I Heard the Owl Call My Name

by Margaret Craven

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In "I Heard the Owl Call My Name", what English phrase does not exist in the Kwakwala language?

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In the Kwakwala language, there is no word for "thank you".

It is the Bishop who tells Mark this fact about the language of the people of the village of Kingcome.  As he is introducing the young man to the vagaries of the tribe to which he is being sent, the Bishop carefully tells him,

"...there is one thing you must understand...they will not thank you...even if you should leave a broken man, tney will not thank you...there is no word for thank you in Kwakwala" (Chapter 1).

During his short time in Kingcome, Mark learns to understand and love the people, but among the many discoveries that he makes is that they indeed do not have a word in their language to express thanks.  Because of this, Mark is at a loss when Marta, with a simple and direct honesty, asks him to remain with them until he dies, because "this is (his) village and (they) are (his) family".  Mark wishes keenly that he had "the words to say thank you for the sudden, unexpected gift of peace which they had offered him in their quiet, perceptive way" (Chapter 22).

As one of his final gifts to the people, and specifically, his friend Jim, Mark teaches the English word and gives a sense of the meaning behind expressing thanks.  He tells Jim that, to make Keetah, his bride to be who has experienced something of the ways of the outside world, happy, he should say please and thank you when she serves him or gives him something (Chapter 22).

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