Study Guide

Island of the Blue Dolphins Language and Communication

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Language and Communication

His voice echoed against the rock walls of the cove. The words were strange, unlike any I had ever heard. Slowly he spoke in our tongue.

"I come in peace and wish to parley," he said to the men on the shore. (1.29-30)

How does Karana view the Russians at first? Why is it important that the Russians speak her language?

"The sea is smooth," Ramo said. "It is a flat stone without any scratches."

My brother liked to pretend that one thing was another.

"The sea is not a stone without scratches," I said. "It is water and no waves." (1.6-8)

In this conversation, Ramo presents a metaphor: the sea is a smooth, flat stone. Karana, however, will not understand him. Why is this a problem?

I did not know how lonely I had been until I had Rontu to talk to. (16.13)

How does Karana's friendship with Rontu help to ease the loneliness she felt? Why is talking important for her?

"<em>Wintscha,"</em> she said.

I had not heard words spoken for so long that they sounded strange to me, yet they were good to hear, even though it was an enemy who spoke them. (21.31-32)

Why is Karana happy to hear Tutok speak. Isn't Tutok an enemy Aleut?

She touched the necklace, giving the word for it, and I gave mine. We pointed out other things – the spring, the cave, a gull flying, the sun and the sky, Rontu asleep – trading the names for them and laughing because they were so different. We sat there on the rock until the sun was in the west and played this game. Then Tutok rose and made a gesture of farewell. (22.10)

Karana and the Aleut girl make friends by learning each other's language. How does this go against her father's opinion that the Aleuts don't understand friendship? How is communication important to their friendship?

Below me, Rontu was running along the cliff, barking at screaming gulls. Pelicans were chattering as they fished the blue water. Far off I could hear the bellow of a sea elephant. But suddenly, as I thought of Tutok, the island seemed very quiet. (22.33)

Why is Karana lonely again?  Aren't the animals noisy enough to keep her company? Notice the verbs in this selection: "barking," "screaming," "bellow." What's their significance? How are they different from the noises Tutok makes?

I often thought of Tutok, but on these days especially I would look off into the north and wish that she were here to see me. I could hear her talking in her strange language and I would make up things to say to her and things for her to say to me. (23.18)

Communication is the key to the friendship between Karana and Tutok.

Since night had fallen and it was too dark for me to carry Rontu back, I stayed there. I sat beside him through the night and talked to him. (25.10)

The best way Karana can care for Rontu as he passes away is to talk to him.

I came to the mound where my ancestors had sometimes camped in the summer. I thought of them and of the happy times spent in my house on the headland, of my canoe lying unfinished beside the trail. I thought of many things, but stronger was the wish to be where people lived, to hear their voices and their laughter. (28.19)

Karana's loneliness gets the best of her. She wants to leave the island to be with people – to "hear their voices and their laughter."

I shook my head and smiled at him. He spoke again, slowly this time, and though his words sounded the same as before and meant nothing to me, they now seemed sweet. They were the sound of a human voice. There is no sound like this in all the world. (29.12)

Despite having so many friends in the animal kingdom, Karana values human connection and companionship. The human voice is a powerful instrument.

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