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GreekReporter.comGreeceThe Whistled Language of Greece and How it Could be Lost Forever

The Whistled Language of Greece and How it Could be Lost Forever

sfyria whistle language greece
Residents of the village of Antia, in Evia, Greece speak a unique whistle language called Sfyria. Credit: Screenshot/Youtube/PBS

Residents of the mountainous village of Antia on the idyllic island of Evia, Greece “speak” a unique whistling language called “Sfyria.”

The villagers of Antia use different whistled tones corresponding to a letter of the alphabet. By putting each whistled note in order, they form words.

In this way, they can talk and understand each other simply by whistling. Children learn the language at the age of five or six.

The interesting custom, which is also practiced in the nearby villages of Simikouki and Evangelismos, dates back to the times of ancient Greece.

Ancient whistling language in Greece under threat

Some speculate that the residents of Antia developed this specialized language from the Persian soldiers who were at one time guarding Greek prisoners in the Karystos area.

After their defeat in the Battle of Salamis, the Persian army left the guards of Karystos behind, fleeing to the highlands around Antia to hide. There, they mixed in with the local population and were eventually completely assimilated.

Another theory wants the Antia villagers to be of Doric origin because they don’t speak the Arvanitika Greek dialect like the surrounding populations.

A lesser-known theory claims that the creators of the whistle language were originally residents Ainos in Thrace, who moved to the area in 1469 as prisoners of the Venetians.

Sfyria was first mentioned in the mass media in March of 1969, when a group of rescuers were searching for the remains of a missing pilot whose plane had crashed in the “Ochi” mountain area.

Research has shown that the whistling language is also used in the same manner at Kuşköy in Turkey in the village of Aas, in the French Pyrenees, in the Canary Islands of Spain, and by the Berber people of the Atlas Mountains in Morocco.

Despite hailing from different lands across the world, speakers of whistling languages have a few qualities in common. They are all from mountainous and rugged terrain, and their main jobs are agriculture and animal husbandry.

Many have theorized that the whistling languages, which mirror bird calls and other ways that animals communicate, may reflect the close bond between speakers and their local environments.

Whistling also allows people to communicate over extremely long distances, so shepherds could talk to each other across the mountains.

Although the remaining villagers in Antia, Evia are still whistling, its population has shrunk significantly and the area is inhabited by the elderly, putting the future of the language at risk.

The villagers say that they would like to see their whistling language tradition continue, but their kids mostly have left the village and very few know how to whistle now.

You can learn more about the village of Antia and its whistled language on the language’s website, here.

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