Like other forms of whistled communication, kuş dili arose in a
region where the rugged ground and sparse population made travel
difficult even over short distances. A whistle can reverberate for more
than a kilometer, according to Kodalak. "If you can't make your voice
heard over a long distance, you could also make a chain with different
people relaying the message."
Most villagers believe kuş dili arose about 400 years ago, although
no one knows for sure. The "language" is, in fact, a whistled dialect of
Turkish, with each syllable rendered in one of about 20 different
sounds. Typical subjects include invitations to tea or to help with
work, notifying neighbors about the arrival of a truck to pick up the
harvest, or announcements of funerals, births and weddings.
The slow process of modernization in the village helped preserve kuş
dili, but, in recent decades - particularly since the arrival of cell
phones - the language has been in decline, said Kuşköy's mukhtar, or
village headman, Metin Köçek. "Now we have roads, electricity and phone
lines," Köçek said. "In our childhood, the bird language was used a lot
in daily life. Now we meet the same needs by using a cell phone."
Technology is not the only threat. As in other parts of rural Turkey,
many young people are leaving Kuşköy in search of better opportunities
in the country's booming cities. "Lack of opportunities is a general
problem in our area," commented Mehmet Fatih Kara, the governor of
Canakçı district, within which Kuşköy is situated. "Young people go and
leave the elderly behind, and only visit on vacation."
For the past 15 years, the village has held an annual festival to
promote the language. There are whistling displays, and a contest
between the finest whistlers, in which they relay instructions to each
over the valley before a panel of judges.
"Our purpose is to promote bird language to our country and to the
world," said Şeref Köçek, organizer of the festival, and head of the
village's Bird Language Association.
Around 2,000 people attended this year's festival, on July 8, which
had an emphasis more on local music and dancing than on whistling.
Almost all were from the nearby area, or were relatives who had returned
specially for the festival.
Kara believes that kuş dili could be used as a means of boosting the
local economy and arresting the current exodus to the cities. "I want to
use tourism to turn this language into an economic source for the
region," he said.
Recently, he approached Türk Telekom, the former state-owned
telecommunications company, to provide sponsorship for the festival. At
the time of publication, Telekom representatives had not responded to
The funding would be used to improve roads in the area, and move the
festival to a more picturesque location on the grassy plateau above the
village, he said.