Greece's Beautiful Whistling Language is Disappearing

Spoken languages are the most common methods of communication around the world. However, an age-old language, the whistled language, exists among various communities around distinct cultures of the world. While the languages are not as widely researched into as spoken languages, they are the principal means of communication for various communities. One such community belongs to a remote village in Greece.

What is a Whistled Language?

Whistled languages are those that imitate speech by whistling. Whistling languages are common among different communities all around the world. These languages have developed from influences of distance and isolation of the speakers. Whistled languages are effective in long distance communication as their frequencies often reach further compared to speaking or shouting. The languages may contain standardized meanings that also vary from one community to another. Whistling languages vary depending on the varieties of spoken language around the particular community. One such whistling language is Sfyria, the whistled language of Greece. The language has its roots in the remote mountainous village of Antia located on Evia Island.

Origins of Whistled Communication

The exact origin of the language is unknown with speculations that it might have developed during the Byzantine period or developed from Persian soldiers who escaped into the mountains. Others believe that the language developed from a secret code of communication to alert members of the community of impending attacks. Another belief identifies the language as the whistled form of spoken Greek as the tone and frequency of the whistled language match those of the spoken language. Just in the remote village, the language remained unknown to the world for centuries. A search team discovered the language in 1969 after a plane crashed in the region.

A Language in Decline

A recent report by BBC indicates that the use of the language, as well as its speakers, have reduced over the centuries and is currently at brink of extinction. The language has been used in the village for more than 2500 years. According to the report, the language resembles the sound of birds. This rare language uses long-distance communication that whistles entire conversations including complex messages. The frequencies of the whistled language can travel for up to 4km.

Throughout the history of the language, its speakers have mainly been shepherds and farmers. The secret language has been passed down through successive generations of children and tied by strict codes as dictated by tradition. Currently, the language is on the verge of disappearing forever as only six people in the world can communicate using the language. These speakers are old with the youngest speaker aged 50 years. The number of speakers have declined due to the declining population in the village and the increase in the number of older toothless individuals who cannot accurately vocalize the “words.” The population has declined in a few decades from 250 individuals to a worrying 37 people.


Benjamin Elisha Sawe is a writer based in Kenya. He holds an MBA from the University of Nairobi.

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