Need a few good suggestions

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Beethovenfan
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Need a few good suggestions

Post by Beethovenfan » June 27th, 2011, 5:12 am

I am currently working on a novel about a young Native American girl who gets kidnapped by a neighboring tribe and traded to a white family for food and a rifle. I say traded, but the men who kidnap her get into a squabble over her and one (with a very short, bad temper) is about the kill her when a white woman steps in and trades for her, thus saving her life. I'm telling you this so you know that the white family she ends up with are kind to her, and are not interested in treating her like a slave (as was often done in the early 1800's).

So, here's my problem. The girl does not speak any English - has never seen any white people, and knows nothing of their ways. The white family knows very little about Native American culture and do not speak the Paiute language of the little girl. How do I keep the story moving? Eventually she is going to learn a few words of English, and perhaps the family will learn a few Paiute words, but in the mean time, it's difficult to move the story along. Any suggestions?
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Holly
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Re: Need a few good suggestions

Post by Holly » June 27th, 2011, 7:39 am

Beethovenfan, are you telling the story in third person? In whose POV?

I immediately thought about my youthful experience when I traveled to Cairo without knowing any Arabic. I got into real trouble. Most of the cab drivers knew English, but they tried to cheat me out of my money, so I bought a bike to get around the city. I would cycle out to see the pyramids and the Sphinx and then try to get out of the heat by 10:30 a.m., in time to get back to the apt. where I was staying. One day I stayed out too long and went into heat shock. I needed to find a phone to call my cousin, but nobody could understand me, so I used pantomine to dial and say hello. I had other experiences there with pantomine. Once two soldiers were following me, trying to guess my nationality. When I gave them the finger, they both said, "Yankee."

Think being in a foreign country and not being able to speak the language. You would use facial expressions, simple pantomine, point to things, struggle to grasp a word here and there. I became exhausted and angry at times with people trying to take advantage of me, but other people were incredibly kind.

Your characters could get into trouble and not be able to communicate except by hand gestures and even bond that way.

Hope some of this helps.

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polymath
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Re: Need a few good suggestions

Post by polymath » June 27th, 2011, 9:28 am

Holly has the best advice, pantomime and hand signals and a form of patois or creole, pidgin, which are the way peoples of markedly different languages communicate, when they aren't communicating by force majeur. Natives and Europeans had different culturally-based perspectives on expression though, aside from the basics of plain sustenance.

However, from the description of the project, I'm concerned that the premises might be less than sympathetic to the true Native experience. Native cultures didn't lose their respect for womankind's sacredness until after prolonged exposure to Europeans. At least three generations after. The assorted Paiute nations didn't experience prolonged contact until well into the middle to late Nineteenth century. I think some deep cultural immersion and investigation are indicated, which may answer much more than how a Native woman and a European woman might come to personally communicate.

Though controversial and wide open to question, Edward S. Curtis recorded a significant fraction of Western North America Native culture.
http://curtis.library.northwestern.edu

"Edward S. Curtis was an entrepreneur, photographer, and enthusiast who dedicated much of his career to an idealized goal of recording traditional American Indian customs. His opinion of Indians as a primitive other race reflects the majority American perspective following the 'conquest' of the west, promoting a 'myth of a vanishing race, with the notion that Indians are historical features of an American landscape, not functioning members in a modern society'. [Beck, David. 'The Myth of the Vanishing Race', in Edward S. Curtis in Context]" http://curtis.library.northwestern.edu/ ... twork.html
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Re: Need a few good suggestions

Post by Watcher55 » June 27th, 2011, 10:45 am

She's a little girl, so I'm guessing she's not a teenager. That means that learning a new language shouldn't be a monumental task for her. It seems to me the white family would use pantomime, prompt and expression, but they would only speak slowly when they are actively teaching her specific words [Maisey bent and took the child's hand. "Come with me child," Maisey said and lead her to the wagon]. If the child is young enough, it shouldn't take many months for her to build a working vocabulary, and probably less than year before she's as fluent as most children her age (this of course depends on how literate the family is).

On a side note, she's probably going to lose most of her native language except for certain words and phrases that evoke emotion laden memories.

longknife

Re: Need a few good suggestions

Post by longknife » June 27th, 2011, 11:50 am

Sign language was a common way of communicating between tribes and with strangers. So, as someone pointed out, that along with facial expressions and sounds of words will get the young girl's attention.
I should also point out that young children were often "traded" between tribes, not as a form of slavery but a method to keep the gene pool from stagnating.
You indicate Paiute. I suppose that takes place in the west. If so, another thought is the use of Spanish as they had been in the area for several centuries and it had become an almost universal language for trading.

I'd be glad to take a look at a synopsis or outline. I've done extensive research into American Indians and perhaps I can help.

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Re: Need a few good suggestions

Post by Nicole R » June 27th, 2011, 1:23 pm

Drawing pictures or images would also be a huge help to communicate basic thoughts or ideas.

Did the tribe who kidnapped her speak English? Otherwise, the white family would need to know at least a little of that neighboring language in order to negotiate a trade. Depending on how close the tribes were in proximity, perhaps the girl knows a little too?? That would give her and the family a common dialect, even if their understanding of it is very limited since its foreign to both.

