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Phonological and phonetic aspects of whistled languages

  • Annie Rialland (a1)

Whistled languages are communication systems that convey an open-ended set of messages by transposing selected acoustic aspects of the spoken languages that serve as their source. There are two types: those based on non-tone languages, which transpose F2 patterns, and those based on tone languages, which transpose tone melodies. This paper examines basic phonological and phonetic properties of both types of whistled language, with the goal of eliciting their basic similarities and differences. Pitch variation is found to encode segmental distinctions in the first type of language and tonal distinctions in the second. What is common to both is the central role of amplitude modulations, which provide a frame with respect to which segmental boundaries are defined and major segmental classes are distinguished. Examples are taken from whistled languages based on Spanish, Turkish, Moba and Hmong, among others.

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I am greatly indebted to my colleague Bernard Gautheron for his assistance in the study of Silbo. The study of this language reported on here is based on data that we collected in La Gomera in 1998. His expertise in sound engineering proved particularly valuable in the difficult recording conditions we encountered. His experience in designing perception tests for deaf subjects was an asset in designing the perception test, and his many insights were invaluable in conducting interviews with our whistlers. I am also grateful to La Gomera whistlers and Silbo teachers (in particular Lino and Angelina Rodriguez and Isidro Ortiz). I also gratefully acknowledge insightful comments from Phonology reviewers and an associate editor. However, let me add that the responsibility for this paper is solely mine.
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  • ISSN: 0952-6757
  • EISSN: 1469-8188
  • URL: /core/journals/phonology
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