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Language and Communication
She spoke half in Eskimo and half in English, as if the instincts of her father and the science of the <em>gussaks</em>, the white-faced, might evoke some magical combination that would help her get her message through to the wolf. (1.11)
At this point, Miyax has two instincts about how to communicate with the wolves, and those instincts come from two very distinct cultures. But they have equal worth in her mind.
Why had he bared his teeth at her? Because she was young and he knew she couldn't hurt him? No, she said to herself, it was because he was speaking to her! He had told her to lie down. She had even understood and obeyed him. He had talked to her not with his voice, but with his ears, eyes, and lips; and he had even commended her with a wag of his tail. (1.32)
Ah, now here's a new kind of language. Humans have body language, of course, but it can barely be compared to wolf language, which is so elaborate it takes Miyax quite a while to understand just a few phrases.
Jello narrowed his eyes, pressed his ears forward, and showed his teeth.
"I know what you're saying," she called to him. "You're saying, 'lie down.'" (1.162-63)
Miyax is one smart girl. After Amaroq tells her to lie down, she uses this information to understand what Jello is saying. Her ability to comprehend wolf language is actually pretty impressive when you think about it. Perhaps even… impossible? What do you think?
"I'm talking wolf! I'm talking wolf!" Miyax clapped, and tossing her head like a pup, crawled in a happy circle. (1.65)
Not only is Miyax proud of herself for this awesome feat, she's totally stoked because it means she has a chance at survival. And it's all thanks to her awesome observation skills and resourcefulness.
"Ee-lie!" she gasped. "You do understand. And that scares me." (1.70)
Wait a minute, we're confused. Why is Miyax scared that Kapu understands her? That fact should fall squarely in the win column, right?
The signal went off. It sped through his body and triggered emotions of love. Amaroq's ears flattened and his tail wagged in friendship. He could not react in any other way to the chin pat, for the roots of this signal lay deep in wolf history. It was inherited from generations and generations of leaders before him. (1.80-3)
Wolf language, like any other language, has its roots deep in history. What's so cool about this moment is that Miyax, a young human, manages to tap into that history and become a part of it.
He told her that the birds and animals all had languages and if you listened and watched them you could learn about their enemies, where their food lay and when big storms were coming. (2.15)
These words of wisdom brought to you courtesy of Kapugen, of course. It's yet another example of how Kapugen's teachings from Miyax's childhood come in handy out on the tundra.
"<em>Ta vun ga vun ga,</em>" she cried. "<em>Pisupa gasu punga.</em>" She spoke of her sadness in Eskimo, for she could not recall any English. (3.144)
We can't help but wonder why our star student can't remember any English at this particular moment. Perhaps it's because a moment of such pure emotion requires a more expressive language.
"I'm Roland," the man said in English as he unloaded his sleeping skins on the floor of the igloo and spread them out. "Are you alone?"
Miyax smiled at him as if she did not understand and put a twisted spruce log on the fire. When it blazed and man and woman were warming their backs, Roland asked her again, but this time in Upik, her own beautiful tongue. She answered that she was. (3.195-96)
Miyax has clearly joined the anti-English camp. But what exactly does she have against the language? Why refuse to speak it when it's convenient?
The totem of Amaroq was in her pocket. Her fingers ran over it but she did not take it out. She sang to the spirit of Amaroq in her best English. (3.262)
This moment jumps out at us in comparison to an earlier moment, when Miyax sings a mournful song to bid farewell to Amaroq. In that moment, she sings in Eskimo, but now, she sings in English. Why the change?
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