Study Guide

The Poisonwood Bible Language and Communication

By Barbara Kingsolver

Language and Communication

Learning a new language is challenging. Memorizing vocabulary words, that's the easy part. It's the nuances that are difficult, like remembering to roll your r's or not being able to count past eighty (sorry, France!). Of course, for Americans, Congolese is even harder than developing a believable French accent. In The Poisonwood Bible, the Price family isn't just dealing with a completely foreign culture, they're dealing with a language where almost every word has multiple meanings. How can you tell the difference? It's all in how you say it—and the Prices usually say it wrong.

Questions About Language and Communication

  1. How does Nathan's preacherly tone of voice affect the way his sermons are interpreted by the people of Kilanga?
  2. If Nathan Price learned to communicate with the people of Kilanga instead of just preaching at them, how would things have been different?
  3. What does each daughter's name mean in Congolese, and how does it reflect her personality?
  4. Each daughter is also given a nickname by the Congolese. How do their nicknames match up with each daughter?

Chew on This

Congolese is a language of subtlety; Nathan Price's preaching method is the equivalent of hitting someone in the face with a spiked Bible. Therefore, it's no wonder that Nathan Price and Congolese never quite mix.

Surprisingly, Rachel ends up "learning" three languages by the end of the book—but she's mimicking rather than really communicating. Rachel is fundamentally incapable of learning another language well enough to communicate.