The whistled language, which locals call “Sfyria” from the Greek word Sfyrizo (whistle), is the unique characteristic of the mountain village of Antia, in Evia.
The Antia villagers speak a unique language of whistles, in which each tone of whistling corresponds to a letter of the alphabet. By putting whistles of different tones in order, they form words. This way, they can talk and understand each other simply by whistling. Children learn the language at the age of 5 or 6.
The interesting custom – which also appears in the nearby villages of Simikouki and Evangelismos – dates back to the times of ancient Greece.
Some speculate that the residents of Antia got the language skills from the Persian soldiers who were guarding Greek prisoners in the Karystos area. After their defeat in the Battle of Salamis, the Persian army left the guards of Karystos behind, and they fled to the highlands around Antia to hide. There they mixed in with the local population and were assimilated by them.
Another theory wants the Antia villagers to be of Doric origin, because they don’t speak the arvanitika dialect like the surrounding populations.
A lesser known theory wants the fathers of the language of whistles to be residents Ainos in Thrace, who moved to the area in 1469 as prisoners of the Venetians.
The “sfyria” language was discovered by mass media in March 1969, when a group of rescuers was 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 PU area of the French Pyrenees, in the Canary Islands of Spain and by the Berber people of Atlas in Morocco.
The inhabitants of these five regions have three things in common: The whistling language, the mountainous and rugged terrain and the main job of locals are agriculture and animal husbandry.
The language may be lost forever
Although the remaining villagers are still whistling on Antia, its populaton has shrunk and the area is inhabited by elderly that are slowly dying. The villagers say that they would like to see their whistling language tardition continuing, but their kids mostly have left the village and very few know how to whistle.
You can learn more about Antia village and the whistled language at sfyria.com.