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Whistled Turkish

August 19, 2015

A language researcher studies Turkish villagers who communicate through whistles.

Transcript

BOB HIRSHON (host):

Onur Güntürkün a person whistling in the Turkish style. TurkishWhistling97125

A person whistling in the Turkish style. (Onur Güntürkün)

How the brain processes whistled speech. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

[Turkish whistle language]

In mountainous regions of Northeastern Turkey, villagers chat over long distances with a whistled form of Turkish. Bio-psychologist Onur Güntürkün:

ONUR GÜNTÜRKÜN (Bochum University, Germany):

It is Turkish—with the same words, the same grammar—but in a whistled form. 

HIRSHON:

The brain’s left hemisphere is the province of language, whether spoken, written or even signed. But in the journal Current Biology, Güntürkün provides evidence that whistled Turkish is processed partly in the brain’s right hemisphere—where we process music.

GÜNTÜRKÜN:

Showing that the left hemisphere dominance is not absolute. And it is indeed affected by the physical format of the language.

HIRSHON:

This contradicts a longstanding tenet of neuroscience, and shows how a rare and endangered language can lead to valuable insights into the brain. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.