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Re: Need a few good suggestions

Post by Beethovenfan » June 27th, 2011, 1:33 pm

Beethovenfan, are you telling the story in third person? In whose POV?
Holly, good question. Yes, it's in third person and told almost exclusively from the little girl's perspective - kinda like Harry Potter. Wow, your experience in Cairo would be one of my worst nightmares! Sounds like you handled yourself fairly well though.
However, from the description of the project, I'm concerned that the premises might be less than sympathetic to the true Native experience. Native cultures didn't lose their respect for womankind's sacredness until after prolonged exposure to Europeans. At least three generations after. The assorted Paiute nations didn't experience prolonged contact until well into the middle to late Nineteenth century. I think some deep cultural immersion and investigation are indicated, which may answer much more than how a Native woman and a European woman might come to personally communicate.
Polymath, you are right. I said early 1800's, but this takes place around the year 1847, so there definitely is contact between whites and Natives. From the research I have done, quite often the differing tribes would raid other camps for things they needed, food and other supplies, as well as people to "sell" as slaves. They didn't care who they sold them to, so long as they got what they needed. Whites were often sought after because they were usually willing to buy and usually had the right kind of goods to pay - rifles. A book I have been using, and which has been invaluable to me, is SOUTHERN PAIUTES - LEGENDS, LORE, LANGUAGE, and LINEAGE by LaVan Marineau. He was a white boy who lost his parents and was adopted by a Paiute man and raised by him in the Paiute culture.
She's a little girl, so I'm guessing she's not a teenager. That means that learning a new language shouldn't be a monumental task for her. It seems to me the white family would use pantomime, prompt and expression, but they would only speak slowly when they are actively teaching her specific words [Maisey bent and took the child's hand. "Come with me child," Maisey said and lead her to the wagon]. If the child is young enough, it shouldn't take many months for her to build a working vocabulary, and probably less than year before she's as fluent as most children her age (this of course depends on how literate the family is).

On a side note, she's probably going to lose most of her native language except for certain words and phrases that evoke emotion laden memories.
Watcher, I am doing exactly some of the things you describe here, and I don't plan on being in this "limbo" state for very long. You are right, she is young enough that she very quickly learns some of the language. I guess I'm worried that readers will get bored before she gets there.

Thanks everyone for your replies. They are VERY helpful while I mull over what I'm going to do.
"Don't only practice your art, but force your way into its secrets, for it and knowledge can raise men to the divine."
~ Ludwig van Beethoven

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polymath
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Re: Need a few good suggestions

Post by polymath » June 27th, 2011, 3:55 pm

I think asking why the two men take the young native girl in the first place might obviate any need for a language barrier. The Paiute girl could be an interpreter for her village, though not ordinarily women, young native people were taken by Europeans as hostages and also trained to interpret and teach their language to European interpreters.

Pocohantas is a prime example. Kidnapped by a native village friendly to John Smith, turned over to Anglos, held hostage to stop the 1st Anglo Powhatan war and guarantee peace, taught English by John Rolfe, the rest is history. Both sides took hostages, and executed them as reprisals. Taking women and children hostage was one origin of servitude in native cultures. Another, survivors who would be killed or abandoned otherwise by their own people were sympathetically brought away ostensibly as spoils of war or raids to join the captors' households.

Sure ostensibly for trade. But a young native girl isn't a very valuable commodity. A stubborn, willful mouth to feed and clothe for years until she grows up enough to learn her place and her chores. If she doesn't die of disease or deprivation first.

1847 was a portentious year. The Texas Annexation, Mexican U.S. war in full swing, U.S. British, French, and Russian whaling settlements along the Pacific Northwest and as far south as San Francisco. Opening trade between U.S. and oriental markets. Mountain men fur trappers throughout the Sierra Nevada range. Kansas settlement in full swing. The Paiute nations were caught between the prongs of pincers from all sides. Though the Paiute wouldn't experience prolonged close contact with European-U.S. cultures for another couple decades, delayed somewhat by the U.S. Civil War, they had regular contact with outlaws, runaways, deserters, rogues, pioneers, prospectors, and frontiersmen.
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Re: Need a few good suggestions

Post by Chantelle.S. » June 28th, 2011, 6:47 pm

Beethovenfan wrote:Watcher, I am doing exactly some of the things you describe here, and I don't plan on being in this "limbo" state for very long. You are right, she is young enough that she very quickly learns some of the language. I guess I'm worried that readers will get bored before she gets there.

Thanks everyone for your replies. They are VERY helpful while I mull over what I'm going to do.
:shock: If it's from the little girl's POV, I doubt the readers will get bored with her language disadvantage since they should already have sympathy for her from the beginning of your story. I haven't even read your ms and I want to know how she's going to manage communication and fit into this new lifestyle.

I can't add much more than what everyone else already has. Children who are unable to communicate verbally often use gestures and expressions to relay across what they want to say. Unless your character is at an age where she grasps basic skills such as drawing, she can also make use of physical prompts e.g. taking the adult's hand and placing it on the tin of biscuits she wants, or leading the adult to the object they are looking for, etc. In turn, the whites ought to know that the little girl will have trouble understanding them, so they should act appropriately by coming down to her level and speaking in slow, short and to the point sentences while using gestures, such as pointing to a mop and saying 'mop' and pointing to a spill on the floor and saying 'floor'. Children learn by example as well so having the whites show her what is expected of her will clear up confusion and have the child accept their role. Kids are like sponges, they soak up things at amazing rates, so having the little girl gain a vocabulary of say, twenty words, within a couple of weeks shouldn't be difficult to pull off (depending on her age, of course).

If it helps at all, and if the whites that take this little girl in already have children of their own, it would benefit to have the little girl learn the language from her peers, too. That's just a suggestion, though, I don't know the details of your ms so I have no idea if that would be able to be applied to your novel.

...anyway, like I said I can't add much more. :)
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