Tuesday, March 17, 2015

An Alaskan Tale (groaner)

"We have to find the impostor as soon as possible, of course" said the Agency station chief, "but with the utmost discretion"
It was an unusual conversation for me. I am a specialist in the larger fauna of the Alaskan wild and in the course of my research, have spent many years living with the Unangan, as the Aleutian islanders call themselves. I speak their language and know their customs probably better than any non-Unangan would, but I had never had a stranger assignment than this one. I have studied bears and birds but now I found myself in a small research station interviewing locals.

"Would you be able to tell from just a conversation who the impostor is?" the chief asked

"I probably would. There are unique intonations of some words. But I'd like to use a small feather, if that is permitted. Just to confirm it"

"Feather?" asked the chief, a little incredulously. He seemed to suspect I'd been having a couple.


"Hmm. Ok, I guess"

Later in the evening, the chief and I sat in his office. He had opened a Jim Beam in celebration and was effusive in his gratitude.

"Thanks a million, Doc!" he said. "He cracked under the lights. He was a Russian plant, planning to open supply lines for them. But how did you know?"

"Oh there are some words which are unique to the Aleut language which require an intonation of the vowel sounds that comes naturally to them but are quite impossible for the rest of us. The confirmation with the feather was the clincher"

"You said something about the feather earlier. How does that work?"

"Oh, the Aleuts have a peculiarity of the facial nerve which results in their being tickled when a feather is brushed DOWN on their cheek, but not in the opposite direction. Quite unique, I assure you"

"And this one failed the test?"

"Yes! I knew right away he wasn't a real native. He was an up-tickle Aleutian"