The Evian Σφυριά / Sfyria people

Whistling to communicate, in Evia Greece

This Σφυριά / Sfyria language, of Evia, Greece, is a whistle language. The word Σφυριά, from the Greek word σφυρι (sfyri) for the noun whistle, symbolizes a militaristic stronghold, where the whistle was employed to communicate in ways coded from the enemy. The language is full and complete, and contains vocabulary and syntax akin to any complete language. For over two millennia, the language has been used to communicate in the region of Antio, Evia. The language was only acknowledged outside of Antio in 1969 (Stein, 2017).

Now, the language is facing very immediate extinction. The population of Antia has decreased to 37, where at present, only six competent speakers remain. The community established “the Cultural Organisation of Antia” in 2010. In 2014, the organization invited linguists from Harvard and Yale universities to document the language.

Antia, Evia, The whistling community

Listen to and read an exert from the Sfyria community.

Julien Meyer, author of an article in the February issue of Scientific American on whistle languages, recorded a conversation in the early 2000s in which two villagers in Greece conversed by puckering their lips and just blowing. Click here to listen in.

This article was originally published with the title “Listen to Whistle Speak” in Scientific American 316, 2, (February 2017)