Study Guide

Unbroken Language and Communication

By Laura Hillenbrand

Language and Communication

Realizing that the white church would stand out brilliantly on the dark atoll, a marine named Fonnie Black Ladd ran in and yelled at the natives to get out. When they wouldn't move, he drew his sidearm. They scattered. (2.10.7)

Waving a gun in someone's general direction is the universal symbol for <em>get the shmoop out</em>

One of the Japanese opened his shirt and pointed to his chest. He seemed to want the Americans to do the same. As Louie opened his shirt, he braced himself, expecting to be shot, but no shot came. The man had only wanted to see if they were armed. (3.17.13)

Because of the language differences between the Japanese and their prisoners, there is a lot of communication done with only gestures. Sometimes, this causes a lot of anxiety as to what these gestures actually <em>mean.</em>

The pretext for many of the outbursts was miscommunication. The captives and their guards came from cultures with virtually no overlap in language or custom. (4.18.20)

Miscommunication in any instance can be frustrating. Add a prisoner/guard dynamic and weapons to the mix though, and miscommunication can be downright dangerous.

<em>Ohio </em>was a greeting, used by the occasional civil guard. Though Louie soon knew what it meant, his stock reply was "No, California." (4.18.21)

Louie employs a little bit of language-difference humor to lighten the mood just a fraction. In a POW camp, every little thing you can do to lighten the mood counts. 

A couple of captives sat on other benches across the compound, hiding their hands from the guards' view and gesturing to each other in Morse code—fists for dots and flat hands for dashes. (4.19.19)

This is an ingenious method for the POWs to communicate secretly with each other. Morse Code becomes a third language, in addition to English and Japanese, to use. 

The boldest captives would walk up to the guards, look straight at them, and speak in English, using a querying tone. (4.20.11)

Because many of the Japanese guards don't understand English at all, the POWs can say whatever they want to them as long as they use an appropriate tone of voice. It's yet another small act of rebellion the POWs use to stand up for themselves. 

In the other [book], [Harris] had begun creating an elaborate Japanese-English dictionary. Inside, he had written sentences in Japanese and English—"I feel like eating melon," "Don't you intend to buy a piano"—followed by notes on proper phrasing, verbs, and tenses. (4.20.18)

While we admire Harris's resolve, we're not sure exactly what he hopes to achieve by chatting with guards about melons and pianos. The translations of military terms—like tank and bomber—that he keeps track of later seem a lot more useful. 

[Stephan] address it using contact information typed in the message, misunderstood as Louise Vancerini, 2028 Brammersee Street, Terence, California. (4.24.34)

Miscommunication doesn't always mean an act of rebellion or a cause for anger, and in this case, it causes a delay in the transmission of information. If the person who heard the radio broadcast had been a native English speaker, the message likely would have reached Louie much faster.

Kano was arrested and jailed as a suspected war criminal. […] Perhaps the explanation was that his last name was similar to those of two vicious men, Tetsuharo Kato […] and Hiroaki Kono. (5.35.17)

It's sad that there can be a miscommunication among people that speak the same language, especially one like this, that causes a man to be unfairly jailed.

[Louie] begun a new life as a Christian speaker, telling his story all over America. (5.39.2)

In the end, Louie harnesses his strong communication skills and uses them to inspire people across the country. Yay.