Bird Village, Bird Language

For centuries, in the Turkish Black Sea coastal village of Kusköy – a name that translates literally to “Bird Village” – villagers have communicated by whistling, basing their pattern and pitch on Turkish words, with a tone for each syllable. They call it “kus dili,” or “Bird Language.” Like other known whistling systems – for example, the well-studied Silbo used on La Gomera in the Canaries – kus dili arose as an adaptation to the rough and mountainous terrain in this tea-and hazelnut-growing area, where whistling carried further and more clearly than shouting. And it was much easier to whistle at someone than to walk the mountain trails to find them.

Since the whistling is based on the elements of an existing language, it is a simple matter to add words to its vocabulary. One curious effect is the possibility of back-translating actual birds’ whistling into kus dili, since many pitch patterns have been assigned or are assignable to meanings. In other words, the villagers have created a form for which the world rises eagerly to provide content. Or, as the Oulipian Noël Arnaud once said, “Because you are listening, you are spoken to.” One villager claims that a blackbird’s song translates a well-known verse from the Quran…

Screen Shot 2015-02-13 at 5.52.11 PMScreenshot from Deutsche Welle series “Village Scenes: Tales of Rural Life in Europe.” Episode on Kusköy.

It would not be surprising if one or another volée of the Order of the Third Bird had, in some close or distant time and place, prompted by necessity or fancy, developed a means of maintaining secrecy or privacy via a special code or language. It would be more surprising, and also more delightful, if a volée had developed some variation on a “bird language.” We would welcome any information our readers might have on the matter, and we submit that, if no such practice has existed, one might at any moment be adopted.