Some structural properties of whistled language suggest comparing it to a few other forms of communication. These are given, for instance, by the use of so-called talking musical instruments (TMI) which are found in African cultures and China, or by the application of whistle-like vocalizations which frequently occur even in nonverbal organisms, such as birds, several primates and marine mammals.
The sound of TMIs and similarly whistled languages can be regarded as an abridgment of speech. Thus, comparisons between instrumental sound patterns and whistles could positively influence further studies of language. Cross-comparisons of human and animal whistles, on the other hand, are interesting from a different perspective. For example, both classes of whistles serve for long-distance communication mostly (Marler 1955, Busnel 1966; see also Brumm 2004, Oliveira and Ades 2004), but they differ in many other respects, e.g. the way they are produced. Thus, contrasting them could indeed help to sharpen the idiosyncrasy of our own whistles. Such a task, however, requires a formal definition of their acoustical characteristics.
In human beings, a whistle consists of a narrow frequency band (typically located between 1000 and 3000 Hz), which lasts for a certain amount of time and the relevant information it contains resists degradation due to reverberation. This definition could be the same for animal species with particular variations in the frequency level or the degree of frequency modulation.
HUMAN WHISTLES AND TALKING MUSICAL INSTRUMENTS (TMI)
Many cultures play their native language on instruments, and whistle it too. Each instrument takes advantage of specific aspects of the musical and linguistic transmission. The TMIs have been studied mainly in Africa, but also in Melanesia and in China. It is interesting to consider that these means of communication also convey messages with a linguistic attitude. The technique used for the abridgment of the speech depends on the instrument and on the structure of the local language. Even different strategies have been observed between cultures using similar instruments on similar structures of languages (Stern 1957). From the whistles to the drummed forms of the languages, a continuum of abridgments of speech can be noticed. Therefore it is important to study the acoustical comparison of these different ways of conveying information.