Turkey's Curious "Whistling Language" Faces Threats From Mobile Phones

A special branch of the United Nations, in charge of world heritage, has issued an imminent warning that the fabled bird language "spoken" by a group of villagers on the shores of the Black Sea is at risk of extinction. 

The language, spoken by approximately 10,000 people predominantly in the Giresun Province, is the fruit of an extremely developed system of whistling. The language was developed initially to help people communicate with one another across long distances in an area bound by rugged mountains. 

The language--whose name is frequently translated as "bird language"--, has been added to the creatively named "List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding". The major threat to the language is due to the fast-changing social and technological advances, specifically the increased use of mobile phones as a "key threat to its survival", according to UNESCO.

Numan Kurtulmus, Turkey's Culture Minister, has lauded the decision, congratulating his "fellow Black Sea coast residents who have kept this culture alive", as reported by a local newspaper.

The bird language is still commonly used in the village of Kuskoy, but only 50 years ago, was widespread across the Black Sea regions of Trabzon, Rize, Ordu, Artvin and Bayburt.

Currently, the language is spoken mainly by the shepherds who dot the region, though their command of the language is limited to basic phrases. 

The Village of Kuskoy is taking steps to preserve the language by means of its annual Bird Language Festival, and the head of the Bird Language Cultural Association, Seref Kocek, said local people have welcomed the news "with joy, as a dream come true", as reported by the local Milliyet newspaper.

District authorities additionally started teaching the language at the elementary school level since 2014.

That said, Unesco warns that Kuskoy's bird language, like myriad other whistling languages in mountainous and forested areas around the world, is at risk, "unless essential safeguarding measures are undertaken, using an integrated approach".