allotted to Spanish Language and Literature, and Foreign languages. Students practice the language during high school and after ten years they take a whole course on the whistled language. (reference needed)

In 2010, the inter-island council of La Gomera and the rector of the University of La Laguna (ULL) signed an agreement for the creation of curriculum oriented towards the study and spread of the Silbo Gomero11). This agreement established an annual activities program for studying the whistled language. 12).

Currently all educational institutions in the Canaray Islands aim to introduce learning Silbo Gomero. During a meeting held in February 2017, the Minister of Sociocultural Policy, Rosa Elena Garcia, stated that various strategies to create room for learning Silbo Gomero were being evaluated. In addition, the director of the Agency of University Quality and Educational Evaluation indicated that the Education Ministry of the Autonomous Government of the Canary Islands included Silbo Gomero in the project “Enseña”, which aims to disseminate the language among a group of schools. “What we are looking for is that the Silbo Gomero reaches the rest of the Canary Islands through this strategic line of learning,” she said. (reference needed)

Yo Silbo. (n.d.). Demostración de Silbo gomero realizada en un colegio para Canarias Directo.
TIME. (2013, May 21). Sylbo, The Last Speakers of the Lost Whistling Language.
UNESCO. (2009, September 25). Whistled language of the island of La Gomera (Canary Islands), the Silbo Gomero.
S.Garcia. (2015, December 18). Silbo Gomero.
UNESCO. (n.d.). Whistled language of the island of La Gomera (Canary Islands), the Silbo Gomero. Retrieved February 19, 2020, from
Consejera de Educación, Universidades, Cultura y Deportes. (n.d.). Aspectos lingüísticos. Retrieved February 19, 2020, from
Victoria González Ares. (2016, May 18). El Silbo Gomero en el sistema educativo canario. Retrieved February 19, 2020, from
8) , 10)
UNESCO committee. (2019, October). Decision of the Intergovernmental Committee: 4.COM 13.71. Retrieved February 19, 2020, from
Consejera de Educación, Universidades, Cultura y Deportes. (n.d.). Legislación. Retrieved February 19, 2020, from
EUROPA PRESS. (2010, December 22). Una cátedra de la Universidad de La Laguna permitirá ampliar estudios y divulgar el Silbo gomero. Retrieved February 19, 2020, from
12) (2019, June 3). La Universidad de La Laguna celebra un curso sobre el Silbo Gomero Retrieved February 19, 2020, from
languages/silbo_gomero_in_spain.txt · Last modified: 2020/10/05 10:45 by ydwine

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