HISTORY

Discover the Dying Turkish Language ‘Kus Dili’ That is Whistled, Not Spoken

Once whistled over great distances, the cellphone era has pushed the language to the endangered list

Image by Sandeep Handa from Pixabay

Ancient societies are individually distinct. Thriving on this uniqueness is the country’s cultural and linguistic differences that set them apart from the rest of the world. These fascinating biases form part of the culturally distinguished societies that exist amongst us for generations. Individual nations have a unique cultural heritage that speaks to us in extraordinary ways, which eventually adds to their global distinctiveness.

The whistling village of Meghalaya, Kongthong, shares an uncommon linguistic difference with the rest of India. There, people hold a whistled identity for communicating purposes rather than addressing people through a normal way of communication. Interestingly, when we move beyond the Indian borders, we observe a similar tradition in “Kuskoy,” a remote village in Turkey.

The unique language forming the part of the Turkish lanes is named “Bird Language,” or “Whistle Language.” Some experts mentioned that whistled languages existed for ages worldwide, like in Mexico, Greece, or Spain’s Canary Islands. Still, the Turkish whistled language is the most high-pitched and lingually extended, with more than 400 words or phrases.

The bird language of Turkey — “Kus Dili”

In most ways, the Kuskoy village (translated as “bird village”) situated in Turkey’s northern Pontic Mountains resembles other lush green villages nestled on its hilly mountainous sides. The distinct feature here is that the local villagers communicate or express their words in an unusual, whistled language using bird language, also known as “Kus Dili.”

The bird language dates back to some 500 years ago, during which the Ottoman Empire was widespread across the Black sea coasts of Turkey. It’s an age-old language; however, its origin stands debatable.

For centuries, the bird language has been passed on from grandparents to parents and from parents to child. It thus established a chain of passing the rich linguistic tradition among the villagers of Kuskoy. The village comprises a small population where more than eighty percent of the village inhabitants practice this incredible method of communication.

In practice, the bird language is a series of blowing whistles that can be heard for more than a kilometer or so. It’s a combination of high-pitched whistles and melodies used for communication. The harmony of the two sounds resembles the song of the birds. The most amazing aspect of the language is that there is no practical limit to its vocabulary, nor people have to struggle with grammatical errors.

On highlighting its history, it was found that for three centuries, the farmers residing in the hilly regions of Kuskoy have communicated great distances by whistling. The Turkish people use this language for simple instructions and requests like “visit home for coffee,” “help me in the fields tomorrow,” and so on. The communication form is also used to transmit information concerning birth, death, or other rituals and ceremonies.

By using only their fingers, teeth, tongue, lips, and cheeks, people quickly communicate things as simple as “fine” to the complicated ones like “Will the next harvest season be favorable?” The language is still used today among the local community members. But gradually, this communication form is dwindling as fewer people are showing a willingness to learn the whistling language in the “Age of Technology.”

The whistled bird language is under threat

In the days before mobile phones made an entrance, the Turkish villagers used this high-pitched whistling language to communicate between great distances. The whistling voices sprang clearly through the air, crisscrossed through the mountainous valleys, connected one house to the other houses in the steeper terrain, and communicated the message.

The beautiful landscape of rough and hilly terrains is the foundation of the bird language that keeps it alive. However, the modern era of the ever-growing rapid cellular mobile systems has put this cultural heritage under serious threat.

Ever since technology started to evolve, this language suffered tremendous setbacks. Once widespread across the Black Sea regions of Trabzon, Rize, Ordu, Artvin, and Bayburt, today, the language is used by only the Kuskoy villagers. Here too, the language is slowly showing signs of fading into the dark.

Nowadays, most of the village’s proficient speakers are aging, turning physically weak, and are finding it hard to protect the cultural heritage. Amidst this depressing situation, the agony intensifies where the younger people are no longer interested in learning the language, nor are they able to update the vocabulary with novel words.

In sum, the need for this language is slowly vanishing. One of the reports found that young women barely use the language and young men simply learn the language for the sake of pride rather than for practical purposes.

Aside from the technological threats, migration of people to urban areas for better employment opportunities is another problem that adds to the language being pushed to the verge of extinction. The language entered the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) lists of Intangible cultural heritage in need of its urgent safeguarding. For the local members, having their cultural treasure being represented on the global stage felt like a joyful experience and was a dream come true moment.

The Kuskoy community is working hard to keep the language alive by organizing festivals and spread it among the masses. Ever since 1997, the natives of the village holds an annual culture and art festival to promote their language widely. To further broaden its extent, the local authorities began teaching the Kuş Dili language at primary school levels.

The linguistic diversity speaks to the nation’s beauty. It defines the unique and incredible cultural heritage of that particular region. But with the cultural and technological advancements, most people are becoming distant from their cultural roots. As such, to keep the generations intact with their rich ancestral past becomes a tumultuous task for our ancestors. And if the proper measures are not adopted, then the gap will widen with the fleeting times.

Our ancient past records that a language speaks to a person’s heart. So is the Bird Language of the Kuskoy community that is exclusively unique and which whistles through great distances to knock at people’s hearts. Preserving this heritage is the need so that their ancient linguistic roots remain intact.

--

--

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Swati Suman

In the rhythm of words, I try to unfold life. Thoughtful expressions in Philosophy, Science, Humanities. Compassion above All. Email: swatis.writes@gmail.com